Saturday, November 13, 2010

Playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey

If you're confused by the title, no worries, it's a cultural reference to a kid's party game. I have no idea if it's even played anywhere anymore but it was when I was a kid. (Maybe when my kids were kids, too.) The idea is you put a large picture of a tailless donkey on the wall and give each child a turn at pinning a separate tail onto the donkey. The catch was you had to do it blindfolded and then you were spun around until you were dizzy and disoriented. Hilarity ensued. That's kinda how I feel about most of the efforts to "fix" competitive paintball. Even when the discussion is thoughtful and interesting--as it has been the last few days. We're outta the loop when actual decisions get made and the decision-makers are being tugged left, right and sideways desperately hoping they don't make a (nother) mistake.

The WC numbers I mentioned the other day don't prove anything. May even have multiple likely sounding explanations but what I want to do is try and broaden the picture of competitive paintball we're all looking at. In 1997 WC had 67 10-man teams. In 1998 there were 80 10-man teams. In 1999 there were 87 10-man teams. In 2000 there were 117 10-man teams. In 2001 there were over 180 10-man teams and in 2002 there were more than 210 10-man teams. This is the period of time Cup left the woods, moved to Hyperball, then Airball. Electropneumatic guns became commonplace. Xball was introduced and the NPPL split.

In 2003/2004 the PSP offered both Xball & 10-man. In 2004 the new NPPL was averaging around 170 teams an event. 2005 was the first year Xball was the stand alone headliner at Cup with only 77 xball teams & 247 5-man teams. In 2005 the NPPL averaged around 200 teams an event and by the end of 2006 Pure Promotions was looking to bail. (Rumor had it both leagues were losing money. These were also the days of the Race 2-TV.) 2006 saw 131 xball teams & 235 5-man teams participate. 2007 was the peak for xball teams at 160 with a 10% drop in 5-man teams to 212. 2008 had 138 xball teams & 195 5-man teams. (In Pacific Paintball's worst year they had more teams competing on average per event than the latest incarnation of the USPL/NPPL.) 2009 saw xball decline to its second lowest stand alone total of 125 along with still shrinking 5-man total of 183. 2010 had 134 xball teams while 5-man fell off the table dropping to 118. There's some facts & figures. Here's some more.

Bottom drops out on years of streaking growth as industry sales go flat. Fall of 2006 the PMI/NPS merger is engineered creating KEE. Jarden buys K2 in 2007 after K2 struggles with the paintball division it began putting together with the Brass Eagle purchase in what, 2003. By 2006 unification talks between the the two major leagues isn't a whispered rumor but an annual event on the end of season calendar as an intransigent industry demands action yet refuses to back one league or the other despite claiming dire economic consequences.

Since I'm running long I'll leave the analysis of the data to y'all--for now. And I'll pick it up again first of next week.

11 comments:

Reiner Schafer said...

Baca, good for you for writing up that summary of participation. I got dizzy trying to read it and make sense of it (I guess that's where the tail of the donkey comes in).

The data is all over the place. Part of the reason would be the ever constant changes in competitive play for many years. The reason we had those changes is because the status quo wasn't really working, so the powers that be thought, "let's try something else". Then (lately) competitive paintball has seemed to try to keep some stability, because everyone was tired of the changes and in part blamed the changes for part of the problem. But here we are again where the status quo doesn't really seem to be working.

So now competitive paintball is again looking at making changes, but they don't really want to abandon the stability of keeping things the same (although there are two totally different arms of competitive paintball, but that's another issue). So there is talk of field size changes and bunker number and position changes, and release times for fields for upcoming events It seems that there might be value in making small changes, but keeping the general format of the game(s) intact.

My question is, is anyone standing back and looking at the big picture, or are the people involved, so involved that they can only micro-manage? Has competitive paintball gone down roads that have no turnarounds?

This might be a hard pill to swallow, but maybe competitive paintball stands no chance of becoming sustainable, or at least not in any major way. If sponsors aren't willing to pay for it and players can't afford to pay it, what's left? Dreams and hope? We know how afar that will take you.

It seems to me that competitive paintball has been running on fumes for a long time. For a while, PB Industry was fueling the tank, but even that was barely enough (probably not enough).

abc said...

Might I submit an interesting bit of evidence?
http://www.google.com/insights/search/#q=paintball&cmpt=q
Search volume for the keyword paintball. Note the steady, rapid decline over 6 years with the occasional spike. Someone more motivated than I may want to look at internal factors (ESPN?) in the industry for these spikes as well as external factors (price of oil?) in the economy for those spikes & declines.

I would rate internal factors for the decline in paintball at about 20%. External economic factors for decline I'd say are 80%. In other words, whether you know it or not, I bet you the price of oil has a greater effect on people playing and being interested than what brand of Xball we are offering today (or yesterday).

