Thursday, November 18, 2010

Interpreting History

This post picks up where, Playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, left off. I'ma take all the numbers, facts & figures (plus maybe a few extras) and mix them altogether in order to frame the Big Picture of paintball's last decade (or so.) In the past the highlights of my paintball commentary was in predicting the future--at which I have been depressingly successful if I do say so myself--and if I won't say it, who will? Oddly, I'm less comfortable with this hindsight approach but I'm close to convincing myself (at least) that I've got a handle on what happened and why. Go ahead and poke holes in the interpretation of the past I'm going to suggest. Have at it. I'm only highlighting certain data points and you may give more import to other things. One reason is because there's lots more basic info I'm not throwing into the discussion right now; like Am team numbers, the division breaks amongst the ams over time, the cost of entry, the total teams playing when both leagues are combined, the impact of classification rules, etc. Could some of that data change one's perception? It might very well. This isn't intended to be the definitive word (despite the fact I'm always right.) It's intended as a baseline, a starting place, a means for having a vaguely intelligent conversation.

Chronology: Competitive paintball exploded.
This coincided with and/or was driven by the move out of the woods, electronic markers, concept fields, a rapidly expanding market of new players, traditional formats (10-man & 5-man) were still played and shrinking retail paint prices.
Industry got slammed when the growth spurt suddenly stopped. (The critical question here is did sales go flat immediately or did they decline against expected growth? And how long after the rapid growth did sales actually fall behind past sales peaks?) Elements of industry begin competing directly with traditional retail outlets.
This is also the era of corporatizing PBIndustry which brought different management philosophies & goals into play within the competitive environment. The leadership and value of competitive paintball was no longer assumed. Sponsorship turns a corner and begins to decline in real dollars.
Xball is conceived as the Sport of Paintball designed for a TV audience.
The TV Wars begin. The result is competing leagues (NPPL & PSP) driven by shifting priorities (and concomitant expenses) only indirectly related to putting on MLP events.
The pro ranks are divided by the NXL and the NPPL is the beneficiary of all the burgeoning 10-man teams unwilling, uninterested, unable to make the leap to Xball.

So what happened? Here goes.
PBIndustry was caught ill-prepared when the growth years suddenly stopped. For whatever reason even the incoming transnational corporates failed to manage the transitions successfully except (so far) KEE.
Xball succeeded in turning tournament paintball into sport. That success has had some unintended consequences.
The TV Wars squandered the enormous base of competing teams with redirected resources and in the NPPL's failure to sustain a profitable series.
The Sport of paintball raised the bar for everybody (eventually) and as a result has pushed out of competitive paintball some number of players unable--for various reasons--to meet its demands.
5-man paintball remained vital until the last year to 18 months.
Local and regional competitive paintball has also declined--although the declines appear to vary in different areas of the country.
The impact of the housing bubble was felt most severely initially in competitive paintball strongholds like Cali & Florida.
The general economy remains in an extended recession (at best).

What's important here. (Well, d'oh! all of it in one way or another but --)
One--Xball (Race 2) isn't going anywhere. Despite the fact I am convinced that Xball drove our demographic down and a lot of pre-existing tourney players to 7-man (and out of competition) there is a dedicated core willing to do what it takes to play competitive paintball as sport.
Two--5-man has been amazingly resilient until the last year. 5-man is the heart & lungs of tourney paintball. Through years of being second class competitors (back in the day) and rising entry fees the national scene continued to benefit from a robust 5-man turnout
Three--5-man began to decline on the local level before real weakness appeared in national events. This is the result of pressing to integrate bread & butter tourney ball into the national scheme and raising the bar to basic participation too high.
Four--There's a significant number of former tourney ballers not competing.
Five--If the rumors of operating in the black this season are true the NPPL has a pared down tournament formula that is more sustainable in this economic environment.

Having gone long (again) the next post will look at possible answers.


bruce said...

You make mention of the raising bar reducing the number of players and later state that there are significant numbers of tourney ballers not competing.

How much do you suppose these two groups overlap?

Baca Loco said...

I don't have any good idea but I'm inclined to think not alot. There's one group which was part of the last hurrah of 10-man, which I think shifted to 7-man in substantial numbers, who for the most part aren't playing competitively anymore. And then there's your run-of-the-mill homegrown 5-man team (player) that has disappeared over the last year or so (and done so in greater numbers in regions more closely tied to the PSP than elsewhere, I think) and those are the other group we're losing because it's made local competition too demanding.
And I'm still convinced there's a 3rd group that was classified out of competition during the transition years as well.

Anonymous said...

5-man participants are way down in regions closely tied to CFOA.