Friday, January 22, 2010

The Pro Team of the Future

Picking up where I left off here it's time to kick around a few ideas on how pro teams of the (near) future may be structured apart from the inconsistent generosity of a flagging industry. While I haven't devoted nearly enough time to working it all out--it's rather a big problem--we can at least make a start of it. There are two basic beginning points; dependent on paintball and independent of paintball. Those independent of paintball have resources that make it possible to operate a team regardless of conditions within paintball. Teams like Arsenal, Impact & Damage. And, ideally, teams that have some dependence on paintball would also have some independent elements as well--it's not an either/or--but the models for today's post fall into the dependent category. And by dependent I don't mean on sponsorship of the so-called "free ride" industry largesse that is rapidly disappearing. I mean in terms of sponsorship principally in the form of discounts and reciprocal commercial relationships regardless of team structure. (And for players the future is, in part, coming to terms with lowered expectations.)

The four models I want to discuss are team as brand, the club team, the coop team and the regional team.

Team as brand is really just a more sophisticated version of the traditional concept of a pro team as a high profile marketing tool that relies on the success and popularity of the team to promote and sell associated product. And while I think there's opportunity to be exploited with this concept I wonder about the longer term utility. Two aspects of the branding ethos into paintball culture strike me as problematic. In particular the tourney demographic is fickle and prone to transitory bandwagoneering. Or in this case, 'brand'wagoneering. The critical mass of wide scale popularity is usually short-lived. Once gained it can be lost for no definable reason. The other is authenticity or at least the perception of being authentic. Team as brand only has value as long as it endows the associated products with the brand's popularity. And a large piece of paintball popularity is a product of perceived uniqueness and "keeping it real." If at any time the general perception shifts to seeing a purely commercial arrangement it undercuts the brand and brand appeal. And in a team's case being successful is a necessary component, especially early on. All the successfully branded team requires is on field success, a hook that captures the public imagination, an ability to manipulate the current media environment, hard work and a little luck. So, while team branding has potential it seems to me to be an extension of the conventional wisdom and an insufficient foundation as a stand alone over any extended period. At least in the present environment.

The club team is a mega-team organization, usually (so far) of the vertical team variety--individual teams competing in different divisions (not against each other) so that there are opportunities to move up (or down) the ladder of competition and remain with the same organization. The club team's operating baseline is similar to that of the field team except the club team or its owner operate a paintball business to support the team.

The coop team is like the club team except it relies on team numbers to negotiate sponsorship deals and/or pricing discounts that reduce player costs and also probably requires dues.

In both cases numbers provide more security in terms of team continuity, a wider talent pool to draw from, a larger buying pool and depending on the structural details offers a lot more flexibility in adjusting to the changing paintball scene as well as the details of how each squad is supported. And, of course, most examples will overlap. For example, there is nothing keeping these team formulations from working the branding angle or the club team from requiring dues like the coop team. The fundamental feature these team formations share is a mega-team base structure.

The regional (or league) team is a variation on the same theme designed as both an additional incentive to participation in the regional league as well as a means of building regional pride and unity with a flagship team to represent all the players and teams in that region. There are potentially issues in pulling players from league teams but it's not particularly different from if the league promoters also ran a team separate from the league. Who knows, someone may run a league in order to support a team. A regional superteam could also have a step up in branding value as well as serve as the league's ambassadors with clinics, coaching and even reffing.

All these team types share a continuing core reliance on the commerce of paintball. More when you or I come up with some good ideas.


anonachris said...

If I were a big sponsor, I would not want to invest in sponsoring a team unless they were a clear money maker like Dynasty or RL. Or XSV a few years ago.

But even then with all of those teams, you can have the team fall apart and the money which you were investing in a team to generate a long term return on your brand investment just becomes a short term advertising expenditure.

In other words, you're not maximizing your money. I think factory teams make sense for the big money sponsors. The only problem is the factories are dimishing in number and resources.

Paintball is in trouble if we can only count on the rich guys to fund the top echelons of the sport.

But really every gun sponsor should stop tittering (is that a word) around start a factory team they can rally their brand behind. Or buy part of an existing team with their sponsorship dollars.

Dynasty, RL, and possibly Joy I see are the few exceptions with some real long term staying power, but even that "long term" is pretty short over a potential life of a company.

Anonymous said...

The most well off companies in the industry could invest in "factory teams" and could theoretically secure long tern exposure/success with those teams if they kept investing and kept buying the best talent. It happens in other sports all the time where the biggest (richest) markets spend more for talent and stay at or near the top of their sport.

However, with the paintball industry being as small as it is, that would limit the number of teams in that category substantially and I wonder how much good it would do the overall sport. If there are a small number of teams (or possibly only one) always dominating because they are buying up the talent, how wold that affect the overall competitiveness of the league and the spirits of the other teams. Do they feel like just throwing in the towel after constantly being stomped by Goliath?

This is of course why some professional leagues (I'm most familiar with the NHL) have put in salary caps where each team is only allowed to spend a certain amount in total salaries. And it's worked very well. Teams are much more even and the league as a whole is more healthy for it.

I realize paintball is a far cry from the NHL, but I just wanted to point out the pitfalls of throwing too much money/sponsorship behind just a few teams. It's good for that/those team(s), but could be detrimental to the league as a whole.


Baca Loco said...

A clear money maker in what sense, Anonachris?

I agree the pro division is in trouble if it becomes the province of the rich--or sufficiently rich--alone.

I also think, and posted on this last year sometime, that industry has generally better reasons to focus on the league(s) rather than the teams and a time may come when the league(s) nedd to evaluate their role.

I also think that the focus has been in the wrong place in structuring factory teams. The right organization can build and sustain team quality. The right organization is what sustains the team, not the players. Competitive paintball has been too player heavy mostly because of the way teams were generated in the past. There's plenty of players out there.

Of your suggestions RL is the only truly viable one I think. Their problem is I'm not sure you can make a solid case for the brand's impact, at least in our market or the Euro market.

Definitely a potential issue but at present not a real danger. Although I think it should be addressed before long as the best course is to have guidelines in place for the changing landscape.