Friday, May 21, 2010

The Promotion of Competitive Paintball as Commodity, Part 2

If you missed Part 1 here it is. (It was awhile ago.) Today's post picks up with the historic relationship between the major leagues and industry and with past efforts by the major leagues to promote competitive paintball beyond the pool of players. As well as PBIndustry and their customers (and potential customers.)

Where the PSP focused primarily on the pool of existing competitive players (while assuming a Field of Dreams faith in promulgating future players and teams) the NPPL went in a different direction, mostly because of differing philosophies. [Don't confuse the PSP with the NXL. Even though there are/were shared owners the two entities were viewed very differently. Think of the NXL as focused on TV and the PSP as focused on tourney play.] The NPPL was more proactive in reaching outside the boundaries of existing players to the wider pool of future players and possible fans with unique venues and more attention, energy and money spent on things like radio, flyers and attracting local media. (It strikes me as an open question whether the real goal, even then, was to be able to check off as many boxes on a list of to-do's as possible in the process of trying to draw in outside interest & sponsors.) In any case, over time, both leagues were frequently making similar efforts even if the emphases were different. Without judging the utility of the measures taken it's also relevant that part of the process was in putting (competitive) paintball in the public eye. Today most everyone knows (broadly) what paintball is but the more difficult job of differentiating kinds of paintball still exists as does the even more problematic effort to educate people about the sport.
With respect to (PB)Industry the MLP have followed similar patterns. Within the industry accepted norms were assumed--until they failed, more or less. Outside industry has proved to be (mostly) resistant to the charms of competitive paintball despite the valuable demographic and despite the potential promotional appeal. (Trust me, it's there. And, no, it isn't necessary for peeps to understand paintball to make use of paintball's action potential. There are reasons why it hasn't happened. I'll explain. Later.) Suffice to say that the leagues had a working formula for dealing with PBIndustry and insisted on swinging for the fences when it came to outside sponsors. They may not be swinging for the fences anymore but they also don't have the same product to sell anymore--but that hasn't seemed to alter the approach much.

When considering promotions by the industry we can see how their approaches and efforts are changing when it comes to reaching and influencing the pool of all current players. Whether it's new media or targeting a different segment of the player base or introducing new products simultaneously live and online the industry isn't doing anything new--but it is doing them in new ways. (Along with traditional methods where they still apply.)
Where MLP has, to my way of thinking, three basic avenues of promotions; existing players, industry, potential or former players--it's an open question whether the same applies to PBIndustry. So far we've the pool of existing players. Check. Add commercial partners--those PBIndustry sells to or through. Check. So what about potential players, potential customers? It certainly hasn't been a priority. (Of course it didn't need to be when loads of new players picked up the game without much effort, like fish jumping into the fisherman's boat.) It's also a fair question if drawing in new players is something PBIndustry can do. Largely it's been assumed to be the province of the local field and store.
In the past the routine avenues of promotion, magazines, etc. and later the internet were seen as being inclusive, appealing to both players and potential players while the frontline of fields and stores did the preliminary work and most of the interface between customer and industry was a product of marketing and accessibility. In the current environment the industry is rethinking its relationship(s) with the major leagues out of both necessity and a changing marketplace. Old assumptions are being reconsidered and the future offers no guarantees. Direct sales and the cyber storefront have broken down conventional sales and distribution methods and left the chain of commercial relationships in flux and pricing controls in flux. Across the board PBIndustry is struggling to maximize their marketing and promotions in a changing media environment, contending with a shrinking and changing products market and confronted with new challenges in efficiency, profitability and expanding the market.

Next time: If the old ways ain't working, what do we do? A few ideas. A new approach? First, the MLP. Then PBIndustry. I'll start you thinking with one word: education.


Reiner Schafer said...

The old ways aren't working because the old ways are not the old ways anymore. Fields and stores (especially fields) are the frontline, as they always have been, but the frontline is not conducting business as the frontline used to do. Old assumptions do not apply anymore.

