I'm posting the two columns for a few reasons: to demonstrate I've actually been thinking about this for a while (which is really quite sad) and to further delay having to marshall a cogent argument in the post I've been promising for a while now. In addition the two columns will give enough information and detail that I won't have to re-do all that background and argumentation in the update post. There's a further reason as well that will become clear all too soon.
Brave New Paintball World
Years ago on PBS, yeah, I know, PBS (the government subsidized commie-pinko arts and croissants crowd television network), but even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then. Anyway, they had a show called, 'Connections,' that was about the history of ideas and inventions that contributed to Western Civilization. In particular it showed how the discoveries of different people at different times and places were all necessary pieces to the puzzles of the singular inventions that changed our civilization, like Gutenberg's moveable type that was the forerunner of modern printing and typesetting. If that's too confusing just think of cool stuff like the Ronco Salad Shooter or Popeil's Pocket Fisherman. And, despite the way it sounds, it was truly fascinating. It also demonstrated that even though we tend to look at the past and imagine a sort of inexorability to events things didn't, and don't, really happen that way.
In paintball the concept of civilization is a stretch but connections occur. Steve Bull, known as Bully, a series promoter and respected figure in UK paintball, is taking a page from motor racing and applying it to paintball. Many racing series not only compete for the season long driver's championships but also award titles for makes, manufacturers and tire producers; all the major components to successful racing. For the '05 season Bully's series will award a paint suppliers title to recognize the contribution of the paint companies and perhaps encourage more sponsorships for the leading teams in the series. Bully's idea is both fun--creating another level of competition--and potentially practical, improving the value of the series to both the teams and paint suppliers. If nothing else it also promotes a similarity to traditional sports.
Last month's column took a look at the future public face of Paintball and made some connections to already established sports. But there is a more fundamental point than asking, How should Paintball be portrayed or promoted? That question is, What is tournament paintball? That may seem like a stupid or an obvious question but it's one that is also mostly taken for granted. Before the advent of the NXL the evolution of tournament paintball was a direct outgrowth of its origins. Regardless of the number of players per side or the size or location of the playing field the basic game remained the same. As did the ways tournaments were organized and presented. At its' inception the NXL offered something unseen in Paintball before; a new format, Xball, and a different organizing structure, a closed league made up of franchise teams. The NXL is taking aim at mainstream recognition using a structure based on the prototypical American sports model. The prospect of a stable organization capable of delivering a broadly comparable sporting product is the result. Making it more attractive, applicable models of how it could all work already exist, including the development of real professional paintball athletes.
The reinvigorated NPPL has moved forward in a different direction by refining the preexisting tournament concept while at the same time also working towards the target goal of mainstream accessibility; i.e. TV. This has led to something of a race to reach TV first, to become the public face of competitive paintball. The NXL was designed to fill that role. The NPPL, having positioned itself as the leading proponent of traditional tourney ball, is embarking on establishment of the NPPL name as the competitive paintball brand in order to distinguish itself from all other similar leagues or series with the goal of making the NPPL synonymous with legitimate paintball sport. While both ideas have generated a lot of excitement both versions of competitive paintball, to varying degrees, view the players as disposable commodities.
Shocking, I know. And here you were imagining yourself to be an athlete, a player, or at worst, a customer. Actually, only the top players are commodities and the rest of you are, at best, tiny trickles in the revenue stream. Don't be offended. You can still be players, athletes and customers, too. Just don't lose your grip on reality is all I'm saying. (This seems like a good place for a disclaimer as I think I can hear lots o' peeps sharpening their machetes right about now. Though it should go without saying all views expressed herein are my own and further, y'all should be grateful PGI is willing to risk your outrage to offer a diversity of opinions on their illustrious pages. And if you've got something to say visit P8ntballer.com and take your best shot.)
So what's the point, you ask, between snorts and a losing battle to control your tendency to curse uncontrollably. Or is that just me? Just pointing out that at this point in Paintball's evolution (lots of points here) the lack of player power doesn't seem to be of any consequence to most players but if and when there is real money, the prospect of professional athlete type money, it will certainly have been in the players' interest to be prepared instead of simply going along for the ride. It's easy to assume that like the NFL, if the money is there the players will get their fair share, but any revue of football's history shows that it was a decades long struggle by the players to receive recompense in relationship to their value to the sport.
Why not a third alternative, a new paradigm? Competitive paintball has, for the most part, operated on an organizational model that encourages centralized power and the status quo. Like that? See if you can wrap your heads around this one. It has constricted the growth of the game and will continue to do so as long as near monopolies of power exist. (For those of you who believe teams should be run democratically or owned by the players why do you put up with power politics from everyone else involved? Oh, I know, you're hooked on that sponsorship toot and you can't play without it. I'm sympathetic, really I am.) Make some new connections and start with an old idea.
Remember the original NPPL? It began with the teams. It could again. What if a select group of the Pro teams decided to organize their own league? A closed or restricted league of, say, 24 teams. All of a sudden the players and teams that were glorified commodities are co-owners. Unlike the early days a support system already exists. Don't need large venues or all the added expenses associated with running events with 100 plus teams. Two fields will fit in lots of arenas that support basketball or hockey. Two fields isn't even strictly necessary unless you’re running Xball. Oh, yeah, if it's your league you can play whatever kind of paintball you want. Run a 7-man season, run an Xball season, it's okay, it's your call. Don't need a boatload of officials either. And who controls video rights now, biatch? Sell those seats to spectators. Have the teams take turns working autograph sessions and passing out free posters and see if you can't turn paintball into a real sport. Simplified schedules, only the top teams and personalities, tons more venue options, hardcore action, spin-off league money-makers and where's corporate paintball and the possibility of TV gonna go if it isn't with the best?
Of course it isn't all strawberries and cream. There's real work and risk involved. I guess the question is do you want to control your own fate or are you just happy playing ball? The teams or their representatives would have to agree on and implement an organizing structure. It would have to cover everything from finances to on field operations to rules enforcement. However, on the plus side everything the league chose to do would be decided by the teams and players. You want a voice that matters, you got a voice that matters. An interesting by-product would be a new measure of accountability. Where's the incentive to cheat on the league when you are the league?
Imagine a new Pro league with teams fighting it out for a seasonal championship. Or even two seasonal championships! Event winners and league champs. Toss in manufacturers titles, too. A points race for paint producers and gun manufacturers.
I know what you're thinking --Wow, what a great idea! What do you mean that's not it? You're wondering why bother when there's already two leagues out there working hard. How 'bout if the Pros don't show up nobody has an event anyway? Or try this: Perhaps some people other than the people planning on buying that country home or little red sports car with the profits should be deciding what's in the best interest of the sport. Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to making an honest dollar, but it's real easy to think that what's good for your wallet is what's good. Period. When the same folks have the power to enforce their vision of your game everyone else is pretty much just along for the ride. Call me crazy but when even the notorious do-gooders at the United Nations fatten their Swiss bank accounts on the continued suffering of the unfortunates they are supposed to be looking out for, being, if not quite cynical, at least cautious can't do any harm. Can it?