Monday, March 8, 2010

On Sponsorship

I was asked yesterday what I thought of an opinion piece posted on the website over at Rich Telford's Wide World of Paintball. (Title is the link.) You may know it better as Facefull. The comments were made by, who else, Rich Telford. It is after all his wide world of paintball. And instead of simply answering the question it seemed blog worthy.
If you're hoping for fireworks you're going to have to set off your own or settle for disappointment. I was asked if I'd seen the piece and if so, what did I think? I have now read it. And it's hard to argue with. Most of it sounds like stuff I've been saying. It offers a suggested path. What's to criticize?
What I will do is piggyback on a couple of points. (I'm also assuming you've read Rich's comments so don't be a lazy slacker and take a minute to check them out.) There are 3 items I want to riff off of here. 1--Rich generously passes responsibility for the current state of the game around and while it's certainly true the facts is that some are more responsible than others. 2--Rich suggests the players need to support the members of the industry that support the pro teams and ignore those that don't. Some might read that as advocating a boycott of sorts--which is how I read it--and while I am agnostic on the utility I'm not shocked by the idea. Collective action in the collective interest (where it can be ascertained) is perfectly reasonable. (But is that in the collective interest?) 3--And finally Rich suggests if times are tough for the pros, and they surely are, it's also no picnic for the lower divisions. Which is true too, as far as it goes.

1--the current state of the game is the responsibility of an industry and major league promoters who have, at times, largely been one and the same. Did some high profile players have input at times? Sure, did their vote count for anything at all at crunch time? When the nature and direction of the game were on the line? Not so much. Without some control there isn't any real responsibility. The only responsibility teams and players bear is the result of an unwillingness to become embroiled in the politics of the game, either individually or collectively. In the present that's neither here nor there, I just want to be clear.

2--if the players and teams have proved incapable in the past of acting in concert in their own self-interest--and they have--I doubt much of anything will convince them to act individually for the collective good--even if they buy into the boycott idea. And then there's the disconnect between the pro teams and the not pro teams. Does the average player see a connection? Other than that's where some of them hope to one day be. It's not that I oppose a boycott or something like it, it's more that I've never seen any evidence to suggest it could be organized, formally or informally.
One reason the needed dollars aren't there is because they can't be justified. Budget cuts don't necessarily dictate which parts of the budget the cuts come from. When sponsorship dollars are targeted it means the value received from those sponsorship dollars is less certain than dollars spent elsewhere. Perhaps one thing teams need to do is figure out a better way to make their case. (Ironically, not unlike what Rich and XSV have been working toward for years. So who would know better what is possible in this environment and what isn't?) One good question for teams is how do we go about building value in our team? And an equally good question for sponsors is what do we lose if we fail to support the pro teams?

3--which kinda leads me to a comparo between the pro teams and the divisional teams. There are a couple of relevant differences. What passes for sponsorship in most divisional situations is really differing sorts of discounts. Are the basis for these discounts tied to pro sponsorship, or the lack thereof? Not so much. Any company that has a product line targeting the competitive part of the game probably offers some sort of discount options to teams, either directly or through retail stores and field shops. Are players really going to ignore those options in order to encourage other parts of the industry to give stuff to pros? Again, not so much, it seems to me. One place (among many) where the pros and divisional players share a common cause is in the costs both incur in order to compete. As divisional players move up ranks the costs of being competitive increase as well so for those players with dreams of playing pro must begin to confront the reality of what it takes off the field as well as on it.
Lastly, while decisions made by industry and promoters have brought us here I'm not pointing fingers and insisting on placing blame--the point is to accurately assess what is so we can all hopefully make wiser decisions as we move forward.


sdawg said...

As a recreational player (of "speedball", not milsim scenario stuff), I have never understood why there are so many professional teams in paintball or why I should care if teams disappear.

Not every great basketball player gets to play in the NBA. If a player doesn't make it to the NBA or gets cut from a team -- well, pal, there's always the YMCA leagues or pick-up games. And, in most other sports, athletes are supporting themselves all the way up to the highest levels of competition. So, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the guys who want to keep playing paintball for free, forever.

If the only Major League Paintball I got to see were eight teams playing a season with playoffs at the end of the year (similar to the 2006 Smart Parts tournament), I'd be a happy MLP fan.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't cost $75k for a pro team to be competitive. It only costs $75k for a Pro team to be competitive against other pro teams who are also spending $75k. So, if you just let the Russians win, it only takes $20k for a Pro team to compete for 2nd place.

It's all a non-problem though. Rich rightfully points out that if sponsorship dwindles, teams who can no longer afford to compete stop competing. Rich fails to take that logic to the next step, which is that teams who were not paying for anything folding doesn't matter to anybody except the players who were getting the free ride. It doesn't matter one bit whether there are 30 Pro teams or 4. The only thing that changes is there are 260ish less players playing for free.

Not worth even thinking about when there are millions of players who will pay $50 to shoot their friends in the woods.

Don Saavedra said...

I hope that Pro level National competition continues because I just find it so damn fun to watch.

Baca Loco said...

You have very poor taste in your mlp. :) Oh and the analogy doesn't really wash but I get where you're coming from.

While I see your logic it relies on the presumption there is no value to having elite competitive teams or players. I think the jury is out on that one--and even if some perceive a real value it's still fair to question other facets of the issue.

I think you need to be a bit more specific. There will always be a best of the best as long as there is competitive paintball--which isn't going anywhere--but what it will look like in ten years and how many will be playing is something else again. ;)

Missy Q said...