Baca Loco said...

What are the frontlines doing differently in your opinion, Reiner?

J-Bird said...

i dont think many fields/store are doing ANYTHING differently in the ideas of innovation; and imo that comes down to the industry (including all players) failing to create a paintball "culture." Most other extreme sports have a subculture that follows the game on every level. For instance; why did Vans skating shoes become so popular even outside of the skateboard community? 1. they're reasonably comfortable, 2. there's a whole subculture that attaches itself to that style.

i think this is the reason reason why PBnation is so popular: it provides a "hangout" spot that players check out during the week to get their "fix." Much like a skateshop does for the local skateboarders here around town. For the life of me, i dont see why fields havnt picked up on this and tried to be pro-active to keep 100% of their player wouldnt be really hard to plan something either. For instance: monday is parent night -- a night for parents who have questions can come to the field and get face to face answers. Tuesday nights are "bring you gat in for a free tune-up and newbie faq night" night; wed = "mid week paintball fix: movie and pizza (bring 3$ for pizza and drinks!), thursday is night off, friday is a re-run of parent night, as well as the "bon fire and field setup night. help us set up the field and get free smores!"

these are just some ideas, id like to know if any stores have attempted something like this (i understand the turnouts could be incredibly low, but in the right environment i think it could work?)

IMO- the general population thinks of paintball as something that only happens on the weekends and that you do once every few months with some buddies and for birthday parties. We need to modify that train of thought to something like: "paintball is an game similar to flag football or my local church softball league."

raehl said...

The problem is, it doesn't cost $50 per outing to play flag football or your local church softball league.

And as long as it costs $50+ per outing to do, paintball will be relegated to the same sporting category as skiing or snow boarding or hockey south of Canada.

If we want it to be treated like the local softball league, then it needs to take 2 hours or less and cost $15.

J-Bird said...

i see what you mean, but skiing and boarding are seasonal events, and many people ski throughout the week -- from what i understand many local people dont like to go on the weekends due to the increase of tourist activity. paintball doesnt bring in tourist.

also; there could be a way to make it under two hours and cost 15$? you're a bit proponent of hopperball chris, couldnt that work? 15 is the average cost of a bag around here, should take about two hours to shoot through a bag if you're rotating and playing hopperball.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, I may have worded that wrong. It's not so much that the frontline is doing things different, as things just ARE different at the frontlines. Technological advances and paint prices dropping have changed what fields offer to their customers. It happened as a natural progression just like it does in virtually every other industry. It's just in paintball's case that these "advancements" actually changed the industry enough to make it less desirable for many to participate in. High intensity adrenaline junkies like it more, but many (more) like it less. That's just the way it is.

The industry didn't see it coming. Since its inception, paintball participation was growing leaps and bounds at the same time technology was giving us better, faster, more reliable equipment. Paintball prices were dropping due to higher participation (economies of scale) and advancements in manufacturing technology. Everything was humming along just fine. More people, more industry. Everything was rosy. Fortunes were being made (OK, not many, but some). And as technology kept advancing and paintball prices kept dropping, no one seemed to notice that we hit a point where what the frontline was offering was not getting the new player to return for a second engagement. There were lots of "regular" players now; adrenaline junkies (I'm not using that term derogatorily) They had voices (mostly on the internet) and the industry was listening to them. They wanted faster gear and cheaper paintballs and promised to shoot lots of them. The industry was happy to supply it. The industry had changed.

Janek said...


Please don't tell me you joined the ranks of the folks who think that the answer to everything in paintball is "Make it cheaper".
It didn't work before, it doesn't work now, why should it work in the future?

Reiner Schafer said...

Janek, $15 for 2 hours is really not a whole lot different than $45 for 6 hours. Factor in a higher overhead ratio (more coveralls, more masks, more staff), if players are only getting around 150 to 200 paintballs, there would be a market for it.

