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?