Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Anyway, seems I can list stuff like that as well as a blog list of (paintball) places I hit so maybe, just maybe it'll find it's way to the sideber in the near future.
EDIT ADDED: that's the problem with late late night posting. It now reads to me as if the whole thing just creeped me out and that wasn't my sleep deprived intent. Given who it is I actually think it's both bizarre and awesome. It's just the term follower makes it sound like I'm working the Carkus Cult Dreamology schtick or something--which, trust me, I'm not.
The likely effect of this economic upheaveal on competitive paintball isn't a net positive. (That's the sort of linguistic spin that when offered in a British accent [non-Cockney] implies massive understatement.) The tourney marketplace as a whole is going to experience decline pretty much across the board as may every other aspect of paintball. It begins to close the window on Pacific Paintball sooner than I previously expected and force some crucial decisions on them for '09. PSP will see around a 30% drop (at worst I hope) next year over the course of the season if it remains a national multi-divisional series. Now would be the time to buckle down and at least get the classification rules in order to make the league as user friendly as possible. If you thought sponsorship sucked this year just wait. If NASCAR sponsorship is suffering the environment is tightening. (That's a scary thing if you're hoping for a piece of that pie but it may also signal an opportunity if you know how to go get it.) The current business model standard is going to take a beating in '09 too. Even Eclipse. It's coming.
I'm beginning to think this would be a very propitious time to start making serious moves. Paintball needs to be positioned to deal with the short term and to take advantage of the long haul. I think all of us with no say in the matter support PBIndustry Standards & Practices as do some of PBIndustry. It's gotta happen and stick if paintball is going to get anywhere.
The other thing I'd like to see change is the fragmentation of paintball; tourney, rec, scenario, etc. Clearly everybody has different interests and reasons for playing their type of paintball and I'm not advocating a Hands Across the Speedball Field moment but as I'm in the mood for unifying around common purposes why not the players too?
I'm working on some ideas but if you've got an idea or three let's hear it.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I've been networking for months to establish a relationship with an important player in the world of Paintball. The following is excerpted from the resulting interview.
The Superstar is in a contemplative mood, leaning away from the tabletop that separates us in the quiet coffeeshop. Shadow falls across his face as he stares past me at the passing traffic. Unconsciously he tugs at hanks of his hair. Prickles of condensation on his iced mocha latte slowly soak into the napkin serving as a coaster.
The Superstar has bags under his eyes and squints constantly whenever the sun dips out from behind the rolling clouds despite the tinted window between our booth and the outdoors. I ask, "How you doing? You look tired." I hope my envy isn’t apparent. Wow, what a life he must lead. Play all day, party all night. Sweet.
He sighs, "You don't know the half of it, dude."
"Burning the candle at both ends, huh?" I say with what I hope is a knowing laugh.
"Not enough hours in the day–"
The waitress interrupts as she sets my Dr. Pepper down. After she leaves I begin with
"So what’s it like to live the life everyone wants?"
"What life would that be? Man, you got no idea." He hesitates, reaches into the backpack beside him and pulls out a pack of Camels before rolling his eyes and tossing them back into his pack. "Can’t smoke indoors anymore." He fidgets for a moment and asks, "What was the question again?"
"Living the life everyone wants," I say quietly.
"If they think it’s so great they can have it." He stares at me hard for a second and then backtracks. Shrugging he says, "It used to be awesome. All the attention. Everybody wanting to be your friend. Now it’s all the attention and everyone wanting to be my friend." The Superstar grinned his trademark smile. "It can still be a lot of fun and I still meet a lot of cool people but sometimes I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about. In my darker moments I tend to think I don’t even really matter, just that guy who plays ball."
This isn’t going the way I expected. "One dream of every kid out there is playing for free. Can you tell them what it’s like and do you have any advice for your fans?"
"Free? Yeah, right. I’ll tell you about free. You’re always dancing to somebody else’s tune. Shoot this gat. Wear those goggles. Endorse that paint. After your second photo shoot the luster definitely wears off." He slurps a gulp of his drink and smacks it back down. "I don’t mean to sound ungrateful ‘cus I’m not. And there was a time when it was like the coolest thing in the world to get stuff for free and just play ball. But it isn’t like that anymore. There’s all this other stuff going on. All these other demands being made and you find out pretty damn quick just how free your stuff really is if you don’t do what you’re told." The Superstar looks out the window and sighs. "I understand it’s a business and all, I do, but the fact is it’s not free. Not really."
"I can see that," I respond, slowly, desperately trying to find a way to turn the interview around. I wanted something more than the usual canned answers but this wasn’t it. "Gotta be nice to make a kid’s day, right? Sign some autographs and take some pictures. I bet that helps recharge the old batteries."
The Superstar laughs and shaking his head says, "You’d think so. Truth is after awhile you feel like you’re always on display. Every time I smile my face hurts from doing it all the time. I used to get a real kick out of it, in the beginning, the kids clamoring to meet you, practically begging for an autograph. All the excitement when they’d yell at you for a headband, a pair of gloves or your jersey." He wrapped his hands around his cup and continued, "It used to be like that, I think. At least I believed it was. Now, you know anything you give away is gonna end up on Ebay. They like you for as long as it takes to get something from you. I want it to be like it was but it’s hard not to see all those kids as a horde of grubby, grasping rude obnoxious punks looking to see what they can score off you."