Of course if you give them 500 paintballs for 2 hours as J-Bird suggested, the market would be much different and smaller.

On the same note, if you take the 2 hours with 200 paintballs example and let customers buy additional paintballs at $3 or $4/100 and many customers opting to shoot 300-500 paintballs during that same 2 hours, that also changes the experience for the average customer and now we are back to appealing to the adrenaline junkies only again.

Baca Loco said...

I am more inclined to buy into the Reiner Explanation than the Faction Scenario for a couple of reasons--although I have a quibble that that one too.
Anecdotally when I started playing paintball was just discovering the semi-auto marker. A case of paint at the local field was a C-note. (That case had 2500 paintballs in it, btw.) And playing from 9 am to 4 pm inevitably used that paint, no trouble. Even so, the pace of the game was no match for modern competitive paintball.
That said if you look at the UK market it is dominated by recreational mills that don't want walk-ons, players with their own gear or anything like tourney players except on occasional set aside days. Their market caters near exclusively to the infrequent rental player and last I heard doing well. So we have a working active model in the ballpark of what Reiner is talking about and price point isn't killing them. Nor did price point in the U.S. ten years ago threaten to kill paintball here.
Yes, there's probably less discretionary cash available today for paintball but is that because it's too expensive or because most paintball age players have either tried it or heard from friends that it wasn't all that?

raehl said...


It depends what you mean by cheaper. I have always believed that the lower the per-unit-of-fun cost is for paintball, the more people will play it, and the more successful everyone who has chosen to invest their lives into paintball will be.

But, I am not advocating a cheaper experience, because a cheaper experience is a less fun experience.

I'm advocating a couple things:

1) Charge a lot more for paintballs and a lot less for admission/rental/whatever. This causes people to shoot fewer paintballs, which cuts a large material cost out of play. (The main reason paintball is much more expensive than soccer is you don't have to buy a new soccer ball every time you play soccer, and if we can get to only having to buy 100 paintballs per play session instead of 1000, that's a big cost savings.)

2) Cut the minimum time requirement to something less than all day. I think this less important for the casual player (a day of paintball is a good substitute for a day at an amusement park) but for the competitive player, playing competitively shouldn't require waking up at 5 AM and getting home at 11 PM. Maybe it will for people who don't live near paintball fields, but it is perfectly possible to play paintball in a way that you show up, have an hour of prep time, are on the field for an hour, have half hour of teardown, and then go home (by which I mean, to the bar).

If I had a field, what I would try is getting 6 teams together very local to me, 8 players a team, $125/player, play one RaceTo-5 match one night a week for five weeks. Hopperball. Includes 2 cases of paint per team per night. $25 per player per night, netting $1200 to turn the lights on for 2 hours. Pay 8 refs $30 each and you have $500 left each night (after taxes) to turn the lights on, run the compressor, and put in your pocket. (More with concessions, extra paint, etc.)

Could also scale that down to 3-man if you wanted.

Works for students, people with jobs, and people with wives.

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, don't quibble. Say what you want to say. You know you'll be right. The sidebar says you will be.

I'm glad that you sort of understand. The sad thing is that it doesn't matter. There is f-all we can do about it. It is what it is. The industry has changed and there is very little we can do about it. We can't go back. The industy has finally realized it's mistake (at least the biggest of the players have) so they can't really move forward and continue along the same path they have been going on because that will just make matters worse. So where do they go from here? I don't know. But I wouldn't be buying any stocks in paintball companies right now.

anonachris said...

Paintball and skiing is mentioned above, and this got me thinking how most skis are sold. Big box retailers, even the high end skis. And other skis are sold at shops near the mountain.

To see a parallel in paintball, perhaps the only pro-shops we need are those at fields. With the rest of the equipment being carried by big box stores. I'm not saying this is gonna happen. But how can paintball every "break out" if we're trying to market it through a channel (pro shop) with only 5-10 people walking in the store every day?

