Thursday, December 31, 2009

Interview with Ken Bryson

Like the title says this is an interview with Ken Bryson of the Palm Beach Vipers. When I first heard about Ken's plan to expand the Vipers I was intrigued. Not because I couldn't wait for lots of new little snakes slithering around but because his plans sounded like they were addressing an issue I've blogged about before and continue to think is one of the core problems facing tournament paintball--the lack of leadership in the formation and maintenance of teams. I ask Ken about that and more so read on.

1--Seems like there's quite a lot of talk about the Vipers regional plans but not always much information. Can you lay out the basic concept, Ken?
Our plan is to start and build Palm Beach associated teams built from local players in areas where there are or have been strong regional sized tournament series. For instance we will build teams in NC that will focus on the CFOA, in GA to play GFOA events (also able to attend CFOA). In FL to support our struggling regional CFPS and SPCS events. In the Chicago area to play the MW events as well as a mid-division USPL/NPPL team. And finally 2 teams in CA, one north and one south, to play RPL and WCPPL. In the process of building these regional programs I hope to motivate other teams to strengthen their programs as well, if for no other reason than to come out and beat on Palm Beach. Join the teams because you like what we're doing or build your own teams because you hate us. Either way is fine with me, it still helps achieve the end result.

2--Part of the internet chatter has pronounced this a money making scheme. Is it?
Not at all. I have heard the same talk about this issue. Every time I see some 'internet qualified paintball expert' chime in about my grand plan to fleece the player base and line my pockets with all these millions of dollars I will be collecting I have to laugh. You know as well as I do that there is no money to be made running paintball teams. Anyone that thinks there is, or knows how to do it please let me know.

3--How does it benefit the players?
Hopefully the plans will all go as we hope and we will be able to keep the players interested in participating (in) the regional and national tournament series. Anyone that joins in and commits to playing the season with (the) team in their region will have all of the same benefits, entitlements and responsibilities that the rest of the Palm Beach teams for 2010. A big part of the over all plans are to encourage all of the team players to get back to inviting new people out to play as often as they can. Paintball needs new money, that will only come from marketing and promoting the game to their friends and families and even total strangers.

4--What are the benefits, entitlements and responsibilities of a Palm Beach Viper?
The responsibilities are most important to me, those include promoting the local paintball scene, specifically the playing facilities and stores that our players live on and around. Without these people we are all done playing; they need our support. On a larger scale I expect out players to represent the team, our sponsors, the industry and paintball in general in a mature professional manner that will not cause them drama or embarrassment. Basically act like a human being and don't do shit you or I will have to apologize for later. Our younger players who are still in school are expected to maintain a reasonable grade point average and take care of all their family responsibilities. If mom and dad are happy so am I. Older players are expected to be able to sustain themselves financially, and be able to manage their money properly so that their bills are paid, and be responsible with their spending and budgeting so they can afford to play for the team. The players are expected to bring new people into the sport and help develop the player base. And our players must understand that they are a marketing tool for paintball, our sponsors and supporting companies and for the team.
The entitlements and benefits include all of the discounts, support and sponsorship that we have been fortunate to receive from the industry and some from outside the industry companies and individuals who believe in what the team represents, and what were doing. Paintball companies that support the team know we are a very effective marketing tool, were lucky to be visible and well known, and the size of the team gives them access to a huge network of players all over the world. And they all get to be Facebook pals with Sinan and say they know DQ.

5--Doesn't it also benefit the team's sponsors? And the more players involved the better the sponsors like it?
The plans have been exceptionally well received by all of the companies that are working with Palm Beach. I have given them all the run down on how things are going to work and how each will benefit from the expansion. The various field owners around the country that will end up hosting the teams are the most supportive, as they all realize that they will be the ones that benefit the most.

6--If it's not about making money then why do it?
Well because it needs to be done. Why conquer the peaks of K2 and Everest? Frankly and honestly there is a bit of an ego boost, owning the world's largest paintball organization is pretty cool. I'm not going to deny it. In the last 26 years paintball has given me a lifetime of fantastic memories. I have met amazing people and built lifelong friendships, traveled all over the country and seen places I might not have had the chance to do otherwise. I want all of my players to have the same chances to do the same things as I have. But more importantly I am hoping that in some tiny measure what we are doing together as a team will keep some of our players out of trouble, off the street, away from drugs, and focused on educating themselves and life outside paintball. If in the process we can introduce a new crop of players that will carry the torch for the next and keep money flowing in the industry, all the better.

7--That sounds like a lot of work. How actively involved can you be with so many teams?
It will be a ton of work, no doubt of that. I will be around the regional teams as much as I can but there's no way for me to be there all the time and I never planned to be, that wasn't part of the idea. This isn't about duplicating the Palm Beach core everywhere else. I know I can't train or coach all of these players and teams. It's logistically impossible. Each region will have a director that I will work closely with in guiding them on how to manage the logistical part of the teams operation. Practices and the events each team will be attending will be arranged by that team's director. The directors will be held to some pretty rigid expectations, we have been fortunate to find guys in the areas that we have announced tryout dates for that are dedicated, committed and believe in what we are trying to do together. In the end the success or failure of these regional teams will depend on the level of commitment from the players on those teams.

8--So that mean a critical piece of the puzzle will be regional leadership. Who are they and how did they get involved?
The regional directors are players that live in the area, play at the local fields and are well known and well connected in those areas. They all came to me after we posted the plans for the expansion asking for the chance to help to organize and help us. Each of them have said the right things to me and I believe that we have chosen guys that will have the best interest of the teams in mind. All of them have a fair amount of tournament experience and know their local player base well.

9--Okay, but your regional guys aren't new to paintball, are they? They've run teams before. How is this different? How is this helping?
All of the regional directors do have experience either running or managing teams of their own or were involved in the management of the teams that they have played with in the past. None of them are currently on teams for one reason or another. They all needed teams or wanted to create teams on their own. We are offering them the things they are short on, direction, support and the access to industry sponsorship that will help them get players who are recently out of the game or not playing as often as they can back on the field.

10--What about the notion that all the regional teams will do is cannibalize players from other teams?
I cannot stop players from leaving their teams to come and tryout or play with Palm Beach. I encourage them to stay there and keep their own programs strong. I have said often that I am not looking to scalp talent away from teams for the regional programs. Our plans are to offer teamless and newer players who may not have a chance to play tournaments that opportunity. If players do leave teams to play with us I'd have to question why they would want to do that or what was going wrong with their current teams that would motivate them to want to leave in the first place. Palm Beach should not be viewed as the vulture circling the dying man in the desert just waiting for them to drop. If there are teams who are struggling and worried that we are moving in to kill them off I want them to contact me and we can work together to help them find ways to strengthen their teams with access to our contacts in and out of paintball.

11--What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
I'd like to be named paintball czar and wear a really cool hat. If we can keep regional paintball active I believe that it will filter up to the national series and down to the local level to help revitalize the local scene. All of the regional teams will be working with their local pro shops for most of their equipment needs and with their fields to play and practice. We are also working on a project in cooperation with Draxxus and some of our other sponsors that will produce free play passes for the local fields and discounts for local pro shops. We will have more on that after we get all the details worked out and the passes produced. They will be free and anyone can get them from us to pass around to get people out to the field and playing paintball on a regular basis.

12--Who are the Vipers sponsors this year?
We made some huge changes this past off season. As most know we had been with Proto from the beginning. After 5 years it was decided on both sides that we should consider some new directions for the team. It was a friendly parting, I still love all of the guys over at Dye and certainly owe them an undying debt of gratitude. Were it not for Dye Palm Beach would never have lasted this long.
For 2010 the teams will be using Macdev guns, the PSP focused teams; semipro, Div1, two in Div2 and Div3, will all be shooting the new Clone. The regional teams will have a choice to shoot the Clone, Cyborg or Droid.
We will all be wearing custom Titan Pro jerseys designed by Tanked and our own Rick Applegarth and wearing Tanked pants.
Draxxus will again be on board with us for paint, and we will be wearing Grill masks as well.
Guerrilla Air will be the teams choice for tanks and regulators.
Packs, pads and luggage by NxE.
Gen X Global will be supplying the teams with pods.
KM Straps will be doing some new straps for our Grills.
Mike's Paintball Supply in West Palm Beach has always taken care of us along with just about every other player in the area.

13--What else would you like people to know about the PBV regional program?
Stay updated with all of the regional news and tryout dates on the Viper forums on the team website
Anyone interested in a regional team in their area should let us know and we can talk about plans to help make that happen.
If you are interested in more information on supporting the Palm Beach program or marketing your businesses thru us; contact me to discuss plans and ideas.