"That ain’t the half of it. Don’t give ‘um what they want, pass up one autograph, don’t smile sincerely enough, whatever. One time you don’t jump when some a**hole says jump and the next thing you know it’s all over the internet that you’re an ungrateful prima donna. Have forgotten about you’re fans and worse. What a load of– " The Superstar paused for a deep breath. "All I’m saying is they should try it sometime. That’s all."
"Never thought of it like that," I admitted, moving to safer ground. "I guess that makes the events themselves kind of like a break from the routine. A time to relax and enjoy playing?" I ask hopefully as I mentally cross my fingers.
The Superstar mulls over his response. "The times I like the best are practices, I think. Sure, there’s people around but practice is about the team, just us, and playing ball. At events the playing part is usually good–if we’re doing okay. And winning is always good but what is it when losing is worse than winning is good?"
I stutter like a moron. I don’t know what to say. I guess the question was rhetorical because before I can manage even a pitiful answer he continues, "It’s just a concentrated version of every other time you meet the fans. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Sometimes the autographs and pictures are, you know, okay, fun even and sometimes you get the parents from hell who want you to watch their kid’s video of him playing some rookie event like if you only watch you’ll decide instantly the kid is perfect for your team and you want him to make the jump to the pros tomorrow. I mean they are practically pimping out little Jimmy and you wonder who wants this, is it really about the kid?
"And then there's the ones who wanna show off by playing too cool to care, come up to meet you but act like they're doing you a favor by showing up." Suddenly the Superstar adds, "Clinics are okay. It’s all about paintball and I know why they came. I like clinics."
"Yeah, okay," I say, "Travel around the world on somebody else’s dime. Must be sweet." I’m beginning to sweat. I hope he doesn’t notice.
"Like I said, the clinics are cool but the travel bites." He looks at his watch, "Is this the correct time? I left my soul three time zones east, I think. Try living your life out of a suitcase. Where’s home? What’s home? Before long it seems like most of your contact with friends, real friends, and family is on the phone. Texting." The Superstar leaned back with his fingers laced behind his head. "Maybe it’s just me. I know some guys who say they like it. Think of it as a constant adventure. I wish I did."
"Dude, I had no idea," I said, momentarily losing my objectivity, "but at least there’s the parties, right?"
The Superstar chuckled mirthlessly. "I admit I used to dig the party scene but, you know, maybe it’s just I’m getting older. Or I’ve already done it all. That and I’m really tired of waking up not knowing where I am and having people tell me how much fun I was but I can’t for the life of me remember. Sure, maybe the first time you wake up naked in a bathtub it’s a trip but it gets old fast. For real. Most days I’d rather take a nap."
"But the girls ..?" I stutter.
"When’s the last time you licked a penny you picked up off the ground?" he asked. Before I could respond he continued. "Sober most of ‘em ain’t all that and plenty of ‘em have been passed around more than the last blunt in a roomful of Jamaicans. I didn’t used to care..." He held out his hands, palms up. "Sorry but you asked."
Disappointed I blurted out, "If it’s so terrible you can always get out."
"And do what?" he demanded. "I didn't finish school. I got rent to pay. A car payment. You ought’a see my phone bill. It all costs money. Money I ain't got. If we ever stop winning the sponsor cash is gonna dry up faster than you can say Death Valley."
The Superstar smiled wryly. "I'm hanging on waiting for TV cash. When that comes through maybe I can save a little bit. Until then, open another store, sell a few more signed jerseys, teach a few more idiots how to play. On my good days I still love to play."
* Just in case a few of you are still wondering–No, it isn’t a real interview. To paraphrase Dan Rather it's totally fake but absolutely accurate. And if you’re now screaming incoherently and calling me names direct your anger in a positive way and send me some hate mail ‘cus I get lonely and your abuse cheers me up. Besides, I really wrote this for a special group of players and, yes, you guys know who you are.
Friday, September 26, 2008
A brief observation: All tourney paintball is limited paint. Limited to what a player chooses to carry on the field. In 10-man days I never carried fewer than 12 pods. Nowadays you seldom see more than 7 though one of my guys likes 9. Either way there is a limit.
And, in point of fact, there is absolutely nothing keeping players and/or teams from shooting as little paint as they want. There is a PSP D1 xball team where nobody carries more than 4 pods and most of them only 2 or 3. Their choice. Nobody is making anybody shoot "lots" of paint unless you want to say the nature of the game demands it. (And if you go that route you have to be willing to say that any significant change in paint allowed would also alter the nature of the game.)
Of course what is meant is an intentionally restrictive limit that is enforced on everyone. Which is okay and probably even commendable as an introductory tournament format in say a 3-man or even 5-man rookie and/or young guns level event. Even beyond that I'm not going to object, given that all tourney paintball is limited in fact (if not by rule) except to point out what should be obvious. Namely, that any change made to "fix" a specific problem tends to be of greater significance than anyone intends, expects or prepares for. I'm not even saying that change is necessarily a bad thing given competitive paintball's relative youth–and considering some of the things I've advocated--but if the peeps who make these decisions are serious about their responsibility to the game it's the sort of thing that shouldn't be done without taking the time to consider the possible ramifications.
