Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pro Ball Blues

This is in response to a comment in the earlier post, Paradigm Shift? (posted below). For some helpful context read Paradigm Shift? before reading this.

The comment that inspired this post asked if it was possible pro players might have to start paying for things, like paint. I'm going to use the NXL situation but it's not just an NXL problem. PBReserve has reported on related factors in recent months like Procaps getting tough regarding overages, the Procaps / Archon (Zap) merge--which effectively took the Zap brand off the market--and the rumor GAP may consider closing up shop. (While other unsubstantiated rumors suggest at least one paint maker is currently on the block.)
The NXL began the season with 12 teams and finished with 10. Is it coincidence that the two that dropped out were Procaps teams? Maybe. I don't know but I do know a little something about pro teams and paint usage.
This past season the NXL had 3 factory teams and 9 independents. You could argue that either Infamous and Aftershock were both factory or neither were so I split the difference. You could also argue a better distinction is franchise / non-franchise--in which case you'd be wrong. End of the day what matters here is money and the motivation to spend it.
Two indies crashed and burned before season's end. Of the remaining independents 2 are shoestring operations that survived last year's team losses getting by on the minimum and 3 others have a single principle benefactor. None of them, including Dynasty, got the level of sponsorship you think they got--although Dynasty, as the only legit brand among the indies, was head and shoulders above the rest.
So how much paint do they use? I'm gonna keep the numbers simple and the totals low. Each event every team plays a minimum of 5 matches. Figure 20 cases a match. Since the prelims got screwed up the last two events let's skip Sunday usage altogether and call it even. The result is 200K per team per event or 1 million for the season. For practice let's say 2 a month at 50 cases per (and that's low paint usage for a typical two day practice.) The result is another 2 million balls. There's 3 million balls used in one league based on very modest numbers and MOST of the NXL teams didn't get 3 mil or more freebies this past year. Now start your calculations for those teams playing both leagues and it isn't hard to see that something is going to give.
Does this mean pro players are gonna have to start paying for stuff? In some cases it probably will but there are still a couple of problems with that scenario. One, it simply transfers the cost from team to players and Two, the majority of pro players are chosen on their ability to play, not pay. As it stands now if the pro game is too expensive for the current teams it's going to be too expensive for the players and simply shifting the burden likely means pro ranks populated by wealthier, not better, players. Alternatively some mix of costs might work for some teams and players but doesn't do anything to address the larger issues.
(Incidentally, this is why I recommended last year in the off season that field layouts NOT be released prior to events. The reasoning was it would force teams to find alternative, less paint intensive ways to prepare, among other virtues.)
What it is going to boil down to is what value does PBIndustry and the Big Leagues place on the pro game--as it exists now--and can they afford to keep it alive as the pinnacle of competitive paintball? My view is the current system will not sustain the current teams and the current environment does not promote the creation of new pro caliber teams to take their place. Which is why I'm advocating looking for creative ways to change the system.
Of course it could be we'll all just have to take our lumps. Long term the game isn't going anywhere even if some of us lose out in the short term.
Happy happy joy joy


Anonymous said...

What is your prediction on the number of pro teams playing 2 leagues next year?

raehl said...

Insufficient data to make a prediction. If NPPL continues to charge lower entry fees for Pro and have Pro run on Sat only while the rest of the divisions start on Friday, they'll have as many teams as they let in, since Pro is the cheapest division to play in.

Not many left can afford $6,000 an event in entry/admin fees, so if NXL doesn't change that, they'll have 6-8. If they do change it 12 isn't unreasonable.

The thing is, there will be a lot more teams willing to pay to play Pro than there will be teams who can field Pro-level talent. I think the REAL question should be:

How many sponsor-financed Pro teams will there be, how many benefactor-financed Pro teams will there be? THAT's the number of Pro spots there should be. Yes, there will be more teams willing to play, but that doesn't mean they should be allowed to. Letting any schmuck who wants the glory of playing Pro at the price of a lower entry fee and a shorter event play Pro would be a mistake.

Baca Loco said...

With no changes--NXL 8 max. And even if the NPPL doesn't relegate but adds some teams whatever that total is MAY begin the season but that number won't stick.
You KNOW what sponsorship is and isn't providing and that applies to the majority of pro teams.

I am sympathetic to your market driven view but I think there are other factors that may be relevant. First I think your sponsor-financed distinction is a basic error in kind as only two teams qualify by that distinction. 2 others are factory teams neither of which produced their own paint. Everybody else is some combination of benefactor/sponsor backed team.
In the Big Picture I think the real question is: What is the impact and role, if any, of pro level paintball to both competitive paintball and paintball as a whole? If the concensus is that the pro game has a role larger than its individual parts then you can't sensibly leave it to fend for itself in the form of all the separate teams--particularly in an environment where you presume distress, contraction and subsequent failures.
If the Pro bracket is no different than all the others then it doesn't much matter what happens. Except of course those to whom it happens.