Okay, on that final bit of self-promotion let's call it an interview. Thanks, Ken.

JT channeled by JB: The Statement

Link is in the title. Below is the complete, as posted, statement.

Ballers Cafe has just received confirmation that JT has set out to align themselves with a strategic partner which will help carry the brand and its storied line of products into the next decade. From the information that we have been able to gather, JT is actively looking to merge the business or license the brand in early 2010 with another company within the paintball industry that can match the strengths JT has held for over 40 years in the Action Sports Industry.
Riding on the momentum from a successful new products launch of its FX Concept line at the 2009 Paintball Extravaganza, all indications showed that JT in fact had turned the corner in their rebuilding strategy and were on the right path to significantly growing their position among the major paintball manufactures. This will definitely be a significant asset for whoever partners with JT by adding both the new and existing products and technology from JT / Viewloader into their lineup. Sources close to JT have also confirmed that they are also positioning the company for a probable merger by informing its employee’s of the pending changes and preparing them with different changeover scenarios, possible relocation, and probable work force reductions. Nothing has been set in stone or finalized at the time of this writing but from what we were told, JT is exploring all their options and narrowing the list for equitable partners.
After all the unsubstantiated negative press that has been circulating recently about JT closing its doors for good, the editorial staff at Baller’s CafĂ© ensured that it had all the facts correct and that we spoke to the right people who would give us the correct information before we released anything. One additional and very important point we did managed to obtain was that in no way were the leaders of JT just going to “shudder the brand” and let it die. There is too much pride and commitment within the JT organization to let that happen. If, and only if, the leadership team is ensured they have the right partner that is a fit for the JT name, then they will move to lock in a deal. JT has been in business for 40 years and is looking to be in business for at least another 40 more, except this time they will do so with the right partner who is as passionate about paintball as they are. More will be added on Ballers Cafe as the news to who JT will be partnering with becomes public.

Before I get started I want to say how much I respect Rich and the XSV kids and that I appreciate their loyalty to JT. I only hope it is returned.

With respect to the above statement I have a few comments.
There was no effort involved to "find the truth", it is a prepared statement, an embarrassingly obvious prepared statement.
The claim is that JT is actively seeking "a partner"--which means they need a buyer. Did the hunt begin yesterday? The day before maybe? Why do they need a buyer? Did they just discover this "fact" in the last 10 days? That vicious rumor is completely untrue but come to think of it we sure could use a buyer. Maybe for the same reason they closed down the Neosha paint plant recently? (See yesterday's post and link.)
Regarding employees it's relocation and/or loss of employment--and that's if they find a buyer?
Does the Baller's Cafe have all the facts correct or is JB simply passing out the party line? And could somebody actually learn the English language for god's sake? "shudder the brand" Are you kidding me?
And finally, there's too much pride to let it die but if and only if the right partner is found will a merger/sale/whatever go forward. (The very definition of empty blather. I checked. Webster's says so.) But what happens if the right partner isn't found? (And the list of candidates seems to be shrinking daily.)

Fortunately for the great unwashed paintball still has a few remaining beacons of truth willing to seek the truth and give us the facts in the face of unsubstantiated negative press. Knowing that, I for one, rest easier.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Interesting Times: Wednesday Edition

Today we begin with the facts. In the not too distant past Ultimate Airball (UA) received their patent(s) on inflatable bunkers. (For more on that part of the story visit ProPaintball.) Not too long after that they announced they were back in full production and had reached a licensing agreement with Sup'Air. (For those who don't remember--or never knew--Ultimate Air made a heavier grade inflatable bunker than Sup'Air that came in a more limited variety of shapes and was promoted as a better all around outdoor use bunker. And one of the company's principles, Milt Call, was responsible for the Ultimate Madness 3-man tourneys in West Virginia back in the day and also the short lived WGN paintball show, Ultimate Arena Paintball. Seeing a pattern?) Unfortunately the timing turned out to have been inopportune as that was around the time things were going south in a big way and airball fields were less popular than herpes.

Returning to the present--and here is where the rumorology begins--UA is reputed to be on the verge of filing suit against Sup'Air for violating their licensing agreement--I know, another lawsuit in paintball *yawn* right?--but it gets better.
UA is also rumored to have threatened litigation on end users as well, big name leagues with three letter names anyway, that use Sup 'Air bunkers. (ProPaintball's story suggests the extent of the litigation may carry to other leagues as well.) That option is a viable legal strategy--they can include end users--in fact, it is the latest infringement lawsuit power play and often doesn't include the infringing manufacturer. The suits are rapidly becoming viewed as a ploy to squeeze money out of a larger pool of "violators" than a suit against a single manufacturer. And it is working. Litigation issues in patent cases are complex, uncertain and expensive and frequently mean that potential defendants pay off to avoid litigation even when they believe they're in the right. It does, however, within the paintball community context seem like a bad idea to sue your customer base.

Which brings us to the ironic portion of our story. Word on the street claims UA first tried to enlist the three letter league into a scheme where the league would promote and even broker sales for UA and, of course, use UA bunkers as the league's official bunkers. When the proposal was rebuffed then the litigation option was put on the table. You gotta love the paintball business, don't you?

JT Sports UPDATE: Brass Eagle--note the date. (h/t to Mick at T-Square for the link.) Plus Ballers Cafe has a statement posted regarding JT Sports' future.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Interesting Times: Tuesday Edition (The Director's Cut)

I am bored already with the end of season rumors (except the ones I can't divulge) so today's post is part rumor, part rumination.
On the JT front I've heard confirmation of the original confounding rumor but it doesn't go quite as far as giving an official closure date. And multiple sources suggest there's been at least one failed dialogue with respect to selling the company within the industry. (It could be an effort will now be made to keep it afloat long enough to prove it has value in ongoing efforts to sell.) And it seems the sale of JT Europe--to Cybergun--hasn't been finalized yet but within this process some wondered how it would effect MAXS (a large Germany-based European distributor & paintball dealer) as there has been speculation that JT also owned MAXS (or a share of it.) (While the speculation was apparently wrong this part is important to my ruminations below.) (Wow, back to back parenthetical statements--no, wait, triple parens, I think that's a new record!)

In recent months much of the industry has made changes that included personnel changes. One target has been sales forces and their salary structures and it has occurred in big companies and small. Kingman made their move late summer for example around the same time Procaps altered part of their Euro distribution scheme, particularly in France. And lately similar rumors have swirled around Dye Europe. One camp seems to think it's a pull back and reduction, the other a consolidation of Dye's Euro resources into the UK. Of course from the outside the two might look about the same and essentially serve the same basic function so ... call it what you like I suppose. Everyone is looking for ways to economize--which isn't exactly a shocker, is it?

In the Procaps case rumor has it that the distribution change was brought to a head by the size of the debt the distributor had accumulated due to Procaps advancing credit. While a commonplace practice offering credit terms in a contracting market runs a number of risks. One is that the size of the debt will alter the relationship between the creditor and the debtor, creating a shifting leverage imbalance (among other things). Put simply when you owe a man a thousand dollars he becomes impatient for repayment, when you owe him a million dollars he takes a great interest in your continued good health on one hand and how he can parlay the size of the debt to his advantage if repayment isn't forthcoming on the other.The Procaps bind was a guy who owed a lot of money but who couldn't generate more income without more product but he owed a lot because he hadn't paid off on the credit already advanced.
That is the situation those speculating incorrectly about MAXS and JT Europe thought might have existed in a scenario where JT Europe took over part or all of MAXS based on outstanding prior debts.

This is interesting because it isn't uncommon, particularly of late, and because it has application up and down the paintball food chain. It bears a resemblance to the way stories claim NPS gobbled up smaller paintball enterprises back in its heyday and fits in with some stories currently making the rounds about MAXS, for example. The stories claim MAXS has used similar situations to gain an interest in (control of?) a number of retail paintball sites and there is--as of this morning--a related thread on about a field operator who refused to play ball. (The situation isn't identical to the debtor/creditor scenario but the results are.) And while I'm not wringing my hands at how big fish eat little fish there are also very subdued, whispered rumors of similar things going on here, particularly industry accumulating shares or ownership of local retail stores and fields in an effort to recover value on outstanding debt. Unreceived and unlikely to be recovered accounts receivable is a big problem and no telling how much some of the industry has had to write off in recent years but making vertical moves is one way to ameliorate at least part of the problem.

