Wednesday, September 10, 2008

TV or not TV

Is not really the question.
After all the hype and fits and starts I honestly don't pay paintball on TV much attention but since OA asked I'll address the current situation and the bigger picture. (My lack of interest isn't because I don't believe in TV as a vehicle for presenting paintball. I've just never been a big believer in paintball as the next Big Thing.)
Any paintball on TV is a good thing. Maybe that needs to be qualified. Any positive programming dedicated to making paintball more acccessible to the public is a good thing. Loosely defined any show portraying paintball as entertainment is fine--local news reports of some dim-witted little pukes doing a perp walk for shooting at a school bus full of kids, not fine.
Are some portrayals more to my liking than others? Sure, but it's not really important. What is important is that TV has the capacity to reach the biggest, widest audience. And as such the placement of paintball on TV is a no-brainer. What TV isn't is the be all and end all of paintball.
The backlash of negativity (from some quarters) toward TV is not so much the result of the paintball that has been presented on TV or even the size (or lack thereof) of the calculated audience as much as it is of perception and unmet expectations. When the whole tourney world has been primed for paintball to explode in popularity and legitimacy those are some serious expectations. And when those expectations are raised repeatedly without being fulfilled--going all the way back to the Jerry Braun Debacle of '96--it's a huge letdown. And when so much has been (at least implicitly) promised with seemingly so little to show for it, it's small wonder the general perception is of abject failure. But none of that means that paintball on TV can't succeed. I am inclined to believe that paintball on TV will continue to be an ongoing process and that ultimately paintball will likely settle for being a niche activity and niche sport. That doesn't mean it can't succeed on TV or that pro paintball as truly professional sport is impossible. One real problem of the past was starting with a definition of success that had to be a home run (to mix my sports metaphors.) [Of course if I was committed seven figures deep that would be my definition too.] And that definition was built on the assumption that all paintball needed was to get non-ballers to tune in to a reasonable facsimile of tourney play and they would instantly see how cool it was and want more. Or if not quite that then enough for ESPN to decide to produce more paintball for their network. Same result, slightly extended time frame. [There are/were issues over control of product that influenced decisions too but I'm leaving that part out.]
Which brings us to NPPL/FSN TV. What exactly are the expectations for it? If it was intended to pump up interest in competing in the NPPL that hasn't seemed to work out. If it was intended to be an introduction to paintball for a wider audience then we'd have to see the ratings to even make an educated guess as to whether that may have happened. If FSN is paying to produce the programming (which I seem to recall was the claim last year) then what is their definition of success? And will they keep doing it? (And why is it only ever on in the one mid-week afternoon time slot alotted to it?) Whatever NPPL/FSN is accomplishing it ain't sudden glory and respectability for tourney paintball.
While we know paintball on TV didn't result in X Games level popularity I'm not sure what else we do know about the impact on paintball of TV. We know (or more correctly have been told) the ratings for the 2 ESPN/NXL and the Miami NPPL shows shared ballpark numbers. They were not fabulous numbers but they weren't terrible either. Apparently though they weren't enough. To what? Get ESPN to produce more? To generate ad rates that would sustain more production? To demonstrate viability to outside of industry sponsors? Whatever.
I think there's a couple of things though that can be said. The current environment means PBIndustry can't (won't) support paintball on TV. I think it's also probably accurate to suggest that any data from past shows isn't conclusively positive or negative in terms of marketing impact. And in the current economic environment I think it probably remains difficult to evaluate. (Which doesn't bode well for the expansion of paintball on TV except perhaps for cable access variety shows that lack production value and look like high school video class projects. And if that remark resembles your show...)
Lastly I think most of what's been on has had some crucial error though I'm not sure those errors kept any of the past shows from garnering the hoped for success. For example the Miami NPPL shows were probably the best for communicating play of the game but once the teams figured out they didn't need to win (they played body count ball) the games filmed were boring. Really boring.
So where does that leave paintball on TV? Same place paintball not on TV is. The largest failure I've seen is the desire to shortcut the process, leaping from obscurity to next Big Thing in a step or two. In hindsight it didn't work. In any other sight it was unlikely to work. So far nobody is really "selling" paintball and there are lots of ways to do that. [Whole other topic.]
Frankly I'd sooner see a hundred or more fields from around the country buy some advertising spots on their local cable outlets and promote themselves and paintball at the local level than see another on the cheap paintball product advertisment masquerading as a magazine type show. Better JT or Spyder produce a generic commercial that their regular local field and store accounts could use for the aforementioned local cable advertising. Paintball on TV that either works or it doesn't in results that can be counted. But that's probably just me.


raehl said...

ESPN has no reason to show any programming. They have way more content than they have air time, so the only way they're going to air ANYTHING is if there is a massive payment for the privilege. And the only way to make a massive payment on an ongoing basis is to get serious out-of-industry support.

And you can't get out-of-industry support based solely on a TV show. If that is all you have to offer, you have nothing to offer - SOMETHING is going to be on ESPN no matter what, and anyone with money might as well spend it on any of the other things that are going to be on ESPN anyway, if all you are offering is a TV show on ESPN.

This is less of a problem on other networks that are in need of programming - Fox College Sports reairs the college paintball shows to no end, because they need the programming. But, networks who need the programming, by definition, need that programming because they don't have the viewership/budget to pay for programming to be produced.

Either way, by itself, you can't sell/fund a TV show alone.

What is valuable to advertisers is access that advertisers can't get some other way. On top of that, you have to be able to offer a minimum amount of that exclusive access before it's worth anyone's time. And this is where paintball has failed. We have 5+ million people who set foot on a paintball field or in a paintball store (or even a big box retailer selling paintball equipment) and there is currently NO GOOD WAY for a potential advertiser to reach a sizable percentage of them. At best, they can sponsor a tournament league, or maybe one of the major scenario event promoters, and reach... the participants of that event. We have done a horrible job with getting the people who play paintball to care about paintball. Hell, on the tournament side, many paintball participants ACTIVELY DESPISE tournament paintball! Name one other sport where a large segment of people who like to play the sport ACTIVELY HATE the top-level players as a group?

Marketing 101: Get people to like you.

original-anonymous said...

Jesus, I hate to say we all three agree but...

Paintball said...