Monday, January 11, 2010

Race To: The Big Picture

The PSP's (mostly cosmetic) format name change is proving to be prophetic. Not only do teams play various versions of a race to some number of points, competitive paintball's premier series and guiding light is in a different race to as well. It is a race to secure the future of competitive paintball as sport and it is also a race to see what can be preserved.

With the recent announcement of the Infamous/Aftermath merger reality is beginning to bite. Nobody is immune. At this point I think (hope) everybody understands that pro paintball is about more than simply collecting the best players and putting them on the field. There are lots of ex-pro players and the list of former teams continues to grow. VFTD, in one form or another, began talking about this topic in the summer of 2004, not because I foresaw the economic situation we're in today, but because the then status quo wasn't stable for a lot of reasons. The game grew, formats changed and the demands of competition required a more professional and complex organizational structure to support the top teams. The industry supported it. Today the industry no longer supports it. No longer can.

I had a conversation this past weekend about pro and semi-pro team expectations for 2010. Who would be competing? We came up with 7 likely pro teams and 3 intent on being pro teams. (I came up with 6 and 4 but we were talking about the same teams.) The merger has taken one of them off the table. We also talked thru the ranks of the NPPL pro teams with respect to their ability to compete in the upper levels of the format-formerly-known-as-xball. It was not a purely hypothetical conversation. At least I don't expect it to have been as I do expect some numbers of NPPL teams to make the transition. A couple have or intend to and others have players that have played both. Some others simply won't be around when event registration closes for the first event. Many of those who will be around will be, to one degree or another, making the "old school" effort to pay much of their own way. Without financial backing and/or comprehensive sponsorship there will be many prices to pay for teams determined to make a go of it. One of the prices is competitiveness. In the current pro game it is very difficult to compete on the field if you can't compete off the field. No matter what else happens in the near term there is almost surely going to be a general decline in the playing standard top to bottom. Not immediately perhaps but inevitably. In a closed league there end up being the haves and the have nots but despite internet chatter about who sucks etc. the pro division has been consistently competitive with very few exceptions. At least for a time the transition, even if successful, will see a decline in the standard of play.

Overall the current trend is decline but it is also the residue of the past, not necessarily a predictor of the future. In the Big Picture it's a race to see if both the league and the teams can re-make themselves before it's too late. The PSP has taken, and continues to take steps in what I think is generally the right direction. There is a plan and a goal. (And, no, I won't elaborate 'cus it isn't my place--like that ever stopped me before--so let's just say I'm broadly in agreement. And if you're familiar with my views on what major league paintball ought to look like it may give you some idea.) The teams however are behind the curve and have been for some time. For whatever reason too many established teams didn't seem to believe the worst could happen to them and now it is. Teams dependent on the industry will not survive. For the teams it's a race to reconstruct a foundation sufficiently independent of the industry to withstand the shifting sands of circumstance. Even the factory teams aren't secure. The future belongs to new ideas.

Next time: What will the successful team of the future look like?


Anonymous said...

Here here.

I have 7 and 4, but I think there'll only end up being 8 pro teams.

And in 2008, there were almost double the pros as in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Successful pro teams in future are more like paintball clubs than teams. Same way as golf clubs are, they operate field(s), pro-shop, train new players, create a local paintball culture, arrange local events and send their best and uprising players to compete in large PSP events.

Money would come from their speedball and recball fields, operating a proshop, membership fees, charity events and local tournaments. Sponsor money from industry would still play a part, but not the biggest part it does now.

Emphasis of each club would train kids to play paintball and coach team, having multiple teams playing under the same clubs banner.

Did I guess right?

Reiner Schafer said...

Anon, that could work, but would be administratively difficult, but not impossible. Running a field and store, not for profit, but for the good of paintball players.

The difficult part comes in trying to run the businesses by committee as clubs usually try to do.

Pro who cares said...

I honestly believe professional paintball will go back to what pro paintball was over 12 years ago. There will be a few elite teams that get travel, hotel, gear and a gun. A few that get travel covered and maybe gear. And the rest that need to help cover expenses. The indusrty is no longer supporting teams and players the way they used to since there really is no value in doing so. Retail stores can barely move any high end equipment especially guns causing the diminished value in immense pro team sponsorships. Print media is practically dead, which was a pro teams biggest outlet to push their name and sponsors, causing teams to rely on the internet and word of mouth. Sponsors have obviously seen no huge ROI from these sources.

Its unbeleiveable the state paintball is in right now, after playing pro for many years the path looked so postiive. Just like business, paintball is going through a rebirth so to speak. Lets hope the powers to be dont make the same mistakes again and maybe paintball may have a real chance some day.

Anonymous said...

If there are only 8 pro teams that will at least provide more support on a pro-rata basis, or so you would think.

Baca Loco said...

Anon #1
You're definitely in the ballpark

David said...

one word, Vicious.

Baca Loco said...

While Greg and the gang have done a terrific job and worked hard to earn what they've gotten if Vicious couldn't make the move up without the bump in sponsorship they received in the off season then Viscious is not the word because that level of sponsorship simply isn't going to be there for the majority.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure Vicious got a big bump in sponsorship?

Baca Loco said...

Greg didn't whisper any numbers in my ear but it is what I heard. Either way they've done a lot of smart things, worked hard and have a lot of positive pieces in place for the future.

raehl said...

Vicious has done a great job of turning themselves into a marketing machine. And when you consider that companies are really sponsoring marketing machines, being a marketing machine is a good position to be in.