Think of it as Baca's Rule #11: Don't Screw With The Game Unless You've Got A Damned Good Idea What The Result Will Be.
Limited paint in broad application across the tournament spectrum would be a game altering factor and this is where I have some serious reservations. The same is true of factors like field dimensions, number and shape of props and certain features of layout design that have all influenced the way the game is played. As has the technology. I won't detail here the ways I think limited paint as a standard would alter (and in this case probably diminish) the competitive game as all I'm shooting for with this post is to encourage keeping the Big Picture in mind when looking at ways to "solve" problems. [I'll do something on how the game changes us soon which will include volume of paint in play.]
There's two parts to this: tourney ball & the so-called trickle down effect seen at the local level around the country. Let's begin with the fun one, tournament paintball. [But first, one caveat: Don't start in about the evils of ramping with me while defending electronic guns that can be shot at 10-15 bps in "semi-auto". That just tells me either you don't know what you're talking about or you have a particular axe to grind and reality a mere inconvenience. It is all one issue. So here's the deal; don't try making a nonsensical argument and I won't call you rude names. Seems fair to me.]
There has been, for a couple of years, a call from some quarters to reduce the ROF allowed in tournament play. One reason given is current ROF creates too high a barrier at the rookie and young gun level and scares players off with firepower that overwhelms beginner skills. Other reasons include makes the game stagnant, takes the fun out, costs too much in paint and turns local fields into shooting galleries 'cus all the baby ballers want to blaze just like the pros. We'll leave that last one out for now 'cus it's got nothing to do with actual tourney play.
Let me take a moment to ask a question or two. Where is the hue and cry aimed at the NPPL's irresponsible gun rules? (If you are under the misapprehension that NPPL is controlling ROF you are way behind the curve or easily duped in which case I'd like to tell you about this property for sale in south Florida ... ) And who among you rips PSP for ramping guns even though they's the only ones actually controlling ROF? Consider those rhetorical questions.
I'm in favor of regulating ROF in tourney play. But only to a point. I think there is a case to be made for matching ROF to developing levels of skill. I am NOT in favor of a universal ceiling ROF though I can live with the PSP's current 13. The reason I am not in favor of a universal ceiling is that ROF corresponds to skill level in a positive way as well as in the negative way everyone tends to think of. And one thing I'd hate to see is a needless artificial limit placed on the upper levels of competitive paintball. Pro football isn't played by Pop Warner rules. Pro level paintball shouldn't be held hostage to rookie skill, or the lack thereof. ROF in the recent PSP context both defines and refines much of the tournament skill set directly and indirectly. That said I'd tier ROF at 8, 10, 12 and 15 and if you think that's overdoing it I'd settle for 10 and 13. 10 bps for everyone either at or below D3 and 13bps for everyone above. As to the common reasons given above the only one I buy into at all is that there is merit in not driving young players away before they develop the skills to appreciate the game and discover if the competition is what they really want. Stagnant games are the result of deficient skills and tactics. Lack of fun is not really wanting to compete in a tourney context and/or routinely getting your ass whooped. Paint consumption is more directly tied to time played--at least when the difference is 15.4 to 13.3 bps. And now for the impact on local fields.
I don't deny ROF is a serious issue at the local level but imagining that changing tourney ROF to some lowest common denominator will fix the problem is wishful thinking, a desire to shift the blame and/or a refusal to take some personal responsibility. How's that left arm doing? Remember those rhetorical questions? You can answer them now.
I visited a local field with some old friends awhile ago that was mostly woodsball. Much to my surprise, not, the majority of the camo jockeys were shooting the latest high tech hardware including of course some raging Tippmanns as well as Egos and Dms and the rest. Here's another question for you: Were those guys mere puppets of Evil Paintball Marketing who wanted to be just like the "pros" and couldn't help themselves? Or were they seduced by firepower? Or were they just keeping up with the Joneses? Nor was it an isolated unique situation. Check out your next local Big Game and see what the other side of paintball is shooting. [Once upon a time the major gun manufacturers had a max bps agreement. It lasted less than a year.]
It just doesn't add up for me. There are a lot of conflicting claims depending on just what argument is being framed. Tourney made them want it. Yet, the numbers say tourney is a small piece of the whole paintball pie. And rec and scenario players are supposedly uninterested (and used to be viewed as hostile) to tourney except when they aren't. And all that media pressure presenting fast guns as cool has brainwashed every baller from here to Missoula which is why the magazines and DVD business is exploding... Doesn't Blues Crew have a gun sponsorship with one of those big bad mainstream gun manufacturers?
When I started playing paintball field rentals were a mix of pumps and early semis but guns like the Illustrator were beginning to appear. Guess what. In short order there was a firepower disparity at work. Not as pronounced as today nor with the capability of today's guns to transform anybody with a finger into a paint chucking machinegun but a version of the same problem. So it's not really new.
More questions. Do you sell machineguns and factory and aftermarket multi-function boards in your pro shops and stores? Do you sell everybody who has the cash as much paint as they want to buy? So let me see if I've got this right: you supply anyone who wants it with the stuff you want somebody else to control for you. Is that about it?