I don't think you can compare it with skate, because skate is almost as much about the clothes as it is about the gear. Skiing is a pretty good comparison. High equipment costs (or ongoing rental), high price to pay (lift ticket vs. paint/entry) pretty seasonal - Dec - early April for skiing, the opposite for paintball.

Why are big box stores fleeing paintball? Because it's not selling (duh). Why is it not selling? Because the enthusiasts don't shop there. Big box gets the beginner and enthusiast and "crossover converts" (who perhaps were in the shop looking at running or hunting or camping stuff) when it comes to skiing. Paintball in big box pretty much was only targeted to beginners and crossover converts. But without the enthusiasts to really sustain a more advanced and higher margin product line, why bother carrying it when your volumes fluctuate as the market changes? At least with skiing they can sell a pair of skis for 800 bucks. With paintball they have to sell 10 tippmanns over a few month period!

Is it possible that in an ideal world we'd have:
pro shops at the field
online megastores that carry everything
big box retail that carries quite a bit of paintball equipment during "the season" and then reduces their inventory and rotates other sports categories in its place during the off season (perhaps skiing).
-this would mean the vast majority of shops close down, that aren't attached to a field.

I suggest this would be better because it would have a much larger bases of potential customers (converts) to bring into and up the ladder in paintball. Not just selling Spyders, but some high end stuff too and people would actually be buying it because that's the only place you could by your NT, other than the proshop at the field an hour away.

What would this take? Manufacturers exercising tighter control over their distribution channels, but would keep the door open the to a much broader audience. Of course, this might just not be possible, the door might be closed on big box, and there might be no way to close pandora's box.

Just some thoughts...

Janek said...


I hope that you do remember that we've spoken on the phone a couple times and that I agree with almost everything you say about how to run a business like that, with small changes that take into account local differences in customer base.
I was merely goading Raehl into expanding on his statement as what he wrote could easily be misread, and while most of the readers of Baca's blog are intelligent individuals who can read between the lines, every now and then someone comes along who can't understand the complexity of such a simple statement and we don't want anyone misunderstanding what's being said here :)

J-Bird said...

ok, i like the similarities to skiing/snowboarding, but at the same time, i have a hard time looking past the amount of tourism that makes up that industry. Id be interested to see the numbers that are made on the slopes vs in the lodge. Paintball doesnt have a "lodge" or any reason to pull in tourism like a ski slope does. There are no "paintball towns" and people dont flock to their local field every spring and spend hundreds of dollars on lodging and such.

Another thing that paintball lacks in the ski slope comparision is this:

we have no way to get these numbers right now, and it's going to take the FIELDS to up their game for us to get it. When we see more "mega-fields" like CPX, and Giant Paintball Parks, then i think the ski slope comparison will work great, but right now there are still too many "mom and pop" fields all over the country.

also, i disagree with big box store philosophies. You are not going to sell an NT at a walmart, it just wont happen. Stores have a hard enough time selling high end product (either because there are no buyers, or the manufactures are consistently "sold out"). If you look at the snowsports fact sheet the numbers for their industry show that more money was made in the snow sport specialty stores (by around $1,161,400,857). In the stores they made the most money off of equipment and accessories while they sold a good bit more apparel online.

This brings me back to my PBnation is the sports best friend and worst enemy. I dont think that snowboarders trade, buy, or sell new boards every few weeks like "gun-whores" can do. If they were able to ride every weekend, it might be different, but because they can only use the board X amount of times a year, there's not much reason for them to buy 4 new boards a season.

Reiner Schafer said...

Comparing paintball to skiiing, snowboarding, skateborading, golf, or virtually any other sport or pastime is useless. None of those sports have others playing with/against you and for a large part influencing the extremity of your experience.

Maybe if you had a sport that allowed physical contact and each year the amount of physical contact increased over the previous year. Then you might be able to compare participation rates. Anyone know of such a sport?