Depending on how widespread this practice is, how often it is happening, it may very well be silently altering the nature of the industry as a whole and it is very likely just delaying the problems of the present by pushing them a little further down the road and in the pocess changing the face of retail competition.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interesting Times: Monday Edition (again)

There are conflicting reports on a rumored situation at KEE. The word on the street before Christmas was that KEE had put a hold on virtually all product orders to their suppliers and that employees would (will) have to take an unpaid mandatory two weeks off in either January or February of 2010. More recent efforts to verify the rumors have met with denials from well placed sources inside the company.
I'm passing it along to y'all despite the conflict because the original source has proven to be very reliable in the past.
In any event, while unusual it may portend nothing more than a measure designed to deal with a temporary cash flow issue or ongoing credit crunch concerns since the government isn't yet bailing out paintball companies. Or the naysayers may have it right. Either way it shouldn't be long to find out.

At this time I have two or three more similar items that will posted during the week but this isn't going to devolve, even for a week, into rumor central. I also expect to have a Ken Bryson of the Palm Beach Vipers interview up this week and who knows what else.

Jeff Stein Interview at The Ford Report

Link is the title. The interview expands in some detail on the Stein interview that appeared over at ProPaintball. Jeff's take is always interesting.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rumorology: The Unseen Game

Have you ever asked yourself where rumors come from? After all, they don't spring up ex nihilo like maggots in a sealed jar with a piece of rotting meat. (Alert: ironic science humor not intended to be taken as fact.)

Yes, I'm picking up where I left off last Monday. But, as usual, I'm not going straight from point A to point B.

Most of the rumors that float around paintball are gossip. Low level stuff that's as likely to be dead wrong as anywhere near the truth. The sorta stuff demanded by the crew that have secretly seen 'The View' and tape Oprah to watch with their girlfriends. (You know who you are.) Another category of rumors are the ones that are discoverable but not widely known. Still others are factoids--some approximation of an actual fact--and, of course, some are true and some are utter nonsense. All kinds of rumors share one similarity--they start with somebody telling somebody else something the majority doesn't know.

What is perhaps less well known (or left unconsidered) is the complicity of PBIndustry in the business of rumor-mongering. Very sensitive or fact specific rumors almost always originate from highly placed industry sources. The fact is that there are times when it is in the interest of one industry entity to get some information out there. Sometimes it's from within, floating a trial balloon or internal dissent or dissatisfaction. More often it's not. And if you're beginning to wonder if that isn't something of a dangerous game for industry to play I would agree but then where would would be?

Returning to last Monday's JT brouhaha I can assure you my source wasn't a highly placed inside industry source--I don't have a lot of friendly contacts there--but I have little doubt my source's source fits the criterion. So, in the future when a particularly good or revealing rumor hits the web take a second to consider where it might have come from and who might benefit from that info being made public. At that point you're getting a glimpse of the unseen game.

Oh yeah, I promised to tell y'all who the rumor mill claims is bidding on JT's paint manufacturing--it's Gino at Valken and Richmond from GI Milsim. More tomorrow.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

World Domination Is Just Around The Corner

As the Deadbox Puppet Army explodes with fresh recruits. This week VFTD is pleased to welcome Redwood, Tommy, Cedrik DeValk, Harb & Jonathan A. Thank you, gentlemen--and I use the term advisedly--given that we are talking paintballers.

UPDATE: Bounced?! What? Is that a comment on the recruits or what? I'm mystified.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Have a Merry Christmas Unless ...

I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year--so I will--but keeping in mind the perils & pitfalls of our ever more tolerant and diverse world I also offer this alternative:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or explicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2010, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere. Also, this wish is made without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Global Harmonization & the PSP

I'm gonna do an about face. Over a year ago I posted a rant or two or possibly more (I can seldom leave well enough alone when there's an opportunity to bludgeon y'all over the head an extra time or two with my flavor of the day outrage) regarding the PSP / MS dialogue about harmonizing formats, rules, etc. (Though it would be nice if the MS had a rule book ...) Anyway, as an anti-globalist anarchist I opposed it on general principle but more practically I opposed it because it looked like the PSP was moving toward the MS model and not the other way round--and I considered--and still do--the MS version of the format-formerly-known-as-xball to be a weak imitation.

At the time the PSP suggested that any appearance of globalizing was mostly coincidental (and something the Eurokids were pushing but not the PSP) and that the real mover was economic necessity with decisions made being what seemed the best available compromises, in essence. It was, and remains, a potent argument and I have no doubt economic concerns are a prime motivator. But global harmonization isn't a figment of my fevered imagination or a coincidence, it is real.

There is a light at the end of that tunnel though--perhaps. Here's where I change my mind. I'm still not thrilled that necessity and intent have moved the game closer to the Euro model but if viewed as an intermediate step in a larger plan it both makes sense and should hopefully lead in a direction I approve of. (As if my approval actually mattered anywhere but here at VFTD where it's paramount.) Okay, that's all rather cryptic and I apologise for not spelling it out but rest assured I will. Right now there are decisions still to be made and no doubt lots of details I know little or nothing about. Some of those should be clearer after the 5th of January as there will be a PSP meeting in San Diego on that date and part of the agenda will be addressing the intermediate step in concrete ways.

VFTD EXTRA: For those who can't wait for the PSP to make their announcements for 2010 I suggest you be prepared to wait until after the Jan. 5 meetings. At a guess I would say most of the work is done but some items are unlikely to be settled before that meeting. And yes, I know Faction has stated the 2010 rulebook should be released soon and while I don't doubt his best intentions soon is rather non-specific and I'm reasonably certain rules changes may be the least of it. Dammit, I can't even get a final pro roster number yet.

So relax, enjoy your holiday, there's plenty of time still to stress over paintball. Or, you could collect the torches & pitchforks and pay raehl a friendly visit.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Romance, Mystery, Legend & History

La Serenissima. Venice. It's all that and much more. An extraordinary if somewhat melancholy place in the 21st century. And the Grand Tour has announced Venice as the location of one of their tournaments for 2010.

(For everyone primed for Interesting Times I realize this is a rather abrupt segue but there you go. Tomorrow will see a PSP related post and should there be more to say in the aftermath of yesterday's post I'll let you know.)

Just how they are going to manage that I don't know but I wish them all the luck in the world. In Venice proper there are only two places I can think of; the great concrete wart of a parking lot addition by the train station in the Tranchetto or the grounds at the eastern end past the Arsenale district. And somehow both of those strike me as highly unlikely. Keeping to Venetian islands the Lido seems the most likely with lots of possible sites, a modern sensibility and cheaper accommodations but still--it's an island. Proximate to Venice on the mainland is Mestre but it's largely industrial and not particularly scenic though only a short train ride from Venice. There are a few other spots perhaps but they aren't actually Venice either. And while Venice has an airport--it's small and doesn't have lots of connecting points--there's also the matter of paintball being illegal in Italy. (Though I'm told there are a handful of paintball fields in the country nonetheless.)

Anyway, I'm intrigued and should anyone, from the Grand Tour, or otherwise have more info I'd love to hear about it. (I'm resisting the urge to post scenic photos. UPDATE: failed to resist urge.) Any excuse to visit Venice is an excuse well made.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Moratorium on 'Interesting Times'

UPDATE: A couple of things. Apparently Chuck Geiling at JT doesn't approve and would like to talk. Via phone. I prefer email--it leaves a paper trail. So we'll see, I suppose. VFTD will--as always--be happy to post any official statement Chuck wants to make on behalf of JT Sports.

In addition, a rep for XSV tells me the team remains in negotiations with JT for the 2010 season.

Look, it's very simple. I call all this stuff rumors because that's what it is. I don't post on a single source and if I'm suspicious I wait to hear more. I hear a lot more than I pass on because despite appearances if somebody tells me certain info isn't to be posted, I don't. Gossip about teams and players I usually ignore. I know there is a market for it but I like to pretend VFTD is more than a gossip site.

Finally, there is one issue related to posting rumors, responsibly or otherwise, that I didn't consider until it was brought to my attention today. The potential impact on peripheral people who may be affected by a rumor. Since it's the holiday season I'm going to hold off posting the rest of the 'Interesting Times' items until next week. Am I being overly sensitive? Maybe. Probably even--but a few days won't change anything.

Interesting Times: Monday edition

Were you paying attention when JT Europe was sold to Cybergun? Or when XSV's sponsorship wasn't renewed? Did you realize that upwards of 50% of all JT sales had been through Walmart? That the word on the street when JT Sports underwent a top to bottom restructure beginning a couple of years ago that parent company Jarden decreed each division (Viewloader, WGP, etc.) needed to be profitable to remain in operation?

The latest word whispered in my favorite dark alley is that the windows will be shuttered and the doors locked and closed on JT Sports for good on Feb 1 2010. Caput! No word on the availability of any of the pieces (like Viewloader) except the paint manufacturing element which apparently has two bidders at the moment. (I'll tell you who they are tomorrow.) I hope Rodney and World Famous Entourage collect on their sponsorship in a hurry. What's that all about?