The technology complicated a preexisting issue by making the disparity (the potential difference in equipment) a wider gulf and by making the consequences so unpleasant (unsuspecting and/or unprepared peeps getting blowed up). And some of you advocate tourney ball putting that genie back in the bottle for you. Not gonna happen. Got a couple of ugly little secrets for you. Technology has been driving tourney ball too, not the other way around and as long as the technology is out there people will want to use it.
So what are local field operators to do? They could sack up and regulate what they can control or not. Be like the NPPL or be like the PSP. Simple choice. Take a look at which one is working and which one isn't. I'm not suggesting it's all down to controlling guns but it is certainly part of the difference. What the vast majority of competitors want is a level playing field, an honest competition. Which isn't really all that different from what the average rec player wants--an equal opportunity and a fair game. And in both cases it isn't superfast guns that deny that opportunity, it is the lack of proper regulation. IT IS THE LACK OF PROPER REGULATION.
Depending on the size of your field prioritize according to your desired market.
Segregate players by both skill and equipment as well as inclination; play tourney style vs. play rec ball.
Be specific about the rules of play on your website and in your safety briefings so everyone knows what to expect. Include upfront the penalties for gun violations and enforce them rigorously. For every loose cannon you "lose" you gain more from everyone else who see the rules work.
Invest in a PACT timer and teach your refs how to use it. When you chrono a player you can also check ROF.
Build some pride and purpose into your ref staff as they are the front line to your success.
(There's other stuff that could be included and each situation is a bit different but that's the foundation for getting control of ROF.)
Or, you know, you could go find somebody who really will do it for you. Try your insurance company or your local government and explain the situation to them. I'm sure given the right horror stories and a bit of pleading they'd be happen to tell you how to run your business.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
EDIT ADDED: ROF (the original post) is back thanks to James at paintballheadlines and the kids at PBReserve. And, apparently, Google Reader. Many thanks. If you don't routinely visit their sites--start at paintballheadlines and pbreserve
Monday, September 22, 2008
My second choice would be to simply go with 4 scores. I'm not a big fan of doubling the value of the SD event; the impact of that event would be totally out of whack by comparison with the other events. In a normal season each event is 20% of the season total. A 4 event season means each event is 25% while a double score would mean one event would be 40% of a season score. Don't like it.
But I ain't too worried about it whatever is decided. And I have two predictions. 1) raehl will argue in favor of a double score event and, 2) whatever happens somebody is gonna be unhappy.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I suggested in a July post if the teams in the locked divisions were unsatisfied with the way the league is operating--and there is some reason to believe there is a measure of discontent but the Eurokids are far less inclined to agitate compared to us--then those ridiculous divisional spots they paid for might be worth something after all. (For those not familiar with upper MS divisions this year the locked divisions worked kinda like seat licenses in a new NFL stadium where you buy the "right" to buy a season ticket. All the MS kids paid a license fee for the privilege of paying for the whole season in advance.) CPL has 16 teams. SPL and D1 have 32 (except D1 actually have 35 but 3 of them are reffing any given event unless somebody doesn't show. I think.) Anyway, how many teams would have to threaten not to show in a division before MS would have to pay attention? How'd you like 3 prelim matches of less than xball lite? (First to 4.) And how'd you like it when some teams are no shows, more often than not, because of league roster rules? Imagine training and traveling to potentially play TWO matches? There's lots more but so what. My point is those locked divisions work both ways and the teams in them have some power in numbers as long as they remain in the division. Or until the season's over.
But it gets better. Seems MS might be rethinking locked divisions. Don't know if it's true or how extensive the change would be if it comes but--
What's worse than paying for the right to pay for your spot in a division? How 'bout having the MS jack you up in the first place and then stripping you of any residual value the spot might have by opening the division up again. It's like a license to steal. And the MS didn't even have to pay for it.
Gotta admit it was a clever gambit though. Create "value" out of thin air by restricting the number of teams that can compete in a given division and make them pay for the privilege of paying for a whole season upfront. Of course it only works if there isn't an alternative and if there really are more teams out there than there are spots to go around. Let's see how many are put up for sale (if locked divisions are left intact) and where the price floor is. At a guess I'd say that market is pretty soft.
Oh yeah, the reason I'm rambling about the MS was that I'd heard, not for the first time, an undercurrent suggesting that (again) a move to more closely match the PSP brand of xball with the MS version. The two principle reasons given are a world format and more cost cutting this side of the pond. For starters the MS would have to start playing xball and not that emasculated not even xball lite most of them play. Can you tell I'm not a big fan?
The other thing was ROF. Apparently MS is also thinking of lowering the rof limit to 10 bps. This is a more serious subject as it has ramifications over here. Next post will be devoted to the subject.
I may also make an effort to do the MS circumstances justice if I can work up the motivation. Don't hold your breath.
Friday, September 19, 2008
If, as has often been bandied about, the pro teams are in some senses being carried by the league(s) then my question is; why? Why does the PSP pay out of pocket to keep the NXL going? (While we can debate the dollars, at best--at best--the NXL may come close to breaking even) And if the Pro Division in the NPPL is no better than a break even bracket (between reduced entry fees and prize payout it's probably a net loser) why is so much emphasis put on the Pros and why isn't anyone talking about "fixing" the league(s) by dumping the deadbeats and losers?
