Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can the USPL Succeed?

The battle cry is that the widespread, grassroots love of the 7-man format demands it. I confess it has a certain grand gesture kind of appeal. (Lost causes often do.) Unfortunately it's only true to a smaller-than-you-think wistful cadre of empty-headed kids whose knowledge and awareness of this game go all the way back to around 2005. (Btw, before you get all offended at being called an empty-headed kid if you feel all sentimental and gooey about a 7-man league owned and operated by players for players finish reading the post. And realize I'm right. Then you can feel embarrassed and offended.)

Before I get started though I've got a funny story for you. Okay, maybe not funny ha-ha but funny ironic. You see, I have been put forward by my team to be our liaison with the USPL. I even volunteered and I will do whatever I can to help. For real. (I would honestly be thrilled to be wrong about this.) However, since I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid I have a feeling that I may not be all that welcome. At this writing I haven't heard from anyone. Yet. [*sniff* *sniff* I smell another cynical VFTD game coming soon.]

(For the extra inquisitive, no, none of my personal money is involved and, no, I was not directly involved in the team's decision-making process though my views were known and, yes, I think my team will be losing its investment at some point. It was deemed an acceptable risk for reasons I do not disagree with.)

Here's the thing. There are a number of smart people fronting this effort but they are not approaching it the way smart business people would do. (Which is another irony all its own.) For starters they picked a very bad time to begin and further complicated things by giving themselves almost no time to get everything more or less settled and ready to launch. Between them, despite what some might think, they do not have the depth of expertise necessary to pull this off within a narrow window and without significant resources. Speaking of resources I have heard that Kingman/Spyder is not prepared to just dump money into the USPL--which is, at this point in time, almost a prerequisite to any hope of success. In addition, there are some major sponsors who are rumored to be actively trying to discourage their sponsored teams from participating. If true that is a significant strike against.

A rudimentary feature of prudently planning for a new business is to project a window of results from if-everything-goes-as-planned to worst case what's-the-bare-minimum-we-can continue-on. This is where hard-headed concrete numbers apply and where greater or lesser margins of error are calculated into prospective budgets as percentages or real dollars given either insufficient expertise or uncertain data. (Or in this case, both.) This is where the Iron Law of Tournament Logistics kicks your ass if you aren't careful (or sometimes even if you are.) [More on that in the upcoming Iron Law post.] Everything I have heard so far suggests assumptions are being made without full awareness of, or consideration given to, the potential pitfalls and the numbers being inked in leave little margin for error or deviation from expectations. And that is a recipe for catastrophic failure. Particularly in the midst of an economic dep-, er, recession. Here are a few real world examples: What happens when the tenting you rented becomes your property because it is stained with paint and the rental agency not only won't take it back but hands you a bill to cover the replacement costs? That's thousands of dollars difference right there. What happens at HB, by the pier, when some kiosk operator or some passersby get painted and sue? Is the city of HB going to indemnify the USPL of liability? Or a USPL agent driving a company truck hits a car or runs over somebody's dog? What's in the current budget for cleaning up the beach post-event? (The first year that was a big overrun item.) What happens when the number of teams projected doesn't show? The reality is there are literally hundreds of questions like these to be answered and prepared for and budgeted for in ways that protect the business and do everything possible to prepare for the unexpected. That isn't happening now.

Current USPL projections are looking for around 140 teams for the Boston regional. If that number is essential to success you can call it day right now because 140 teams is not going to happen. And anybody with a lick of sense and the ability to make a couple of phone calls while looking at the last few years of event turnout for the NPPL can make that determination in a few minutes.

Is the league planning on committing funds to capital investment or sliding by this year on rentals to try and maintain a positive cash flow and keep the accounting simple? What happens when there are budget short falls? Or the season ends up in the red? Who is on the hook? Has anybody noticed what's happening to the pro teams in the meantime or how bizarre this past off season has been--and why? [More to come on this as well in The Pro Team Crack-up.]

I have yet to hear anything about the nuts & bolts of operating the USPL that seems to rely on sound, practical business procedures or that acknowledges the demands and complications of making this happen. It is all pie in the sky wouldn't it be swell if ... and that can be seductive but it won't pay the bills and they will still come due. The smartest thing the USPL could do today or tomorrow is decide they need more time to get it right and announce they are putting the project on hold in anticipation of launching the Surf City Open in 2010. Meanwhile they encourage and support the regional 7-man events and series that are already in place.

One other thing. If anyone wants to dispute any of this, in part or in whole, please do not hesitate to rebut anything you think is wrong or unfair. I, for one, would be happy to hear it. The only stipulation is that you may have to defend it. After all, ideally, VFTD is interested in dialogue.

Finally, please don't take any of this as an effort to put you off participating. If you want to play the Surf City Open this April, by all means, come on down and I hope you enjoy it.

UPDATE: Now I'm in for it. The always gracious Camille has called my bluff and it looks like I'll have to work for my supper.


Anonymous said...

The people running the USPL are better than most in the paintball business. Some run multi million dollar companies already. They will do what they say, and players will play! You should dig deeper or ask qustions before making the above assumptions....

Tim said...

man, i miss 10 man still, does that make me one to live in the past?

Anonymous said...

I think it was all great points and concerns about the uspl. Psp is clearly up on it's attendance b/c of these reasons. Honestly with the economy I don't think there's room for 2 leagues and formats. I'm def not a big fan of who runs the psp but the format is better. Time will tell

Baca Loco said...

Hi Anon #1
I take it you're one of the empty-headed kids--regardless of your chronological age. If you could point to a specific for me other than to express all those ever so popular hopey-changey feelings I'd be happy to address specifics.

Yes Tim, you are living in the past. But cheer up. It could be worse. You could be wearing a Ghilley suit and crawling around in some filthy woods.

Tim Cerruti said...

I dont even care if surf city open is held at SC Village or on the beach, i just want to play paintball.