UPDATE: If you're new to VFTD you might want to browse a bit. This week's rumorology isn't the blog's stock-in-trade, more a reflection of the time of year. And if you have a particular interest try "search" (but it doesn't work very well) or drop me a line any time (link on sidebar at the top.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hell Freezes Over

I've set up a Twitter account for VFTD. ( I don't like it. I'm not convinced it isn't stupid but I'm going to try it out on a probationary basis. The sole purpose will be to provide another source of info about new posts. There's also a link down on the sidebar.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Week Of Interesting Times

Aight. Things are starting to shake out, the word is starting to leak out. And I am reminded of the purported (but highly doubtful) Chinese curse, May you live in interesting times. If "interesting" is synonymous with unpredictable or chaotic then things are definitely getting interesting. All this coming week VFTD will have (probably) daily items of interest, mostly industry-related to report.

The only positive spin I can put on much of what's coming is that opportunity exists in periods of change.

To get y'all started I'm going with one of the more positive items. As was rumored some time ago Walmart chose to discontinue carrying JT Sports paintball stuff including the subsidiary brand like Viewloader and WGP. The related word at that time was that Walmart sales accounted for anywhere from 40 - 50% of all JT sales but paintball sales in all the box stores as declined in recent years and is losing shelf space everywhere.
However, the latest is that Draxxus has picked up the Walmart account JT lost. It's a temporary reprieve at best for Draxxus--which is producing more paint than ever and still struggling--because Walmart still intends to phase out paintball gear sales. The deal should (hopefully) help Draxxus over the next year or so anyway.

Join The Army

The Deadbox Puppet Army that is.
Chris Kilby and Scott Schechter did this past week. Thanks, guys.

Cut loose. Think for yourself. And always--stay thirsty, my friends

Friday, December 18, 2009

'09 Year In Review: NPPL Venues

Before I get started on the USPL/NPPL 2.0 venues we need to have a talk. About what makes a major league event. The obvious priorities–and I say obvious even though some past events didn’t seem to find them all that obvious–are the officiating and the playing surface. You may not find those the obvious priorities. See where this is going? Yeah, there are probably about as many priorities are there are participants. (Okay, it’s not quite that bad but still.) Then there’s the issue of player priorities, sponsor priorities, league priorities, blah blah blah. And if you’ve been around for awhile you know that those competing priorities aren’t always compatible–at least not when there are a finite amount of resources available to make them all happen.

Go back and take another look at the Intro to Venues. I am of the mind that major league paintball needs to be more than jumped up local tournaments in order to be major league. To be the showcase for the sport side of the game. What exactly that means I’m not sure. I am sure it isn’t something achievable right now but my grades don’t reflect the limitations of the currently possible. While HB is probably the best location for an event–and even HB couldn’t draw an MLP turnout last year–the best place I’ve ever been to play was the indoor arena at the Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Connecticut. Locker rooms, indoors, decent carpet, giant scoreboard, 10K seat capacity. The downsides then were virtually no spectators and the place was wrapped in more plastic than your grandmother’s living room sofa but it was a brilliant place to play. The embodiment of big money big time paintball fulfilled. Sorta. And it isn’t going to happen again any time soon.

NPPL (They’re back and it’s official. USPL? Never heard of it)
Huntington Beach–undeniably the coolest venue location but proximity to the pier matters. I’m sorry but the cool factor and the vibe are directly affected by how close to the pier the event staging actually is. Great weather for most, quintessential California. Like visiting an old friend. Lousy surface to play on even with the carpets and slogging through the sand going to and from is not fun. Nor is getting sand in all your gear. Try to avoid it and see what happens. Nice try but you’re outta luck. If you can manage to fly into John Wayne it isn’t too bad but fly into LAX and accessibility is Cali-style, which sucks. But all the rest of less than perfect elements disappear on a Sunday when the boardwalk is packed and the sound of the surf and the ocean breeze are the backdrop for the finals. Grade B (Have I lost my mind? No, the officiating was barely tolerable and the rules are a joke and you already know I don’t like the sand.)

WCO (SC Village)
Hello 1996. If you’re a fan of dust, dirt and more dirt this is where you wanna be. The place is a dump. An isolated dump and a miserable excuse for a tournament venue–period. It stunk in the old days and it stinks today. Sure, it’s got cred as an historical paintball venue but that’s just a polite way of saying it’s a dump. I doubt the place has ever had a living blade of grass grow on it and the less said the better. Grade F

DC Challenge (Pev’s in Aldie VA)
The site is a very nice, up-to-date recreational field aimed at the airball/speedball (tourney-oriented) player. Nicely laid out with excellent playing surfaces and some amenities it would be (and is) a great place to play on a weekend. It’s not particularly close to the other event basics like restaurants and hotels or alternate entertainment but the event resort hotel was very nice. The question with a location like this is does the rest of the event measure up to a MLP standard and the answer in the case of the USPL/NPPL is, maybe, if you don’t look too closely. None of the events had much in the way of a vendors presence and this was probably the least well attended. Of course team attendance wasn’t exactly pushing the boundaries either. Another question that comes to mind is there a critical mass factor for an MLP? How much does the size of the event, the number of participants both playing and vending, the location, the duration, etc. have to do with that mysterious alchemical concoction that is a successful major league event. One that everyone involved can’t help but talk about after the fact. This was a decent event but like WCO and Vegas it was two fields and a relative handful of teams. Grade C-

Vegas Baby
Say hello to my parking lot. Across the street from the convention center and the Hilton. A block behind the Riviera and surrounded by fences with direct parking lot access available for ten bucks. The near Strip location was okay but the only spectators (other than a handful of dedicated local fans) are driving past because they made a wrong turn somewhere and are trying to find their way back to the Strip. Two fields, a few vendors, a concession stand or three, some bleachers and an upper deck VIP and the constant sound of generators and there you have it. The weather was great and Vegas can be a cool place to hang out. Our wing of the Riviera was the pre-Industrial portion but I heard there were nice rooms in the newer parts of the hotel. In any event it was cheap and one casino floor is much like the next and for those determined to lose some money it hardly matters. As a venue Vegas has lots of potential and (apparently) lots of appeal. Grade C+

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'09 Year in Review: PSP Venues

At this rate it will take a year to do the Year in Review–and with absolutely no guarantees it will be worth the wait. (This is one of the problems with blogging. Some subjects require more thought and preparation than others while blogging generally encourages volume and brevity. And don’t get me started on tweeting. How incredibly gay is that? Twitter is the bastard stepchild of blogging and texting and carries the worst attributes of both. But I digress. Again.)

This installment of Year in Review is rating the venues, the logistics, the vendors and the vibe of the PSP. (Tomorrow the USPL/NPPL 2.0) I'm gonna be bad at this. I'm tired of the traveling road show and as long as my field is in order when we walk it it's all good. I don’t care about anything but winning and I tend to be single-minded so the only things that get my attention pertain to winning. The last time I made the rounds of the vendors actually interested in new gear WC was still at Paintball World. Most of the time I only pass any vendor because I have no other option. I’ll drop by a booth or display here and there but I’m looking up people and not gear or goodies. I usually hate whatever music is playing because it’s usually garbage. I enjoy the girl parade as much as the next guy but I tend to grind my teeth to avoid rolling my eyes when they start talking. (That, by the way, isn’t a chauvinist comment. My consternation has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with inane yammering. Show me the booth babe who knows who Yeats and Renoir were and trust me, I’ll be fascinated.) And beyond all that there is a huge gulf between how somebody experiences an MLP event for the first time or the forty first time. Keeping that in mind; here goes.