Personally I think the industry is tired of hearing about the plight of the professional paintball player. I know I am.
When you're trying to keep your business afloat, as many are, and you have the usual suspects holding their hands out so they don't have to get a 'real job', it must be frustrating.
Then, if you offer the team less funding than the previous year, they leave (if they can), and then start bad-mouthing you the first moment they're able, despite the 10's of thousands of dollars you've given them (sorry, INVESTED in them), so that they can perfect their couch-video-game techniques, and strut around the fields at the weekends like they own the place.
Maybe we should have the top league be 'Semi-pro' as thats a more accurate description anyway.
One more thing. How many Olympic athletes have jobs during the week, because their sport does not have the ability to pay them a full-time salary?
Most of them!
Why do 'Pro' paintballers feel so entitled?

Missy Q said...

How come when I post a comment it doesn't show up. I spent ages typing the last one....

Reiner Schafer said...

Sponsorship for most businesses is looked at like any expense. There has to be a return on investment. If not, then it's charity. How many people or businesses do you know that give money (or products with monetary value) to people just for the asking? Not many.

Any business is going to evaluate their choices of where to spend their dollars. When sales are down, that evaluation process will get much more scrutiny. Do we replace that ailing piece of equipment? Do we hire another Sales Member? Do we spend keep our R&D budget the same or should we up our R&D budget so we don't fall further behind on new product developement? Those are just a few of the many, many choices businesses have to make. Each one is going to have a degreee of necessity attached to it or a rate of return. Sponsorship falls in there somewhere as well.

Unfortunately for competitive paintball, there has been a shift for Paintball Industry. Scenario, milsim, and woodsball have taken away some of the focus from competitve paintball. That's just the reality of the situation. Where once most paintball participants that wanted to get more serious and play more regularly, took the road marked Tourney Ball when they got to that fork in the road. There are now more roads to choose from. That goes for players and the same holds true for Paintball industry. Unfortunately the number of players making that choice has not changed, except possibly negatively. Therefore there are just fewer competitve players now. PB Industry is very aware of this. Why would they possibly consider spending the same amount of sponsorship dollars on a smaller market, when they know the ROI will be considerably smaller? It's a business decision.

Missy Q. You are right about hte Olympic Athletes. I have met several here in Victoria (we have lots of Summer Olympians train here in Victoria because we have the mildest Canadian winter) and they all have jobs to support themselves.

Baca Loco said...

Because Comments suck.
The expectation was created by 1) past industry behavior and 2) the "pro" image was fostered by the old PB media.

Missy Q said...

Ah, so the players can't be blamed at all? How convenient...
Damn all those industry and media guys for forcing up the value of Pro-teams, and ensuring many of said players get years of paid vacation-time. I really feel for those players that have enjoyed such a life, and now have to find work. Its so unfair.

Miller said...

I'm not so sure how advantageous it is for the "masses" of divisional players to buy into supporting the old system of pro team sponsorship (excluding those with the immediate interest of going pro). I view the old system as assigning a "brand" value to teams (I know you addressed this in a former post). So, a paintball company should sponsor XSV for the value of associating with the team. This works (maybe "worked" is a better verb) for teams like Dynasty, XSV, and Ironmen that are high-profile and have some value associated with their team "brand"

However, no one really cares who Team X is in PSP D2 Race-2-5, and it doesnt benefit Team X for Dynasty, XSV, RL, etc to receive 200K in paint sponsorship. I would say there have been less than a handful of divisional teams that have garnered sponsorship from their brand value (Vicious, Palm Beach Vipers, and Aftermath would be on my short list).

But in the new paradigm of paintball sponsorship, associations with field and stores are paramount, and the emphasis is on total sales. For example, if Team X is associated with a store that does $500K is business with a sponsor, they will more than likely receive a better sponsorship (discount) than Team Y that does $100K in business. It really doesn't matter if Team Y is more successful, competitively, than Team X. This is in most regards more beneficial to the divisional teams because it is much easier to affiliate with a store or field than create some sort of brand value for your team.

If Kee has a $1MIL sponsorship allotment, it doesnt help the divisional masses for the Pro teams to receive the lion's share of that allotment. It does benefit the divisional players for Kee to distribute that total allotment among fields and stores in the form of % discounts per total volume of sales, assuming the fields and stores passes these discounts along to the teams associated with them.

sdawg said...

I'm glad that someone else's comments weren't showing up because I thought that mine were just being deleted. Which would be find because some of my comments were not very interesting or at all good.

I mentioned the 2006 Smart Parts tournament because that was the first time I saw real professional paintball. I have to say, it really convinced me at the time that paintball had become something resembling a sport and really grabbed my interest. And, incidentally, opened my wallet to the sport. So, anecdotally, the X-ball format and the pro-paintballers did their job for at least one consumer.

I guess you can't really compare pro-paintballer to Olympic athletes because paintball is a mega-underground sport. But most Olympic sports are underground sports (think fencing or even table tennis). high-level competition in any sport requires national or international travel is going to cost thousands of dollars, and sponsorship often doesn't arrive until you've already won an Olympic medal.

Baca Loco said...

I was responding to your question--not making excuses for pro players or trying to justify nonsensical attitudes--as I'm sure you know full well--but I'm glad it offered you an opportunity to get that off your (ample) chest.

I haven't deleted any comments. Sometimes you have to click through a few "steps" before a comment will actually post.

I take my comment about your poor taste--you didn't have anything to compare it to at the time. :) (My view may be colored as well by the fact I didn't enjoy that "event" in any way, shape or form. For example, matches frequently took hours to play as we accomodated the film crews requirements and that lousy played all the time. For all they used them they could have recorded a few samples and filmed some B roll.)

Baca Loco said...

I take BACK my comment

Baca Loco said...

that lousy BAND

I really should read my comments before I post them

Don Saavedra said...

Nobody wants to see how the sausage is made, Baca. I went in very skeptical, but ended up enjoying the Smart Parts show. There was some good paintball played there.