Friday, February 26, 2010

The Great Divide

First appeared the moment–yes, the very moment–someone saw competitive paintball as sport and sport leading to money. That moment may not have arrived for everyone at precisely the same time but close enough for horse shoes and hand grenades. The initial efforts to position themselves to take advantage were the NXL and The 18. The NXL began as 10 franchise teams that owned equal shares of their league. The 18 was NPPL 1.0's response; the league restricted access to the pro division and structured the upper divisions to function kinda like UK soccer leagues with promotion and relegation. In both cases it was leagues and teams preparing for the next step in competitive paintball’s development; quasi-mainstream sports acceptance and outside granola. While we know how that’s worked out so far the great divide is something that isn’t often discussed though it still exists, and if we’re lucky, will one day be a real problem.

The NXL was modeled on mainline American sports; the 18 on European club sports. If the NXL had succeeded there would have been a single entity with multiple partners and a well worn path for growth and development, cooperation and profit sharing already built in. If the 18 had succeeded things likely wouldn’t have been as smooth and this is where the great divide comes in. NPPL 1.0 held all the cards, controlled promotion and relegation and but only offered a promise of trickle down success–if the league scores the TV prize "we" all win. Well, yes and no. The league certainly would have been a winner but no matter how you slice it the structure pitted the pro teams against the league in the effort to gain sponsors. And still does. It is the state that exists today and has existed since the league(s) went from sanctioning body to event promoter(s). And that conflict is the great divide. Ignored when times were flush, ignored when TV was right around the next corner and ignored until it was too late when the sponsor dollars stopped raining like pennies from heaven.

Today’s landscape is a little different, in some ways the roles are reversed. A different league has an ownership group made up of teams while the other has no answer for what comes with success–but it isn’t yet a meaningful great divide. NPPL 3.0 could be poised on the brink of success but it will only come from outside sponsors–but never did when there was more hoopla, more teams and more money committed to making it happen. Realistically all the teams’ own is the dream and the debts they are collecting operating a league on an outmoded model that features a dying format. But such is the potential power of the great divide. Some portion of the team owners want control, some want a sense of self-determination but all of them want a piece of the pie should a pie fall off the baker’s truck as it drives by. Regardless of the league all the pro teams have paid a price, some more than others, some for longer than others, and they don’t want to see their effort and contribution come to nothing. And should success in outside sponsors or TV or a billionaire philanthropist ever show up they feel like they’ve earned a share and that without them ultimate success is impossible. (If sporting success comes to any major league it will almost certainly benefit all eventually–but that’s another post.)

One can debate the relative merits but it’s almost irrelevant. The great divide isn’t going anywhere and should success come it could easily tear elite competitive paintball apart. (Not that we’re in danger of that particular fate at the moment.) Or, you know, it might be worth a minute or two to consider what sort of response would be reasonable and practical in the eventuality. Of course just because it’s not operating today the old NXL franchises still exist and who knows ... Or if worst came to worst others have managed with a players union. I’m just saying. It’s not a problem today but what if--

Btw, if you're a glutton for punishment or interested in some related paintball history there's a few pieces in the Dead Tree Archive that might interest you. Take a look at 'The Pro Dilemma' or 'New Pro Paradigm.' Or for specific on the leagues as they were, try 'The 18' and 'Living the Dream.'


Anonymous said...

The real great divide is that between perception and reality.

NPPL 3.0 is an attempt by a few well-branded Pro teams to sucker others into financing their attempt to own something. If it all goes to hell, no worries, most of the money was lost by the likes of Vancouver Vendetta, Phoenix United, etc, etc. If it goes well, Dynasty and XSV strike their own deal to create a new league with whoever has the money and leave the others behind.

Just look how fast the three teams who left the league this year got tossed under the bus, even though they are still owners. Quote Alex Fraige... those teams kinda sucked, but we've filled their spots with Vancouver Vendetta!

Anonymous said...

Consider the option of a third, dark horse league coming up soon. A diff. anon., a diff. plan, a different approach.

This game is slamming on the reset button, not because of the economy, but because of concept- we don't understand it at all. The truth is- some, more than others, are willing to admit this fact. Until the PSP/NPPL figure out they aren’t the end all-be all concepts of tournament “promotions”, the lottery continues. One of these days, they’ll find themselves out of luck.

Baca Loco said...

Anon #1
I could see all that happening depending on circumstance and if the NPPL Commish took his job seriously Alex would be fined or reprimanded or something--even though I'm inclined to see his remarks reflecting frustration more than anything else. But none of that changes the dynamic that drew in both established pro teams and new ones--the possibility of building something more permanent. The motivation is about more than money.

Anon #2
Could happen but I think you would find that both groups acknowledge that fact--though the NPPL 3.0 is focused on survival for the time being. At any rate I also think you would find that a significant portion of the calculation when making decisions is how those decisions impact the team base and players. It has to. Beyond that we can--and I frequently do--disagree with one thing or another but when all is said and done their choices will determine their fate.