Phoenix--suitable location, hotels, restaurants, etc. Good accessibility and good grass. The facilities on site provide a sense of permanence and indoor plumbing. The latest theme (or scheme) logistically is to lay out the vendors in such a way as to force all the players to walk past them repeatedly. Unfortunately it did not result in waves of impulse buying (pun intended) but the number of vendors was generally so small this past season as to not be a major inconvenience--until World Cup. The mood is always good here because it's the start of the new year. Everyone is hopeful and happy to be competing again. And win or lose there remains something to play for after Phoenix. Grade B-

MAO--is the archetype of the PSP's back-to-basics it's all about the competition formulation. (It's a dedicated paintball site and cheaper.) Normally a part of the Paintball Central family of fields and stores the MAO site routinely hosts other tournament events the year round. It's a compact venue, which is a plus, but as a full time field the grass isn't always the best. Parking can get muddy and the gravel is a pain but still an improvement over more mud should it rain during an event. The Rock Hill area has good accessibility, hotels and the rest but isn't exactly party central after sundown and downtown Charlotte is at least 45 minutes away. This is a taking care of business event. Grade C-

Chicago--in recent years this has been held in the distant suburb of Bolingbrook on property adjoining a small water park. All the essential amenities are readily accessible here as well although things are perhaps a bit more spread out. (Our hotel of choice the last couple years has been a solid twenty minutes away but there are others that are closer.) Parking in a church lot is preferable to parking in the city's cornfield across the street and the layout in Chicago is particularly annoying as it compels you to drag your bags thru a virtual maze to reach your playing field. Even so, it's not horrible, just less convenient than Phoenix or MAO. Chicago does have a unique quality as it is usually the second largest event and gets the big Midwest turnout with a lot of partisan fans and the energy they bring. On the downside the ground is hard and the grass is thin but it plays well enough. It’s frequently really hot in late June and overall the venue is a bit cramped. Grade C-

World Cup--the Fantasy of Flight location was out in the sticks a bit but still only 25 minutes or so from Disney, Kissimmee and Old Town. Besides the location (that some didn't like much) the major complaints centered on the long and winding path through the vendors to get to the fields and the cross country hike to the registration area located in one of FoF's buildings well apart from the venue itself. (Reaching your field wasn't nearly as bad if you simply parked where you weren't supposed to. Fortune favors the bold.) With the lifting of the vendor restrictions by the league the turnout for Cup was the largest, by far, of the year (as Cup has traditionally been anyway) with lots of new gear lines and products being introduced to the public during the event. That, and the access restrictions that are part of the routine security measures created the unwelcome walks. However, for a first time in a new place the logistics were adequate. Cup is necessarily big and more spread out. Some of the fields were uneven and perhaps less than ideal but certainly, on the whole, no worse than the Disney fields. Grade C

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NE Hurricanes

Earlier today Jeff announced the pro team would no longer be competing. For those following the pro game this should not be a great surprise--perhaps which teams survive and which don't might catch some by surprise but the current environment isn't encouraging or supportive. Fortunately in this case I am not as saddened as I might be because I know Jeff intends to remain a part of competitive paintball.
I wish the Hurricane players all the best and hope their futures include as much paintball as they want it to and I will look forward to seeing you guys on the circuit.

The Canes aren't the first and they won't be the last. I hope I'm around to see them back on top in the future.

Monday Poll in Review

Nothing to see here. Move along. Hit the road, Rubbernecker. Y'all are a pack of useless sluggards. A perfectly good poll with an easy answer, no pressure, and what--you lazy slackers can't even manage that.
So, how was that? Feeling the guilt? Regretting not participating? No? Oh, well, thought I'd try and get you ready for the holidays and family gatherings. Don't you people have mothers? (Or is that just me?)

Total World Cup votes equalled 28% but was spread over 3 WC locations; Paintball World, the cow pasture and Disney. HB garnered 23% (and it might have been interesting to separate those based on north of the pier or down the freaking beach--but I didn't). Coming in tied for third was Toulouse--site of a number of 7-man World Cups and Skyball, which unlike later events, actually occurred inside the Skydome and not in the parking lot. Rounding out the top five were Vegas baby and London (and I'd guess those London votes are for the old Crystal Palace venue.) Mardi Gras pulled some votes as did a couple of generic city venues but most of the remaining votes went to the Old Skool nostalgia tour with places like Nashville, IAO, Pittsburgh mounds and the Chitown Badlandz.

Alrighty then, that's it, kids. The Monday Poll is on holiday. It'll be back next year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Comments on Richmond Italia / Tom Cole podcast interview

Hit the link to drop by Blast Radius Woodsball Podcast. Their latest is an interview of Richmond and Tom hosted by Wayne. Wayne does a solid job and even takes a stab or two at some tougher questions though it's clear he found it a bit uncomfortable. Overall it's interesting, informative and long. Check it out. (H/T to a VFTD correspondent for the head's up.) For the rest of you lazy slackers here's a link to the podcast. [ ] (Don't include the brackets, doh!) Given that competitive ballers are barely 1% of paintball (Is that retail or wholesale?) I guess the Blast Radius kids won't notice a tiny blip of extra visitors so you can probably slip in and slip out on the down low. Just don't tell any of your friends. Not that there's anything wrong with woodsball.

With apologies to Tom most of my comments will focus on things Richmond said during the podcast. Tom was repping Kingman which will also be making a substantial move (like GI Milsim) into the 50 cal arena in 2010. However, the impetus and much of the controversy has revolved around GI Milsim's introduction of 50 caliber paint and Richmond's remarks addressed a number of hotly debated issues. Given the length of the interview I'm just picking out a few of the highlights.

Richmond is glib, engaging and, I suspect, used to getting people to see things his way and I'm going to try hard (and perhaps fail) to avoid too much nit-picking but there were a few having his cake and eating it too moments. Like being a manufacturer of hammers so that every problem looks like a nail. Like intimating issues in the paint industry are all the responsibility of forces from the "Orient." (I didn't know anyone used that word anymore but I kinda liked it. Score one for Richmond for not being PC.) Like decrying the detrimental pricing policies (and paint wars as it were) without taking any responsibility for his time at Procaps. Playing the white knight returned to save paintball from the forces of fear and propaganda (while basically accusing anyone with questions or concerns about 50 cal of some ulterior motive.) And, remembering his venue thought it was about time the minuscule portion of paintball that plays competitively (The One Percenters) should stop telling everybody else how to play and with what equipment. [Not exactly Henry V but if there were stage directions that's the place everyone would murmur and shake their torches and pitchforks.] Okay, enough, you get the idea, I'm sure.

Up first is cost of play. Clearly, cost of play--predominantly the paint cost--is killing paintball and 50 cal will be cheaper. At least 30% cheaper according to Richmond. (More later on this point.) But as it turns out other things are killing paintball, too. Like the pain--or should we say discomfort? 50 cal addresses that issue too. Cheaper and less painful. It's a no brainer being opposed primarily by other (backward) paint producers who know they can't compete in the modern world what with new-fangled computerized gizmos up against chains and pulleys and the grunt of slave labor. (I added the colorful bits.)

Given that economizing is a 50 cal claim Wayne asked about related gear expenses and specifically conversion kits. Spyder is planning on leaving that to aftermarket producers by and large while Richmond suggested it was a decent transitional option. Not as good as a made for 50 cal marker which will be more internally air efficient. (Besides, conversion kits don't really fit the marketing scheme or the future GI Milsim bottom line. Just saying.)

A more difficult topic was performance where Richmond focused on breaking consistency relative to similar grades of 68 cal and travel distance. Generally however he insisted real world performance was so close that most players wouldn't notice a difference. He was also only ballpark when it came to demonstrating knowledge of the numbers and ratios involved. (Pay no attention to the science, if you haven't shot a 50 cal paintball for yourself you can't know what the result will be --and if you have and disagree you're an agent of fear & propaganda. He didn't actually say that--this particular time but the implication remains. And I like saying agent of fear and propaganda.) Tom's comment about performance equivalency went something like "a seven foot drop difference over 200 feet is negligible compared to all the benefits of 50 cal paint." [An admitted paraphrase but it's close.] Elsewhere Richmond did admit that tourney grade paint still needed improvement but that rec and field paint were ready to go.

There is no intention on GI Milsim's part to raise the allowed FPS above 300 as one of the advantages is the lesser sting of impact. Besides, there's no need since performance is so close already.

When asked if he expected 50 cal to eventually dominate the market the way 68 does now Richmond didn't want to say that as it would reinforce the whole Pinky & the Brain world domination meme but, hey, if it's better in every way it doesn't seem unreasonable to assume it just might, you know, replace 68 at some point. So, yes, he expects it will but it's not a nefarious plot.

When asked about specific pricing Richmond couldn't give any actual prices yet but suggested that when it does hit the market widely it should be around 30% cheaper or else you're being ripped off. From comments throughout Richmond seemed to imply that regular players and local fields should both see the reward of cheaper paint though exactly how that would be accomplished he wasn't asked.

Fairly early on, around the time of the introduction of dark forces from the Orient, Richmond discussed, in some detail, elements of paint manufacturing. This was in relation to cost, to a lesser degree, and the functionality of the 50 cal paintball now when compared to the past. The claim was the dark forces wouldn't be able to compete and see similar cost savings at their end due to obsolete outdated equipment they didn't want to have to replace. With respect to the 50 cal ball itself current technology allows more control over shell thickness than in the past which answers concerns about the smaller sphere, breakability, etc. and even materiel costs in part. I have no objection to any of this and it could be absolutely correct for all I know--but that's why I consult my paint guy on stuff like this. His take was that the Chinese are by and large all using the same equipment used by the big boys here though he couldn't vouch for India. Further, he suggested the drying process is as important to breakability characteristics as any variant of shell thickness the current equipment can manage. I don't have an opinion on this one, I'm just putting it out there.