Stop spluttering and answer the question.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating dumping the (pro) deadbeats and losers. That would leave me in a bad place. (And I don't buy the conventional wisdom anyway.) But, in order to address the issues confronting the pro divisions it's important to begin at the beginning, with our assumptions. Without offering the answer there are a couple of things that can be said that reflect the current thinking. (Irrespective of its practicality or rationality.) The pro divisions aren't simply about dollars and cents. The leagues do assign a value to the pro divisions that isn't strictly represented by the bottom line. A significant element of that perceived value is in seeing the pro teams (and players) as the epitome of competitive paintball and the public face of competitive paintball and the likely wedge into wider mainstream acceptance and recognition.
What assumptions underlie this thinking?
Try these: The pro division (and players) represents the best of the sport; makes the best argument in favor of paintball as sport; inspires and motivates players at every level of competition. Which is good for the league and for paintball. The pro division (and players) is the draw to compete on a national level. Which is good for the league.
The pro division (and players) is the primary marketing vehicle for competitive paintball and PBIndustry. Which is good for the paintball, the league and PBIndustry.
We'll come back to the assumptions and their validity in a minute. But first--
Let's review the state of the pro teams today. Teams are failing. More are expected to follow. The cost of competing is overwhelming a (probably significant) percentage of the remaining teams. Everyone involved is concerned and uncertain where equilibrium is to be found. And the one critical factor that hasn't been taken into account is that the league(s) are directly competing with the teams for increasingly scarce sponsorship dollars. Reread that last part. Let it sink in. Today's post is brought to you by the word counterproductive. Say it with me boys and girls, counterproductive. Now let's play a game of 'What If' with the NXL. (I'm not gonna deal with the NPPL only because I think the option offered in the "Brave New PB World" posts could work for them but their situation is complicated by a number of factors including money already spent and a lack of nationwide support for their format.) Back to the NXL.
WHAT IF the PSP kills it? It's gone. In its place a PSP Open division that operates like any other division. What's the result?
On a lot of things that never were particularly relevant to the teams or division. The more expensive scoreboard. Does it stay or go? Grandstands. Stay or go? A dedicated field. Stay or go? The NXL refs. Stay or go? Big prize money. Stay or go?
The first point is this: Calling the pro division the NXL and separating it from the other PSP divisions didn't make it more expensive nor did any action taken at the behest of the pro teams as a group. Every decision--let me repeat that--EVERY decision that added to the cost of running the NXL was predicated on one or more of the assumptions listed above and was made by the same peeps who now expect the NXL teams to pay for those decisions. I almost forgot. What would be the result if the PSP killed the NXL and put the pros in an Open division?
The league could operate the new division on the same cost/benefit calculus as all the other divisions, the pros would refuse to be gouged for entry and administration fees and everybody could reconsider their assumptions. SEE above.
Let's take it a step further. WHAT IF we do away with pros altogether? No more pro teams or pro players. The PSP to become four am brackets of xball (plus the 5-man stuff). D3 up thru Open. Everybody who was pro gets reclassed as Open or D1. Does it make any of the ex-pro teams or players any less skilled or accomplished than they when they were called pro? Of course it doesn't.
Point Two: There is nothing to be gained with a purely semantic restructuring unless it also involves a reappraisal of the assumptions above. (Even if the assumptions are invalid there is nothing gained in a simple semantic distinction.)
WHAT IF the assumptions are wrong? Then the sooner they are repudiated the better.
WHAT IF the assumptions are basically sound? Then they will factor in the future of competitive paintball--at some future time--but the issue confronting the leagues today is at what cost and can it be sustained. Pro football turned out to be a lucrative idea but even so teams and leagues failed in the process.
Right. Let's now take a moment to draw a few conclusions. The status quo seems unlikely to hold. If it doesn't how many pro teams go under in the next year or two and what would be the impact? At what point is the pro league really exclusive and at what point is it just a joke? However you might assess that I think it's fair to say that doing nothing will result in fewer pro teams. That leaves the league in the position to be proactive or to simply wait and see what happens next. In the wake of the lost pro teams ending the '07 season the PSP adopted some new rules and instituted format modifications in an effort to stem the tide. It wasn't enough. If they choose to act again they will have a variety of choices.
Alternative 1 is to "fine tune" the status quo and do a head count to see if they'll have a sufficient number of teams committed for next year. (Sufficient being the operative word.)
Alternative 2 is to reduce costs to the pro teams. As noted above the NXL is using the teams to pay for a league run the way the NXL wants it run. Perhaps they need to reconsider, economize and pass the savings on to the teams.
Alternative 3 is to fully integrate the pro division into the rest of the PSP and call it whatever you want.
WHAT IF the PSP seriously considers the radical alternative league structure presented in the 'Brave New Paintball World' series of posts?
The concept relies on a traveling Pro Circuit so the costs to the pro teams aren't reduced the way they would be for the am divisions playing regionally. However, the same potential cost savings that applied to alternatives 1 - 3 could also potentially apply to a Pro Circuit with regional leagues. But is it enough?
