Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Pro Dilemma

I've been here and done this before but the first time or two around this issue teams weren't already dead or dying. I'm hoping the rotting corpses of dead pro teams past might have made an impression on some folks in the meantime.
The status quo is not sustainable. NPPL has 17 teams today instead of 18 and the NXL has 11 instead of 12 and started the year with 12 instead of the previous year's 16. One might argue that the higher numbers were always impractical but that doesn't alter the body count.
The NPPL pro division is in better shape simply because it's cheaper to compete, to maintain a team, to practice, etc. than the NXL. However, the format and promotion that showcases NPPL pro paintball is in trouble. So it seems likely some formulation of the NPPL pro division will still be playing while the Super 7 tournament ship sinks but viable teams with no place to go are still out of luck.
The NXL problem is trickier. It's grossly expensive to run a pro xball team (compared to any other form of tourney paintball) and the competing teams are NOT operating on a level playing field. Franchise teams have a voice and a stake in what comes next and how it is organized (although that is really more a function of PSP ownership vs. non-ownership. Just ask Sergey.) Non-franchise teams are customers like everybody else. The PSP is in the black while the NXL struggles.
One league has a tournament series in danger of going belly up and one tournament series has a pro division in danger of shrinking into irrelevance. Let me be clear here for those willing to see the NXL shrink to 6 or 8 teams. STOP BEING MORONS! (Did I type that?) At some point the NXL stops being a pro division and devolves into a gigantic circle jerk and everybody stops paying attention because the league is suddenly no longer relevant.
And now for a short history break: the original NPPL was a response by the then pro teams to control their own destiny and they set-up a tourney structure that in essence used other teams to pay for the events and those teams showed up in order to have an opportunity to play the big name teams. We continue to use the same basic structure today. One incentive today is the opportunity to see the pro teams play. However, somewhere in there most of the pro teams turned into customers again. (Btw, I'm not suggesting that supporting the pro teams on the backs of the lower divisions was the ideal tournament model. In fact, something of the opposite.)
In the early period of sponsorship contraction the 'answer' was to tell pro teams to suck it up and go find some new sponsors. Which is, as far as it goes, a perfectly acceptable answer. Except when it doesn't work. Now it may be that Paintball can only afford so many pro teams which is also fair enough...
But then the question that needs to be asked: At what cost?
What if anything do the pro teams contribute to Paintball? If it's something important then maybe it isn't just the teams' problem, maybe it's the leagues' and paintball's problem, too.
One problem the teams have is that most of them are beholden to sponsors who have their own priorities which may or may not coincide with the team.
Meanwhile there are whispers and hints that peeps are talking about reducing the numbers of events in both leagues. Hmm, a 3 event "series". Is that really an answer? Let's see, this isn't working out so well so let's just do less of it. If that's such a good idea why don't we skip it altogether. Problem solved.
Realistically the pro teams can't unite in any meaningful way so the notion floated in Buffalo is a non-starter. And all the Buffalo Initiative would have meant anyway was that the teams choose to be the customers of one league instead of two (and a few of them have already made that choice.)
If the pro teams matter to either of the leagues or to paintball generally there needs to be another answer. Reunification might work but it isn't guaranteed to solve any of the core problems and the process could easily outlast any number of bubble teams. With reunification today's version of NXL Xball kills a few teams but any mixed format that doesn't offer the PSP and Xball a flagship league isn't gonna fly either. Or does reunification tie itself to a faltering format (or at least a faltering promotion)? All reunification would really do is cull the herd of pro teams all the sooner.
Seems pretty bleak, doesn't it?

Yeah, I know I promised to post up some alternatives, some possible answers and I haven't done it yet and I still haven't figured out how to archive dead tree material here either. Not to worry, it's coming, but between you and me what's the point?


Anonymous said...

The point is the same point I am on your site. I have a genuine love for paintball and naturally as a human being i want to see those who are "best" at it compete. Thus a pro paintball league is really just a function of human nature. Somebody is going to have one, right now its just a race to the best idea.

Baca Loco said...

Well, yes and no. I don't disagree but there are lots of ways of ending up there. And of course I'm talking primarily about the current crop of pros.