And finally we come to safety issues. Initially Richmond played the energy card. 50 cal is way safer 'cus there's way less energy involved so not to worry. Safe as can be. Wayne followed up and asked about the weave in some commercial netting--since the safety issue isn't about energy, it's about scale and it turns out that in particular the lighter weight weave the PSP uses for netting above 12 feet doesn't contain the 50 cal paintball. However, Richmond didn't think many local fields used that netting and besides, Cossio has discontinued making that grade available but it is something responsible field owners ought to check. Fair enough.

That's way more than enough but hey, don't take my word for it (as I'm apparently an agent of fear and propaganda--I wonder if I can put that on a business card?) listen for yourself. As I said, it's informative and worth the listen if you're interested in the subject. (I skipped the tail end listener call-in Q&A and there may be some good stuff there, too.) While you do that I'm gonna check my bank accounts for any recent, unexplained deposits. Here's hoping. Fingers crossed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ProPredictions 2010

In this the winter of our discontent ... VFTD interrupts the cheap theatrics (and other posts patiently waiting to be posted, like the next installment of Year in Review) for a sobering prediction or two. I actually thought about skipping this one but two things changed my mind. Lots of good sites tell you what's happening but who else will tell you what's happening before it happens? And besides, in a week when the EPA has decided we are all pollutant emitters for the anti-social, anti-environmental behavior called breathing it sorta puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

It turns out last year was just a warm-up. A hint of things to come--and it's coming. And what it is, is bad. PBIndustry struggled last year and has spent much of the off season trying to position itself in light of continuing hard times. Recent rumors on diverse industry fronts tell a tale of digging in in the hope of holding on. For VFTD purposes survival mode within the industry will hit the pro game especially hard. No one familiar with the situation expected things to turn around but I'm not sure many expected things to get worse--and possibly substantially worse. This will hit both team sponsorships and league sponsorship hard.

Last year the PSP began with 13 pro teams. In 2010 I now don't expect more than 8 although the PSP may see about pushing that to 10 by encouraging a team or two intending to play semi-pro to move up. There has been talk about trying to make the pro division more appealing so let's say the combined number of pro and semi-pro teams will total 15 to 18 with or without a NPPL. On the NPPL front I'm wondering if reality is finally settling in as industry players and teams keep putting off making decisions and/or commitments for the coming season. In any event there will not be 16 pro NPPL teams regardless of additions as we rapidly approach the point where Paintball cannot even pretend to support two major leagues. The only thing I'm uncertain about is if I'm being too optimistic.

Recent Enlistments

VFTD would like to welcome recent recruits Matthew Holley and David Merritt to the ranks of the Deadbox Puppet Army. Thanks and don't be strangers.
Our motto is "No Strings Attached." Which may seem a bit odd for a puppet army but just because you're a puppet doesn't mean you have to like it--and can't fight back.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

VFTD Interviews Stephen Baldwin

The following is an email interview conducted with Mr. Stephen Baldwin in response to the VFTD post titled, ‘More Pros & Cons.’ In addition to the twenty questions submitted Mr. Baldwin offered an introductory statement which is included. All the questions are in bold. All of Mr. Baldwin's comments are italicized. The content of the complete interview was agreed to by both parties and will hopefully serve to resolve the debate over the original post and give some insight into the current thinking of the Millennium board with respect to the 50 caliber paintball. I have foregone one final round of emails as Mr. Baldwin pronounced himself satisfied with this latest version and because he will be out of office and unavailable for the next 10 days or so and I thought it only fair not to delay his opportunity to be heard on this matter.

I have been in the industry since 1987, firstly as a field operator but predominately as a European Distributor. Through this time I have worked with many people in order to help expand the industry worldwide, whether they were competitors or colleagues, we all could work together constructively. The likes of Jim Lively, Bud Orr, Tim Schloss, Ross Alexander, John Gregory, Marty Tripes, Richmond Italia, Adam & Billy Gardener, Gino Postorivo, Jeff Perlmutter, Laurant Hamet, Bob Long, Ledz, Dave Dehann and many more have all contributed greatly to our industry / sport and its growth. Sadly not many of them are still in the industry and that appears to be to our detriment. Up until a couple of years ago there was always a willingness to work together. Recently this seems to have changed and a much more polarised and litigious industry has emerged. For sure some of this is due to the recession but also the fact that we don't have the ground base of entrepreneurs the industry relies on for new ideas and growth. Today, people with new approaches and ideas seem to have to spend their time defending themselves against those that don't want change for whatever shortsighted reasons they may harbour. In terms of tournament players, I was around during the 12g to CA changes, the Pump / Semi issues. All of these were much bigger than what we are talking about today and the industry made its changes and grew. Right now the growth of new players is at a very low point and the industry as a whole must address this or we wont survive. This is a fact that to argue against is naive and shortsighted. Although I don't consider that my own business arrangements are particularly relevant to the industry I answer the questions posed as follows to the best of my ability.

1. Are you an owner/partner with Mr. Hazeldine in Manic Paintball?
I am one of the minority share holders of Manic Paintball Ltd so is Scott Hazeldine. This information is public knowledge. For information Manic are a trade based company selling only to paintball fields and dealers. Their main product lines are Procaps, VForce & Tippmann. With the exception of DXS Tournament Paintballs & Grill/Profiler goggles, I have never been involved with tournament level products, with a minor exception a few years ago. My business has always been field based.

2. Are you in the employ of Procaps or simply their primary European representative?
I work for Procaps looking after the major European accounts. I have worked with Procaps for over 9 years and its in my DNA.

3. Is Mr. Hazeldine an owner of Dark Sports?
Yes, However I am not. Mr Hazeldine has no interest in The Millennium and I have no interest in other companies he owns except Manic & a property company.

4. Do Manic and Dark Sports share a suite of offices?
Manic has its own warehouse and offices. Dark Sports has a different warehouse at a different location. The building in which Manic is based has offices for other businesses some non paintball, including a dentist. Scott Hazeldine is an owner of the building so has every right to maintain his own office, which of course will, I'm sure, include some Dark Sports activity. Several of the partners of Manic have other businesses that are not common to the other share holders.

5. Where are the Millennium offices in relation to the Manic / Dark Sports offices?
They are in the same suite as Manic, as previously mentioned Dark sports operates from another building some 30 miles away. For convenience I need The Millennium offices close to me as I oversee head office and I manage all Millennium financial and legal issues.

6. Are you a board member/owner of the Millennium Series?
Yes and one of its founders. There are 5 Board Members with equal voting rights. Included in the 5 are competitors of mine, however, this does not hinder us working together for the common good.

7. Did the board vote on the inclusion of 50 caliber paint for the 2010 season?
A vote was not necessary as this has been a discussion over a long period of time and we agree that it may be a good thing for paintball.

8. Did you vote in favor of including 50 cal?
See [the answer to] 7

9. If there is anything you’d like to clarify or explain with respect to the various relationships identified in the post please do.
I feel my answers have verified my relationship with any company mentioned. My main focus has been and is primarily to assist Procaps in Europe and in some cases outside Europe. My involvement with The Millennium can sometimes work against my other interests but I have to accept this as our reason to be is to help the growth of paintball throughout Europe and at the end of the day this helps everybody.

10. Do you, in your Millennium capacity, have any documentation from GI Milsim, its principles or representatives, that demonstrate the 50 cal paintball meets all current safety standards and practices in the form that will be sold for tournament use?
Naturally as with all aspects of the Millennium events we have insured we comply with all insurance and legal requirements.

11. If not, have you, in your Millennium capacity, been given any other (verbal) (non-scientific) assurances that the 50 caliber paintball is safe in all ordinary tournament applications?
See [the answer to] 10

12. If yes, by whom, and under what circumstances.
See [the answer to] 10

13. If no, did the subject of safety ever enter into the Millennium’s deliberations with regards allowing 50 cal paint.
See [the answer to] 10

14. Does the MS have now or expect to negotiate prior to the 2010 season a sponsorship agreement with either Dark Sports or GI Milsim?
GI Milsim are hopefully about to sign for 2010 along with some other new sponsors. Obviously I cant go into further detail until contracts are signed. We will be announcing all new sponsors as they are confirmed.

15. What was the board’s thinking with respect to allowing the use of the 50 cal paintball?Nobody is forcing anyone to use 50 caliber paintballs, it is an option for teams to decide if they wish to use it. The Millennium has always been primarily interested in the growth of the sport and industry in Europe. You maybe unaware that there is no common law throughout Europe for paintball guns. In some countries paintball is illegal with 68 caliber. However with 50 caliber many of these countries will be able to play paintball legally which can only be to all our benefit. If 50 caliber brings new players from new countries and younger players due to lower joules then we can only see advantages and not disadvantages. 50 caliber is not something new it has been around for over 20 years but up until recently only 68 caliber guns were developed.