START HERE: (if you have a short attention span)
Remember when I claimed the pro teams were in competition with the league(s) for sponsorship support? (It's not the way everyone is used to thinking about the relationship but it is undeniable.) And that the NXL has set standards of operation to its liking and expects the competing teams to subsidize those standards? (That's either hubris or stupidity or both.) And it's definitely crazy. In this economic climate it's practically suicidal! What is required is a new Pro Paradigm. If the assumptions everyone makes about the pro level of play are basically sound and the leagues want to maintain a separate and dynamic pro division it must rethink how it does things--and it must have help.
The Pro Circuit relies on the league operating in cooperation with PBIndustry. The new Pro Paradigm includes the pro teams as integral parts of the whole. It acknowledges the teams as partners in the process instead of the current quasi-customer/quasi-marketing tool status most have today. The Pro Circuit means the league can focus on the core elements of promoting the partner members in PBIndustry and marketing competitive paintball to a wider audience using the showcase of the pro teams. And the best way to facilitate this is if everyone is working together toward a shared goal and with a common purpose. At a minimum it should be the Pro Circuit's responsibility to operate the pro events–not the pro teams to underwrite it. Depending on how inclusive the involvement of PBIndustry the potential exists to pool resources to support the pro teams. This would be possible because what the league is promoting is the Pro Circuit and the competing teams are the essential component of the circuit. And marketing the circuit would be a unifying effort and would only enhance the participating teams allowing them to function as both fan favorites and tools of league promotion. Virtually any option for how to structure the circuit in a nuts and bolts sort of way is on the table and only requires agreement to move forward. With specific regard to the teams themselves some of the issues to settle would be continued private ownership, a new franchise model or even league ownership or sponsor ownership of the teams (which could be shared in percentages among as many or as few sponsors as desired in a given case.) If not ownership then sponsorships could still be partially assigned by team predicated on relative values which could allow smaller sponsors a direct share of the overall marketing value. If you wanted to get really off the wall you could organize the teams geographically for real and draw rosters from the pools of regional players. Once you stop doing things the way they've always been done the possibilities are nearly endless. [As a practical matter it would be a tremendous amount of work but it all starts with the old vision thing.]
The fundamental goal is to create a sustainable model that both develops competitive paintball and showcases competitive paintball and does so in a cooperative environment that benefits everybody involved. And the final point is to stop competing amongst ourselves where it is counterproductive and work toward a model based on common interest that can more effectively utilize the dollars spent.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
So, I'm gonna start harping again on one of the suggestions I made last year around this time for helping to reduce cost to compete at the pro level. (I'm leaving out of this the whole Pro Circuit and the details in the follow up Pro Paradigm--which will post later today--as they aren't essential elements for this particular cost reducing suggestion.)
STOP RELEASING THE PRO FIELD LAYOUT IN ADVANCE OF THE TOURNAMENT. (No, I'm not yelling, just being forceful.)
How does that reduce costs, you ask? (Even if you didn't ask I'm gonna tell you.) Not only will it most likely reduce cost but it will also have added extra benefits by way of intended consequences. (As opposed to those pesky unintended consequences which usually don't turn out so well.)
The current preparation standard is to scrimmage another team or run points on the event layout both of which churn ungodly amounts of paint. (We usually burn 80-100 cases a weekend doing that.) No layout and everyone has to re-think how to prepare for an event. The focus becomes not learning every detail of a specific field but in developing players ability to understand and exploit all sorts of different possibilities. This can be done with considerably less commitment to blazin' paint. And in the process you create a player with the mental skill set of the Old Skoolers and the physical skill set of the xball generation.
The result is refocusing on skills and teaching how to bring those skills into play without the necessity of shooting millions of balls and coupled with the new flexibility in field design would mean that at events you would see teams playing to their particular strengths and matches would be not only a match of skills but of styles.
The argument offered last time around against this suggestion was that local fields have purchased xball fields and without the layouts there's no guarantee anybody plays them specifically--but think on that for a second--
If you are an xball team what kind of field are you going to train on? Does it really matter that you don't have the layout? I don't think it does but if the PSP is still concerned then the simple answer is to make the NXL field layout different from the divisional layout.
Okay, so maybe it won't save any pro teams but it might and it's still a good idea.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
My concern began before the current regime. It began when registrations event-to-event, year-to-year started to slip. But then Pacific Paintball stepped up and took over and everyone felt sure a corner had been turned. Pacific was backed by a large forward thinking advertising company and the word was they had a plan. A plan only a chosen few were privy to (I sure as hell wasn't included and no reason I should have been) but even so everybody said these were the guys to save paintball. With their secret plan.
So what did they do?
Took all the goodwill of positive press and being the new guys and did the same damn things that contributed to sinking the old guys; change nothing but hype it like crazy--aw--awwwwwh, turned a blind eye to (obviously) poor reffing--Awwwwwwhhhh, while insisting they do so have effective gun rules--AWWWWWHHHHHHHHH!
Find themselves hemorrhaging divisional teams and offer discounted Pro Division entries.
But they --aw--awwwwwh--Awwwwwwhhhh--AWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHH!--have a secret plan!
See the 7-man format struggling and decide the way forward is to directly compete against themselves with the XPSL.
But they--aww--awwwwwh--AWwwwwhhhh--AWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHH!--have a secret plan!
Buy a magazine to promote their vision when virtually every dead tree print publication in existence is concerned about its survival.
But they--awww--awwwwwhh--AWwwwwhhhh--AWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHH!--have a secret PLAN!
