Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mainstreaming Paintball

This column from early '07 offers a different take on "growing" paintball. A somewhat less than serious take, I admit, but hey, it could work. And if you ignore the sarcasm it's kinda upbeat, too.

Mainstreaming Paintball

Paintball has made great strides in recent years as demonstrated by our TV successes. Today Paintball shares airtime on ESPN 2 with events like World’s Strongest Man, the National Spelling Bee, pro bowling from places like Akron, Ohio, championship dominos, the LPGA and the Outdoor Games which features lumberjacks, log rolling, axes and chainsaws. Look out arena football and major league lacrosse. Life is good. The sky’s the limit. But it could be better. And it follows from our success that the methods used have proven to be effective. Paintball has made great strides in the right direction with girls, girls, girls, homegrown paintballin’ celebs and tangential associations with popular music and performers. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in order to bump our sport’s profile even higher in the public consciousness. We can build on our current efforts but girls and paintball celebs will only take us so far. It’s time to learn from other more successful sports.
What is needed is a plan for expanding public perception and awareness. If you’re thinking more and better paintball action presented in a coherent and entertaining way you’re still thinking inside the box. It’s not about the Game, it’s about appearances. It’s about popularity and appealing to the non-ballin’ public. After all, we’ve already got the players hooked. It’s the mass of uninterested, non-players we’re after now.

Connecting with the public
What’s the first thing you see and who gets face time at major sporting events? No, not the athletes, dufus. It’s the A-list celebrities, doh. So clearly the first thing Paintball needs is to attract the jet set crowd. Celebrities deliver instant credibility and cache. Celebrities would make being seen hanging out at paintball events the cool thing to do. How do we grab them? Celebrities love goodie bags full of free gifts so if Paintball starts handing out the freebies while doing some obsequious fawning we should be golden. (We already do sponsorships so it isn’t that much of a stretch, right?) I say bribe the shallow and narcissistic starlet du jour if that’s what it takes. Forget your pride and dignity, it’s all about the Game and you do what needs doing if you really care. Or maybe not. As we all know that kind of money doesn’t exist in paintball which is why we need to get this mainstreaming business going pronto. If we can’t buy celebrity attention we must be prepared to take it to the next level to encourage celebrity participation.
Here’s a few ideas: hold their pets hostage to their tourney appearances, threaten to torch their agents’ offices, break into their Beverly Hills plastic surgeon’s office and steal their 'before' photos or hook their genitals up to car batteries until they beg to attend paintball events. If that’s too extreme for you pansies try hiring some dog whisperer to the stars who is willing to swear celebrity pooches prefer paintball to chasing frisbees. Or get some unscrupulous cat psychic who insists there’s an epidemic of feline depression that can only be filled by extreme paintball action. Maybe find some feng shui guru to design the grandstand field for ultimate harmony or get a radical psychologist to promote paintball instead of the mass medicating of their brats. And if we get really desperate we could hire a Dyan Cannon and Jack Nicholson look-a-like to sit courtside. Nobody ever sees them anymore anyway except at Laker games.

Role models
Our very own superstars also need to begin making the necessary sacrifices to reach a wider audience. After all, what do sports heroes do? Whatever it takes. Where are the illegitimate kids? Pro basketball has hundreds of ‘em. What about drug busts? Do a stretch in lockup for the good of the Game. The least you could do is confess to steroid use or maybe take a couple cycles of hgh. And where are the weepy public apologies and trips to the rehab clinics? Or the candid expose type photos in the weekender sections of the newspaper’s society section? How about a drunken fight or two at least? Even better, a drunken fight or two between teammates. After a few Nick Nolte-esque Smoking Gun style mug shots released to the media Paintball will be on top of the world. Paintball made these peeps who are they are today and while it may not be a popular stand to take, by golly, they owe the sport something in return. It’s called giving back.
Okay, we’ve got a plan for building a celebrity fan base but that’s only half the program.

Keeping it real
Mainstream sports thrive on rivalries. Yankees versus the Red Sox. Dallas Cowboys versus the Washington Redskins. The Lakers versus the Celtics. Michigan versus Ohio State and Notre Dame versus pretty much anybody ‘cus everybody hates Notre Dame, right? The point is these rivalries transcend the sports fan’s normal interest simply because they are told the teams involved have a long history of competition and a rabid hatred for each other. This a another area where our superstars are letting us down. Sure, they yap a bit and talk a lot of smack and bonusball each other during games but that’s just not good enough. What with the anonymity of goggles and the lack of a focal point most of the best confrontations don’t get the big audience. It’s time to get serious. What’s needed are public calling outs, bitter denunciations, mocking, trash-talking media interviews and the occasional pit clearing brawl. But no slapping. I realize this is gonna require some special training to give the fisticuffs some verisimilitude but if Paintball is serious we must take every available measure. Just think of it, fines for misconduct and routine public pronouncements from the commissioner’s office attempting to quell all manner of outrageous gossip and innuendo. Can the sports pages and talk radio be far behind?
Now we’re making progress!

Roll the dice
What do other successful sports have going for them that Paintball doesn’t? Here’s a hint: What’s the other hot, hot, hot fad "sport" right now? Poker on TV. Why is poker a TV success? I like to call it the three-legged stool of success; celebrities, gambling and freaks. We’ve got the celebrity angle covered already. And Paintball is blessed with more freaks than a carnival sideshow. (Of course there’s also a fair amount of crossover between celebrities and freaks so all those twofers are a bonus.) But gambling is where the successful mainstream sports have the big advantage over Paintball. Legal and illegal betting makes the sports world tick. When there’s money riding on the outcome–your money–sport takes on a whole new level of intensity and interest. When a match of also rans might normally elicit a yawn at best consider what the opportunity to cash in on a team’s mediocrity means. Unwarranted attention and emotion expended without regard to the match’s consequences in a purely sporting sense because peeps are winning or losing big on the result. This is the beauty of gambling on sports. It makes each match, each point, each penalty matter. It magnifies every contest all out of normal proportion and the big winner is ... Paintball! Imagine the action outside the NXL arena during an event. Betting windows open for action taking bets on individual match outcomes, working combos on the daily results, picking the division winners, the Sunday match-ups–the list is almost endless. Talk about your crowds. Paintball will need arenas just for the gamblers. We’ll also need oddsmakers, expert touts, record books for following the teams and players, websites for off track betting and more. A whole new sub-industry. Can garbage collection and linen services be far behind? You want more paintball on TV? Show them the money!
There you have it, kids. A blueprint for future success. Paintball has the leadership in place that can make this happen. Men of vision and determination who will leave no stone unturned in the quest to mainstream Paintball. Now is the time for the rest of us to stand and be counted, to step up to the challenge facing us and willingly take our places beside our leaders and with one voice affirm our commitment to helping Paintball achieve the level of recognition, admiration and support it deserves. Together we can lift Paintball into the Sports stratosphere and beyond, using the traditional recipe to sporting success; celebrity involvement, grossly offensive and anti-social public behavior by our athletes and gambling. What are we waiting for?

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