Baca Loco said...

My quibble was that back in the mid-late- 90s I was shooting more paint over a day than apparently most of your cutomers do.

Reiner Schafer said...

Right. And somewhere along the line (sorry I don't know all your history Baca), you chose to go the competitive paintball route, where it's expected that you throw a lot of paint in the air and the people who choose to be there with you have made the same choice.

If you were shooting a case of paint at my field today, I would have a polite conversation with you and ask you to tone it down. The other people that are at the field with you have not made the choice to step up their play yet, and I don't want you to make that choice for them.

But that's not the way it is at most recreational fields today. The lines have been blurred substantially. A case of paintballs does not cost a c-note anymore at most fields. And at $50 or $60/case (and less sometimes), you can have a group of first time renters shooting stock Model 98s, and you will get many of those first time players shooting a case of paintballs. They may not hit as much as you or I would, but nevertheless, the paintballs are being shot. It's hitting bunkers, making noise and keeping players from moving. When people are being hit, they are getting hit 3 or 4 times instead of once or twice. Paintball has changed, even if fieldowners' mentatlity and intentions have not.

In a way, people are lucky around our neck of the woods. There is a distinct difference in paintball at a field like ours that is recreational and selling paintballs at $120-$160/case and speedball venues selling paintballs at $40-$50/case. There are fields that are somewhere in between to. Each offers a different experience, and the difference is predominantly determined by the price of the paintballs and the types of players those prices attract. People still have a choice which road to go down. The same is true in your example of Britain.

The problem still exists for competitive paintball though. It's fine to say competitive paintball is for the more extreme individual. The problem is in the level of extremity. The level of extremity determines how much of the population wants to take part.

Not only has paintball changed at the recreational level, but it has changed just as much at the competitive level. I'm not going to judge whether the changes are good or bad. Obvioulsy those who are playing are playing because they like it that way. But the changes in extremity have determined how many people are even willing to consider taking part (never mind the financial and time commitment, although that does factor in big time as well).

So to get on topic (there was an original topic I think), a lower intensity form of competitive paintball for more "average" folk is probably a good idea. Maybe it will spur some of those participants to take the next step and move up to the next intensity level. On the other hand, maybe the mass promotion of lower intensity competitive play will demonstrate that a larger portion of the population would be willing to take part (at that level). And if that were the case, maybe would it be bad to offer a lower intensity competitive option for majority of the population and leavig the high intensity stuff for the pros?

Crotchety Old Fan said...

Couple of things someone will no doubt take exception to:

The other sports being used as models do not entail the use of significant amounts of expendable commodities. If paintball were modeled after skiing, players would buy/rent their gear and obtain paint as part of their "lift ticket" fee.

Not all tournament play is 'use high volumes'; I spent three solid years teaching folks around the country that paintball guns can be a hell of a lot more accurate than most folks give them credit for. However, taking full advantage of those capabilities involves dedication, time and hard training, and most folks just are not into that - especially when the same problem can be solved by increasing the volume of fire.

A problem with reducing play time (like local baseball/basketball/soccer model) is that most players do not have a playing facility within 15-30 minutes drive time. Where I have attended (or operated) fields that are inside urban centers (large pop to draw from), relatively inexpensive two hour sessions are common and fairly popular (2 hour wed nite practice for example). Where the commute to the field starts getting close to an hour+ of travel time, most players would rather spend the day. I don't know too many folks who will drive two hours to attend a movie - but who will drive two hours to attend a 12 or 24 hour film festival.