Focus on another paintball TV show (they insist the network is paying to produce) that to every appearance hasn't made one iota of difference!
But they--awww--AWwwwwhhh--AWWWWWWHHHH--AWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHH!--HAVE A SECRET PLAN! AND THEY ARE MARKETING GENIUSES!
Aw, I feel much better.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Sam Kinison check out the link. Rated:R
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I don't want to talk down anybody but it ain't cool.
Anybody else having the same problem?
Friday, September 5, 2008
There is a faction within the NPPL Pro division that has argued for the discontinuation of promo/relegation. There has also been some serious talk about some teams bailing (just not as publicly as over in the NXL.) Then you've got the 6 teams paid in the Semi-pro division for Houston (as of today.) Doesn't exactly make a strong case for bringing up fresh, hungry teams and talent, does it?
[btw, rumor has it Jersey Authority will be temporarily "relegating" a couple of their best players to M.O.D. in order to solidify their hold on a semi-pro promotion slot. Oops!]
The argument is the division needs continuity and to establish itself in the mold of American pro sports and more importantly the teams need both the security and the accompanying added value. Without promo/relegation a mid-tier team struggling for sponsorship can now offer assurances they are and will remain a pro team, one of a limited number. See how security adds value? This is not a small thing--especially to the teams.
Against this you have the perceived value of promo/relegation which is making all games played important and the contention it forces all the teams to compete even if they are out of the series running or unlikely to outright win an event. (Don't play for love of the game, play outta fear of relegation.) The reality is nobody in the pro bracket accepts losing games nonchalantly and nobody in the pro bracket gains anything from losing.
But-- (There's always a but, isn't there?)
The problem is that promo/relegation is only a mechanism for dropping and adding teams. And getting rid of it doesn't really achieve the result some think it will. The reason for this is because there is no formalized relationship between the teams and the league. This isn't a pressing issue today. And it won't be one tomorrow if the league fails. It will only be an issue if the league begins to succeed in a bigger way. In the meantime even without promo/relegation the status quo would remain and that arrangement pits the teams collectively against the league in the effort to build support and develop sponsorship.
However you look at it--glass half empty, glass half full--it's a step in the right direction, I think, if this rumor becomes reality.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
If you're still reading you can breath a sigh of relief as this is the final installment. In case there's any confusion here's a short outline of where things stand.
1) Ditch the multi-division national tourney format
2) In its place, the Pro Circuit
3) PBIndustry sponsors the Pro Circuit
4) Re-focus existing resources and relationships to create 4 or 5 regional series for all levels of play except the pros. (Or integrate existing regional series under a unifying PSP umbrella.)
5) the Pro Circuit becomes a tour "visiting" the existing regions once each season
6) season finale like World Cup becomes a true championship event as regions send their best representatives to Cup to compete for real national titles.
Right, let's flesh this out a bit one point at a time. (I'm gonna base this off a PSP assumption on the basis that PSP already has a successful World Cup and, I think, more of the potential regional building blocks exist in the xball format but I remain totally in favor of another league and the 7-man format.) This isn't intended to be comprehensive. The goal is simply to suggest a viable alternative, to think about where paintball is going and what paintball needs outside the outmoded (stagnant) (failing) framework of the past.
1) For a bunch of reasons. The current structure exists to support the Pro event (at least that was the genesis of the current tourney structure) but it demands an unwieldy scale that can't survive on either too few teams or function on too many teams. The expense to the lower division teams limits their opportunities, places the bar to national competition too high for many teams and directly competes with local and regional tournaments which actually inhibits grassroots development of the sport. A move away from an all-encompassing national series will improve tournament paintball particularly when part of the process is a unifying rule set, format, and standards & practices packaged with the payoff of a true championship(s).
2) The "new" Pro Circuit is the pre-existing pro bracket or whatever form is agreed upon; open, expanded, etc. It becomes the only division playing a national series in the sense the pros continue to travel to event sites around the country. (What's the real alternative? There aren't that many pro teams even today. And besides, I hear PSP has a plan in the works intended to be used within the present structure that will integrate seamlessly with this conception and enhance it. [Sorry, that's another one you'll have to wait for an official press release.]) On the plus side pro level competition becomes more important as it becomes less directly accessible. A Pro Circuit experience becomes a special annual event designed to showcase the epitome of the sport and bolster the different regional series.
3) How this works is, admittedly, a complicated proposition but the core concept is that the sponsoring vendors and PBIndustry follow the Pro Circuit. The result is an annual appearance in each region that coincides with the Pro Circuit appearance and means that instead of expecting the same teams and players to spend money at multiple events you reach a different customer base at each event and in all likelihood draw a much larger local turnout than is the norm at most of the current events.
4) There are already some xball based regional series. The goal is to establish a unified rulebook, universal (to the league and its members) standards and practices including refereeing programs and use the regional series to replace the national series for all the am divisions of play. Where regional series exist bring them in if they want to be part of the Pro Circuit and participate in World Cup and where they don't exist find partners and begin to make it happen. The expertise already exists and there is no reason each region must conform in every detail of how they operate. The upside is enormous. Build a regional base that is more affordable for the players and teams, you develop local rivalries, the teams support their region and once a year when everybody gathers for World Cup the resulting competition is a true championship. In addition the Pro Circuit makes the pro teams and players more relevant because they are no longer a commonplace feature of every event. Pro Circuit stops become uniquely special as does WC.
