Monday, February 16, 2009

The Pro Team Crack-Up

If you've been paying attention you've heard it was gonna be bad but you didn't really believe it, (or want to believe it) did you? Don't lie. Accept the truth and move on. It was kinda scary recently with the PSP but, look, they have 13 pro teams registered and paid. Sure, if you go back a couple of seasons and start counting the pro teams that ain't around no mo' it's pretty surprising to realize just how many teams have disappeared, but still, there have always been replacements, right? (Although, back in the day, all this willy-nilly jumping up to pro would have been frowned on and more than a team or two considered illegitimate until they proved otherwise. No point really. I'm just saying.) The PSP has their teams and the USPL has theirs and suddenly everything is looking pretty good. How bad could it really be?

Let's start with a short, and I mean really short, history primer. (For those of you who already know all this stuff feel free to skip ahead to the next part.) It used to be the window for arranging sponsorships for the upcoming season mostly occurred between the end of Cup and something around six to eight weeks later. In recent years the changing face of the industry as well as more turnover among the teams changed the nature and duration of many sponsorship negotiations. The last year or two has seen the process drag out and the process less cordial and the deals just plain less of most everything. This off season most deals were finalized well into the new year with plenty of teams shocked at the offers that were forthcoming and others shocked when nothing was forthcoming.

Is it possible the worst is now behind us? Honestly it would be fantastic if a year from now y'all took turns mocking me for being the Chicken Little of Paintball. It would be well worth it (particularly as your opinion of me doesn't keep me up at night.) And I am ambivalent about taking such a pessimistic and negative position. The problem is anything else (from me) would be the glad-handing, superficial smile and wheelbarrow of horse-puckey everybody else is used to shoveling (and receiving). This way, it may suck but at least it won't be a huge surprise.

Bottom line is simple. You've heard the talk about paint (or the lack thereof) being the bright yellow line between the haves and the have nots this year. And it's true. But it's worse than that, too. Last year by mid-season there were pro teams running out of sponsored paint. This year almost everybody got even less, and in a few cases, nothing at all. More than a few teams were so frightened at the prospects they played ostrich and stuck their collective heads in the sand hoping that somehow everything would turn out okay. As a result, combined with sponsor delays, some final deals went wanting into February.

What we are left looking at today is a majority of teams doing the calculations over and over and still uncertain if they can last out the year or not. Not only is paint down, way down in many cases but so--for the most part--are all the other components of sponsoring a pro team. There isn't "extra" plugged in somewhere else to help make up the short fall. Add to that new restrictive event sponsor rules and there will be teams put at odds with sponsors and the only leagues available to compete in. Despite virtually everyone in PBIndustry decrying the waste and unsustainable nature of two competing leagues in recent years there remains no unity of vision or commonality of purpose. Just new versions of the same in-fighting and market manipulations that have been the hallmark of PBIndustry's past intransigence and weakness.
There are teams today committed to play that do not know how they are going to manage even an event reduced whole season. (Although how a team commits to the season without actually paying their entries I have yet to figure out. And, yes, I am implying that there are teams who have spots but have not yet ponied up. Nobody whispered that in my ear and I can't prove it--today--but I believe it's true.) They are hoping to cross that bridge when they come to it. The status quo cannot be maintained. As teams continue to bite the bullet and economize wherever and however they can manage so too players will have to expect less and/or contribute more if they expect to have continuing opportunities to play.

The worst isn't here yet. More pro teams will implode and go the way of the dodo. How many will crash and burn? I don't know but at a guess I'd say around 50% between the day pro teams step on the field at HB and this time next year. I don't see any way to avoid it. It has been suggested that culling the herd is an essential element for future recovery and maybe it is. It is certainly a better bet that those who make it to next year will have to share the shrinking sponsorships with fewer competing teams but it might also be constructive to take a look at paintball media. Dead tree media is withering away everywhere right now, not just in paintball. Paintball ad revenues will not revive a dying industry. Across the board PBIndustry doesn't really know what to do. As soon as somebody gets the nerve up to try something most everybody else breathes a sigh of relief and jumps on the latest bandwagon. We are at present getting a first look at what happens when industry chooses to pass on competitive paintball. Or in this case is unable to prop it up like it once did.