I believe that among the reasons for this issue/problem are the:

old business model still being used
failure for the industry to act on a national basis (at least for promotions)
failure to structure play (EVERYWHERE) in a manner that is primarily focused on developing new business
(when have you ever seen an MLB team kick a bunch of kids off the sandlot because they had to 'practice'?)
PART (only part) of favoring new players is presenting the game in an approachable, easily comprehended manner (which includes lowering the volume of shooting/speed of the game).
Failure to establish (nationwide) tiered structure for further involvement with the game. Ok - your kid has played a bunch of times, doesn't cry when he gets hit and wants more - now what? Saying - they can join a team (scenario/tournament) is nowhere near the equivalent of a well-established local to regional to national path for these kinds of things. (And before anyone else says it: "we're a young sport" is absolutely NO excuse or explanation and if I hear it one more time I'm going to find someone to throw up on.)

Reiner Schafer said...

Yes, we're not a young sport anymore. Many of the people who started playing this sport in the first few years are now collecting pension cheques or are no longer with us. Making that excuse is just that, an excuse.

My thoughts were exactly the same regarding reduced time play. We're at least 45 minutes away from our primary population base. That's 1.5 hours round trip. Add time for getting cleaned up afterwards, it doesn't play out well for short duration play. If I were running a field in the city, I would be all over the 2 to 2.5 hours sessions. Especially if it's a smaller indoor venue. Size of the venue itself would make necessary the greater number but shorter sessions scenario.

The firepower issue is a big one. People like to shoot high tech guns. It's fun. Everyone wants to be the next pro and see their name in print. But the problem is it costs a lot of money to feed those guns as well as the obvious limitations of the type of player that will want to take part in that high octane activity.

You don't see too many local or regional Formula One Kart races. That's reserved for the Big Show. It's expensive and dangerous for the average guy to take part in. Yet we have no problems handing out "Formula One" technology to the 14 year old kid after his second paintball outing. It's never made sense to me. Why aren't we playing a lower technology game with less paintballs (less cost) to give people a chance to stick with it long enough to learn the ropes? Let the Big Boys pklay with the Big Guns.

Baca Loco said...

My problem was it dawned on me early that paint was control. What your customers pay a premium for is to play with other like-minded people who don't know or don't care about how to play effectively. :)

Hope you'll keep on eye on the rest of the promotion series

Reiner Schafer said...

Yes Baca. Paint is control. And for that reason, we have less people wanting to participate when paintballs are cheap then when paintballs are more expensive and people can't afford virtually unlimited amounts.

If you could find a way to make paintballs absolutely free and unlimited use for anyone that wanted to play, you would end up with reltively few people playing paintball. The game would not be fun anymore for most people and there would be virtually no strategy other than fingering triggers and pointing the muzzle in the appropriate direction.

Actually what would most likely happen in that scenario is that the game would evolve such that rules would HAVE to be put in place to put physical limits on paint, so that enough people would want to take part.

As far as players not knowing how to play effectively...of course players that don't play very often are going to be reltively ineffective. But you've been around long enough to know that there are other strategies, for those that do know how to play, than controlling the game with paintballs alone, when players have access to less paint.

raehl said...

I'm going to have to disagree with you Reiner. Unlimited free paintballs are only a problem because getting hit by paintballs hurts. Replace unlimited free paintballs with, say, IR beams, and you get something that is completely palatable even to 8 year olds.

Strategy isn't the problem. There would just be a different strategy. It's the pain (and the mess) that's the problem.

J-Bird said...

does anybody else think that the argument "paintball hurts" is just stupid and completely unreasonable whenever kids are incredibly willing to put their body on the line like this:

please, tell me what hurts worse? eating asphalt or getting shot by a paintball?

what if some of the "education" answer is "Make sure you wear your protective gear" for new players? Yes, it might induce more bounces, but a new player is going to call themselves out if they're hit (who cares if it breaks) and the ones who get used to the bounce will enjoy a little extra play time = more customer satisfaction?

raehl said...

Most kids want nothing to do with the activities in the video either.

Reiner Schafer said...

You are absolutely right Raehl. But we ARE talking about paintball and not IR beam sports. Therefore free, unlimited paintballs would be a big problem.