5) The Pro Circuit visits each region once a year. Each region functions independently of the others. Where a CFOA type arrangement works in the east a west coast regional series may operate out of only a couple of locations and that's fine. The draw is the format, the association with the other regions and operating under the PSP umbrella that delivers a Pro Circuit stop and an opportunity for the real best of the best to compete for a WC title. There's plenty of flexibility. When the Pro Circuit comes to town it is held in concert with a regularly scheduled regional series event. Consider the effect a Pro Circuit stop could have in generating interest and excitement and serving as validation of the regional series and competition. A distinct Pro Circuit also increases the promotional and marketing value to the supporting PBIndustry.
6) Imagine the level of excitement and interest pulled from every competing region when the best teams in each division from every region come together to fight for a real honest-to-god World Cup title. And best of all if the promoters of Cup want to also offer a big annual celebratory tourney for anyone who wants to come, like it is today, they still can. The more the merrier. In that way WC remains the greatest event in paintball and becomes an active marketing exercise that promotes the league, the regional affiliates, pro paintball and tournament paintball in general.
There ya go, kids. Sure, there's nits to pick and details that have been glossed over and plenty of possible objections but those are all beside the point. The reality is the status quo might, and I mean might, be sustained for a while but is that really good enough? I don't think so. And yes, this plan means those with power now may have to divest themselves of some of it. (On that score the issue is what do they want out of tournament paintball?) However, in exchange they will get a leaner more efficient tourney series that builds at the grassroots level and allows then to focus their attention on the Pro Circuit which will retain all the future potential that was the goal of the original NXL.
There's more but either you buy into the concept or you don't.
Um, I don't quite know how to break this to you but I'm gonna do one more post on this subject. That one will be about building a productive relationship between the pro teams and the league(s)--which doesn't come close to existing now.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Otherwise I'm kinda ambivalent about this situation. Pro teams have a history of not being terribly responsible even though the last couple of years have put the screws to everybody. So if this is what has to happen then I guess I'm okay with it. You know, if you want free paint from the Procaps crowd it takes some brass ones to agree to one number and then blithely shoot however much you feel like and expect somebody else to pick up the tab. (Yeah, I know, that's happened before too but still.)
And on the flipside you got all those am level teams shooting wheelbarrows full of paint and paying for it themselves. (Irrespective of the assorted deals that get done with stores and fields.) How sympathetic are they gonna be? Not very would be my guess.
And the numbers given looked to me to be on the high side for the current environment. Almost nobody gets those kind of numbers anymore.
Lastly, maybe this will help make the case I tried to make last off season about practice. The standard is to go out and run scrimmage points on the tourney field against a competitive opponent. It works pretty well but it also burns paint like a Hummer sucks down unleaded. Maybe it's time to run a series on how to practice without using so much damn paint. If you're interested let me know 'cus that's gonna be some real work.
Time to alienate some more peeps. With the demise of PGi paintball media is diminished. Oh sure there are still plenty of mags about; digital Splat (paintball's FHM wannabe), PB2X (media mouthpiece of Pacific Paintball), Paintball Sports (defunked but not defunct) and Rich Telford's World of Paintball, er, FaceFull. Yeah, there's a couple others but seriously... None of them are terrible. (Your mileage may vary.)
I was gonna dog the remaining mags for the things they aren't and the inclination to play it safe while delivering their personal brand of vanilla sludge. Instead I'd like to encourage all of them to consider the opportunity they have now. That opportunity is to break out of the mold and become something more than just another cookie cutter paintball cheerleader. An opportunity to step up and take a leading role, to be a responsible advocate for the good of the game, to exercise a little honest paintball journalism. Does Paintball need another snap-shooting article or puff piece interview of some soon to be forgotten "pro" or could Paintball use some vocal leadership, some fearless voices asking the big, tough questions and stirring debate with uncompromised positions?
The answer of course is high-minded journalism doesn't pay the bills and the first irate phone call from an advertiser unhappy with an editorial position is a no-brainer. Lose the attitude. Reality bites.
After twenty years. It's a real loss to paintball and a personal loss as well. I was fortunate enough to have been a part of the PGi family for over 4 years and enjoyed every moment of it. I'd also like to take a moment to publically thank Steve Duffy (editor, group editor, masochistic mountain biker), Matt Tudor (publisher), Ant Jones (editor), Jason Manning (sales & editorial and all-purpose paintball slave) and finally Pete Robinson (master of the universe). Steve in particular was instrumental in my opportunity with PGi.
PGi had a unique style and wit. And in recent years it pushed the envelope on what a paintball publication could and should be. It was the first (and sometimes only mag) to consistently tackle the controversial issues of the day. It will be missed.
Edit: Seems there is the usual confusion around the net about parts of this. What about WELT? There is every intention for WELT, the digital mag, to continue production. Adding to the transition problems August is vaca month for the Eurokids so everyone is just getting back to their cubicles.
Additional edit: The other reason I posted two full past columns, besides their relevance to a current topic of interest, was to demonstrate how PGi was different. No other mag would have published either of those columns and in fact other paintball mags have either rejected or spiked similar columns since.