Longer term the question isn't how many pro teams will there be but will Competitive Paintball be able to sustain even a remnant if PBIndustry largely passes competitive paintball by?


Anonymous said...

When WDP was involved at least you could blame it on an us vs. them thing. You can't blame WDP for not wanting to throw their lot in with Smart Parts after the legal issues (commentary on either company notwithstanding).

Now you can chalk it up to a few things:
Camille wants a paycheck for doing something she knows and loves.
Telford wants control, and a place he can continue to call home after snubbing the top dog of the PSP.
Chuck possibly wants control, but really just wants to stick his finger in the eye of the PSP.
Fraige is still chasing the dream of being independent.

I don't know who else is involved, but take all of those interests, add in a few others and spin it into "We are doing this for you the player" and that about sums it up.

Of course, a not-so-flattering picture of the PSP could easily be made as well.

Dye/SP want to control the future direction of the sport, and thus ensure their brands "own" a certain percentage of it.
Lane wants a paycheck and to keep doing what he knows how to do best and loves to hate.
Keely is along for the ride.
KEE is trying to figure out how they can pull out of this mess without suffering financial disaster.

Baca Loco said...

I've reposted this comment under 'The Appeal of the USPL' thread as that seems a better fit.

Tim Cerruti said...

Man that was depressing, but in the society that we live in, people serve their own interests. I not so sure about the whole control issue, XSV and dynasty are more of the 7man types and want to keep it alive. Its the format that they thrive in, and win in, its not to hard to get that. At least this new league is looking after their teams best interest along with the best interests of the teams that want to play 7man. At least they are (literally) asking people even on nation on how to make their events more friendly to its players. I mean, what if the PSP actually asked its players if they wanted to lower the bps. Maybe it would have gone the same way, but the caught a lot of flak when they first made all of these changes.

Lawrence said...

one thing that the USPL has done right: they have a great website.

I'm thoroughly impressed by the website, even though it's lacking in content. Good job USPL.

Anonymous said...


Is this the same XSV that was almost knocked out of the pro division in 7man that you call thriving? Just want to get a basis for comparison.

Dynasty does well in every format.

The USPL does have a very nice, if perhaps too much to look at website. Although when I look at it, nothing could be more clear that they are saying, "this is the sample nppl, just a different name."

In which case all those conspiracy theories about driving the NPPL into the ground to wrest control of a new league seems to sound appetizing. On the other hand, they're just playing to their strengths for continuities sake.

Back to the question at hand. It is good if we can trim the fat of some of the excess pro teams. Or rather, if we can go through a couple years of pros getting what their worth and letting individual players/teams decide what to do from there.

Anonymous said...

same nppl, not sample...

retired pro said...

To the Anon that commented first, man did he hit so many things on the head. Unfortunately this is the paintball reality we live in. Many many interest but unfortunately no true industry leader. Everyone honestly out for their best interest and gain. Thats business...

maldon007 said...

I really dont keep up with the latest (or any really) industry talk, so I could be waaaay off... But I do try to sell paintball gear, and business has been crap, worse than crap really. So to me it only makes sense that competitive ball, that started out 100% paid for by those playing, and only slowly turned into a paid advertisment for the industry, would return to the old ways ways when money stops rolling in.
Im sure there will always be some kind of league to play in, though the pro division may be full of guys who are there less for their raw talent, and more for their big bank accounts. It certainly doesnt seem chicken little-ish to assume a faultering industry would stop paying big money to fly guys around the country & give them goodies toplay with, when the return on investment is questionable.

BobCat said...

I know my post on the topic is coming in a bit late but let me get it out of my system...The Return of investment on a paintball team is real bad. Bob Long left the NXL in 2007 and made a comment along the lines that 150K to pay for a paintball team is silly. It is not a worthwhile expense for a company, even if they are fully decked out in your companies gear and win the opening event of the season.
Sales are sliding and the industry is getting tight, in America, smarter people then me should be talking about OPEN EVENTS in Mexico, Russia and other areas of growth. If teams want to keep getting industry money they need to show their sponsors return for their money, winning events is not good enough because nobody cares who won event numbers 1-4 last season in the PSP (I know Inf, Damage, dyna). Teams are going to have to get creative with finding ways to prove their value to sponsors.
Baca If the PB industry cuts back on support for tournaments then we all better start going back to school since they seem to be the only people with outside money coming in.