16. As the sponsorship kit is unclear will gun sponsorships carry down to the open divisions this year and possibly reduce the variety of guns the players may use at an MS event?
There are no changes to the gun sponsorship rules from 2009. With the addition of new gun sponsors this will widen the choice of guns available to those divisions effected by this rule.

17. What is the grade of netting used on the Arena fields?
We have a different net density to the type commonly used in the USA. Our netting is a much heavier density from top to bottom and complies with EU safety standards, In fact we get criticised because it obscured viewing to some extent. Again because of the lower energy of 0.50 cal it is actually much heavier than would be necessary with this caliber alone.

18. Does the MS have any ratings numbers for last year’s TV show broadcasts?
We are awaiting those final figures from Europsport one and two, as soon as they supply the figures for both Europe and South East Asia we plan to send a press release out. I do have these figures as at the end of September.
From 18/12/09 to 25/09/09: 37 Programmes were shown from 14.00 - 23.00 with the bulk being shown between 20.00 - 23.00. It was available in 32 million (46 Countries), households in Europe and 2.8 million in SE Asia and broadcast in 11 languages.

19. Has the board reconsidered the licensing fees for the locked divisions given that total team numbers are in decline?
We are looking at several aspects that relate to this issue. Most importantly is to ensure new teams enter the series and that existing teams can afford to exist. At the same time the Millennium needs to balance its books. We are currently working on some ideas that will be made public shortly.

20. In light of the volatile state of paintball in Germany right now does the MS have any concerns holding a series event there?
If you are referring to the Berlin incident some of the reports have been exaggerated to make for better reading. This incident had nothing to do with the legal issues from early this year. It is a situation that we constantly monitor and always have done. Right now we see no reason to suggest there is any potential problem on the horizon.

Thank you. That concludes the email interview with Mr. Stephen Baldwin of the Millennium Series.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

VFTD Post Updates

Aight, I'm getting bored waiting for some news to surface so here goes.

Word is the buyer of JT Europe is a French company called Cybergun best known for their line of Airsoft gear. The company has licensing agreements with a who's who of the world's armaments manufacturers and they also make those cheesy little kids splat paintball-type plastic guns.

On the SP front as the kids from ProPaintball recently reported there've been a lot of rumblings including the inability of retailers and customers to make contact with any reps and a rumor that the doors will close for good at the end of the month. In checking into it briefly all I got was confirmation that the banks had stepped in back in September and have been calling the shots since then. (Something VFTD reported and was roundly denied.)

In NPPL news there's a team not named Bushwackers or Rage dropping out. No names as I don't know whether the players know yet or not. (Btw, that doesn't mean I expect either Rage or the Bushwackers to continue in the NPPL.)

Speaking of NPPL related news I'm wondering how Frank the Tank's departure from Procaps might affect Avalanche next year. C'mon, Dale, spill the beans. Where's Frank going? And ask him while you're at it what's up with Ava. (Or, you know, Frank, you could just drop me a line or post up in comments.)

Agenda, Agenda, Whose Got An Agenda?

In the comments section to the post entitled, More Pros & Cons, Mr. Stephen Baldwin, a founder and board member of the Millennium Series, objected to, I think, what he read between the lines given the way the post was structured and subsequently denounced VFTD as having an agenda and being rubbish. One man's rubbish is another man's treasure so I will, as always, post to my satisfaction and leave you lot to decide what's rubbish and what isn't. With respect to the agenda claim however I think a few words are in order.

On the subject of the 50 cal paintball I have posted in excess of a dozen times and probably more than two dozen times ( search 'small ball') and I am comfortable suggesting that my point of view is comprehensively expressed across the sum of those posts. Having an opinion is not the same as having an agenda. But for those coming late to this party I will try to state my views simply and succinctly. My concern regarding the small ball is that there are no checks or balances in place protecting the game and as a result the limited number of industry power brokers are able to push change from the top down. There is nobody in a position to act on paintball's behalf who doesn't also have a monetary stake in the outcome of any significant move or decision. It wouldn't (it won't) be hard to press the major leagues into acceptance and then whatever faults the small ball might have the game will be expected to adjust (again) accordingly.

On the general subject of agendas says, "a list, plan, outline, or the like, of things to be done, matters to be acted or voted upon, etc." That implies both action and the capacity to impact the outcome. Much as it pains me I have no illusions about VFTD altering the paintball landscape. And, again, an opinion is not an agenda. As regulars well know I'm not shy about expressing opinions. VFTD is commentary and observations about the paintball news of the day as it effects competitive paintball but VFTD doesn't make the news or drive the news. Finally VFTD isn't beholden to anyone in paintball, industry or otherwise, so this site doesn't support or secretly promote anybody else's agenda either. Now all of that is easy to say but hard to prove. Keep reading and make up your own mind.

In the meantime the interview is moving along smoothly. Mr. Baldwin has sent in round 1 of his responses and I am currently drafting a "final" form for the interview for him to pass off on. Hopefully it will be up in the next day or so.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

MLP '09: Year In Review

Intro to Venues Review
Venues, vendor villages and the general event experience separate from the competition are the subjects of today's review. The commentary on the MS will, of necessity, be limited since I didn't attend any of them. However, in following the MS this season and talking to players and others present at various events I think it's fair to say offered the best locations even if the German venue is well isolated and there were (mostly homegrown) some complaints about Campaign's location in (not in) Basildon. Otherwise it's hard to argue against Malaga, Antalya and EuroDisney outside Paris. Oh, I know, there's still plenty to find fault with and it doesn't begin or end with the MS. NPPL 2.0 had HB and Vegas baby but it also had SC Village--looking like the outdoor set of a direct to video post-apocalyptic zombie movie and Pev's place (a nice weekend rec field and/or local tourney practice facility) in rural Virginia. The PSP had ... um, generally pretty decent grass everywhere they played. And that's the issue in a nutshell.

What distinguishes a national (or international) event from a local or regional event? Or what should? In the early years of this decade venues were more than venues. There were markers in the competition between leagues and they were symbols that the dream was coming true. At least some thought they were. Instead they proved to be cries for attention. Now some of us are disillusioned, others have never known different and the big time paintball universe is changing again. Does a national (international) event need to be more than a large scale local tourney? If so, in what ways?

I was never a fan of the NPPL's stadium parking lot tour approach because I felt they were giving too little consideration to the playing surface and besides, it never worked--either to attract "fans" or investors. (That said, the first time looking out over the fields and taking in Mile High and the Denver skyline it was easy to believe paintball was oh so close.) But it did change the status quo and every one's expectations. Now there seems to be two distinct options when it comes to venues. One choice is to make the venue part of the draw while the other has focused on the utility of the venue in terms of the competitive environment. I don't think it needs to be one or the other but that seems to be the way things have evolved--at least with respect to U.S. based MLP.

Oops. Running long so the actual venue breakdown will have to wait for next time.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Monday Poll

This will be the last Monday Poll before an end of the year hiatus I expect to last anywhere from two weeks to a month. By then things should be cracking again as next season player, team & league info is released.
Since I'm busy at the moment--fending off irate Princes of Paintball among other things--it seems a good time to keep the poll simple and upbeat. Name your all time favorite venue for a tournament. I will include 'Other' once again and would really be interested in having the handful of 'other' voters take a moment to comment on their fave. (Yeah, I know, fat chance.) (With some of the MS events I'm gonna just name countries, others by event and the same for some of the Old Skool options I'm tossing in for the geriatric crowd. Try not to get confused between specific events and the location where an event occurred.) [Nope--turns out I stayed with cities, mostly.] (Though some choices will undoubtedly be chosen on the basis of memories of a specific time and place.) If a venue is completely unfamiliar you can probably look it up over at WARPIG which has a terrific archive of tourney reports and photos. It's before your time, Cephalopod. (Link on the sidebar.)

UPDATE: 3 votes for 'Other' so far and not one comment. Really, kids, why bother? I wonder how many of the Disney WC votes are nostalgia votes. What a weird thought.

Monday Poll in Review
Who will be playing PSP pro in 2010? What's the "likely"cutoff percentage? I guess that's open to interpretation so let's go top 8 vote getters with the next two as runners up. That will give us a 10 team pro division (and I don't really see more than that competing.)
Beginning at the bottom with 1% of the vote are the Bushwackers closely followed by Joy Division (6%) and Arsenal (12%). While Joy isn't given much of a chance I know Mags and the boys would love to take on the challenge and 4 trips stateside compared to 5 Euro events might not be as impossible as it seems. And of course there's the MS gun sponsorship that wouldn't be an issue over here. Arsenal seems less likely given T4's involvement in NPPL 2.0 but they are a team with the resources to play both. XSV & the Dogs finished at 20% and 23% respectively. Rumor has been that the Dogs are looking to move into 7-man and for XSV it's probably a matter of final sponsorship numbers and whether or not the team wants to add some outside talent or continue building up. Next up are the Hurricanes and Impact, both with 46% of the vote. Both camps have had some rumors floated about their intentions for the upcoming season and while it may be the 'Canes need sufficient sponsorship to keep up, Impact can and will do whatever Bart wants. If one or both aren't there next season it will be paintball and PSP's loss.
And the runners up are: Aftershock (54%) and X-Factor (60%). The uncertainty here is with X-Factor rebuilding and so little, relatively, being known about Shock's support. This is probably about right, in poll terms, but it wouldn't surprise me to see either of them when teh dust settles.
That leaves Philly (62%), Infamous (70%), Aftermath (82%), Damage (82%), Viscious (84%), Dynasty (90%), Red Legion (90%) & Ironmen (95%) as the top eight vote getters and most likely opening event pro division according to The Monday Poll.
I guess we'll know before too long. Best of luck to all the teams & players.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Big Bullet Giveaway

To support and promote the new National Pump League (and the fun of pump paintball generally) the Big Bullet wants to give you a sweet CCI Phantom VSC marker worth $400+. But there is a catch. It's a contest so you've got to compete for the win and the prize. On the other hand it ain't hard to do. Go to the Big Bullet and register with the forum. Then, in the contest thread write a 100 to 500 word essay on 'Why I Play Pump.' (Just in case you're wondering how you'd know why I play pump it actually means why do YOU play pump. Hope that helps.)

That's one fine looking marker. Btw, the paragraph above is 107 words. It's a piece of cake. Get going.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Burning Question

Who did JT Sports (Jarden) just sell JT Europe to? What exactly did they get? Does this mean JT is backing out of Europe or simply restructuring their distribution? And didn't MAXs out of Germany do most of the heavy lifting anyway?

Okay, that's a whole bunch of burning questions but at least they're all related. I coulda thrown in a what gun will Dynasty be shooting in '10? But I didn't. But if I had ...

UPDATE: The identity of the buyer was relayed to VFTD this morning but so far no press release confirming the purchase has been issued. Here's a hint--it's a French company.

More Pros & Cons

But mostly pros. You know, the whole who supports small ball, who doesn't. It looks like the Millennium board has another supporter, besides Laurent Hamet, in Steve Baldwin. VFTD isn't sure it understands all the ins and outs yet but this is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Here's what there is so far. There is a UK-based company called Manic Paintball that distributes Procaps. Whether they are strictly UK or also move product in Europe isn't entirely clear. (They self identify as the exclusive UK distributor but there are some who think they operate beyond those borders.) At one time Mr. Baldwin was sales director for Procaps Europe though what his current relationship is with Procaps VFTD doesn't know. There is also the new company called Dark Sports which was incorporated last April. It claims to be the UK & European distributor for GI Milsim and small ball. Here's the fun part. Mr. Baldwin is a director and equal shareholder in Manic paintball with the owner of Dark Sports, Mr. Scott Hazeldine.

Mr. Curious would love to know how much Procaps knows about all this given their unwillingness to produce small balls for GI Milsim and their relationship with Manic.

UPDATE: Apparently Mr. Baldwin finds this post objectionable although his solicitors found it very interesting. Can't please all of the people all of the time. VFTD has invited Mr. Baldwin to correct any factual errors. See the comments for more.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2009 Major League Paintball (MLP): Year In Review

This is a rather daunting project as it requires I remember what happened, mostly, during the '09 season and while I can recount--in minute (positively excruciating) detail--dozens and dozens of games played over the years there are (I'm sure) innumerable things that occur at events of which I'm blissfully unaware. Mostly 'cus I couldn't care less. For example I know I walked through a vendor village or three this past season--because the layout forced me to--but I can't, from clear memory, recount who was or wasn't present at any particular event because I don't pay any attention. It's not that vendor presence is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, just that it's unimportant to me in the moment. All that means is that the VFTD Year in Review will tend to be rather eclectic and necessarily incomplete. Otherwise I have no idea how this is gonna work out.

The review begins with the '08 off season and the moves made by the MLP leagues in preparation for the '09 season. Last December I knew enough (or thought I did) to begin speculating on how the '09 season would unfold. The month began with the New World Order and closed out with Dreamworld which nicely bookended the PSP/MS and the emerging USPL. VFTD introduced Major League Paintball Held Hostage Day 1 on January 2 to illustrate the plight of the tourney baller and competitive paintball generally. VFTD graded the initial announced changes to the PSP in PSP Under Fire and followed up throughout the month as info became available. As you might recall the big changes were ROF, revised penalties in the lower divisions and Race 2 and match time changes as well as some Classification changes and the introduction of the UCP. VFTD went on an extended, multi-post rant about the Classification system and was generally uneasy about the appearance of the PSP moving to a standard that more closely resembled the MS. (A concern retained to this day as the Eurotrash continue to promote the idea and the PSP, for whatever reasons, continues to move in that direction.) VFTD closed out the month with some more piling on of the Classification system. The big news was a growing certainty that the USPL would actually begin operations in '09 and begin their season with a Huntington Beach event. The other big news--besides the PSP's myriad of wholesale changes both big and small in the move to Race 2--was the MS touting a TV deal with Eurosport and introducing some restrictive sponsorship regs they claimed "protected" sponsors but did so after a fashion easily recognized by a Sicilian enforcer. Whereupon the PSP introduced a similar measure which failed miserably and was rescinded at World Cup.

2009 began with the MS trying to enforce use restrictions on non-sponsored products among players--in the upper divisions--(which could extend to the lower divisions this year?) even as they charged licensing fees for locked divisions teams (whose total numbers were reduced from 2007) using their TV deal as justification. The PSP made extensive rules and other game changes on the basis of economic necessity (teams & league) but also introduced the prior year's state-of-the-art WC webcast as a regular event feature. The USPL revived the 7-man national series (sorta) with the original 16 pro teams as equal share owners and proceeded to buy up some equipment and rights to the NPPL name & logos and announced a split schedule of national and regional events beginning at HB.

That's the set-up for everything that happened later. (For the six of you who noticed, yes, sadly I've left the The Grand Tour out the review because I don't know a lot of details and because, in the end, it wasn't so grand after all.) The continuing Review will be much more of a hodge-podge I suspect as VFTD begins breaking the leagues and events down--probably tomorrow--as I rate the venues.

Hey, if I left anything good (important) out feel free to give me grief in the comments.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pro Rosters

The kids over at ProPB are reporting a possible change in the pro rosters from 8 (+1) to 9 (+1). There have been rumors since Cup and it was/is an item up for discussion. I am hesitant however to object now mostly because I can't make a complete argument in favor of simply making it 10 and leaving it alone. (The rest of my argument depends on information about possible 2010 changes that have not been released yet.) Despite leaving my best case unspoken I think there's still a solid rationale for calling it 10 and calling it a day.
The +1 was appreciated as an acceptable mid-season modification (and helped my team in particular) but I don't understand the point of agreeing to 10 but only partway. Wasn't last year's semi-pro roster at 10? What's a team supposed to do? Work their way into a pro spot and have to cut or reduce the role(s) of their roster? 10 players is also much more convenient for practice for non So Cal teams. Most of the candidate teams for a pro spot favor a 10 man roster and for those that might not (only one I know of) nobody is compelling anyone to carry a roster maximum so why is it such a big deal?
Part of the rationale last year was that a reduced roster made the game more athletically demanding than a larger roster and/or it was an imposed limitation designed to help teams save money. But aren't rules that result in the best possible competition more important than the supposed appearance of more athleticism and if you're bringing 9(+1) that's still 10 guys so you practice with 10, train 10, pay for the tenth but don't get to use them in the normal course of an event. What a terrific idea! /sarcasm
A move to 10 is a worthwhile change. One in the interests of the teams.

--No, this isn't the post I was undecided about posting though ambivalence seems to be the order of the day.

Heavy Water?

Word on the street is that KEE now has a heavier fill formula for the small ball and will be shipping samples soon. Word too is that it may be prohibitively expensive and/or eat up the cost savings between small ball and a regular 68 cal ball.

Btw, today's scheduled post has been delayed. It's written but I can't decide whether I want to post it or not. In the meantime I'll see about coming up with something else. Perhaps it's time for the Year In Review.