What does everyone else think?

Reiner Schafer said...

External factors definitely have an affect. There is a general culture change that seems to be affecting participation in just about all sports. I wrote about it on my blog a little while ago, but it's too long to cut and paste, so I'll link it. There are some statistics about halfway through that show that participation in organized sports started sliding many years ago (at least in the 90's). These are for Canada, but they aren't going to be significantly different for the USA or most of the rest of the world. Paintball was still in a new industry growth phase when this started happening, so that overshadowed the overall cultural change that affected most other sports much earlier.

http://reiner-schafer.blogspot.com/2010/08/commitment.html

Anonymous said...

I call paintball growth line as a "wave effect"; it simply goes up and down but not in any standard wave length. Our sport does not gain same amount of new players every year, and also different amount of people leave the sport each season.
Actually paintball is very dependable of external factors.
We simply do not have "junior level", we don't. Paintball is not played in ages under 13 but only 15/16 and older. And what happens to a boy in ages 15-18? "External factors": girls, beer, video games ...take effect in many ways.
And very few 15-18 old afford playing weekly/internationally all year.

Paintball is one of those unfortunate sports that are not free or even cheap.
In many other sports you can give "the first one free" but not in ours. Giving first taste of real paintball (talking about 2-3 hours of supervised play, and 1000+ balls) free, costs 30+ USD to someone anyway, doing this in any scale, that might take effect, is too much.
Ok, this is an adult sport, actually a working man’s sport.
So when you are 20+ old and working, next wave of “external factors” hits: global recession, asshole boss, wife, kids…
And since our sport is not really a sport (really, go ask your boss/wife when they are in “the mood”) you can’t get the support from home front as your neighbor gets for his soccer camps and cups. Plus paintball still costs so much you have to have a job and listen to your boss.
All serious players keep telling how fortunate they are, and they really are. They have managed to dodge most of those “external factors” us mortals have to fight against. (or they have sacrificed a lot and you can take a pick of above mentioned factors to sacrifice)
So I agree fully that 80 or even 90% of the changes in tournament numbers is due to external factors.
Here in Europe we have more or less stabilized the format for 3-4 years now. (5-man, race to x) But other factors have taken effect maybe more than in US, for example: global economy problems, legality problems in many European countries, unreasonable management/fees in major tournaments.(standardized format but no competition is not the best place for development)
But euro changes have a lot to do also with lack of organized fields, so our base player pool is so small that even small waves make a big effect.
Should I try to get back to topic?
No, I don’t think that NPPL vs. PSP is a problem in US; these leagues should keep their formats and ways to do things. Don’t fix something that is not broken.
Problems are more complex and mainly external.
I see a future where we have airsoft guns replicating Geos and Egos. This is something where in my sports club we could invite a school class of 10-11 year olds to try for in indoor tournament field, nearly free. After this tryout we hand out leaflets to take home and tell parents about our junior team that practices weekly. (Price 10-15 USD per week, 2 hour session, inc. 1000 airsoft balls)
When a young man has really practiced tournament paintball from 10 year old to 17 he is more capable dodging some of those external factors mentioned. His parents see this hobby as a sport and this continues to workplace/marriage later…


Juice
team Urho
Finland

raehl said...

More people playing Call of Duty, less people playing sports. That definitely has an effect.

On the Google search frequency front, a lot of that is just due to there being a period where people didn't know what paintball was. That period is gone.

And we need to recognize that in the early 2000's we had about 300 million people who didn't know what paintball was, who became aware of it in a short time span, and those likely to try it did.

Now all we have left is about 4 million people a year who get one year older and into the age range where paintball MIGHT be made to appeal to them. Anybody over 15 already knows what it is and has probably tried it.

And unfortunately for us, a lot of people who tried it probably didn't have a good time.

Anonymous said...

I call paintball growth line as a "wave effect"; it simply goes up and down but not in any standard wave length. Our sport does not gain same amount of new players every year, and also different amount of people leave the sport each season.
Actually paintball is very dependable of external factors.
We simply do not have "junior level", we don't. Paintball is not played in ages under 13 but only 15/16 and older. And what happens to a boy in ages 15-18? "External factors": girls, beer, video games ...take effect in many ways.
And very few 15-18 old afford playing weekly/internationally all year.

Paintball is one of those unfortunate sports that are not free or even cheap.
In many other sports you can give "the first one free" but not in ours. Giving first taste of real paintball (talking about 2-3 hours of supervised play, and 1000+ balls) free, costs 30+ USD to someone anyway, doing this in any scale, that might take effect, is too much.
Ok, this is an adult sport, actually a working man’s sport.
So when you are 20+ old and working, next wave of “external factors” hits: global recession, asshole boss, wife, kids…
And since our sport is not really a sport (really, go ask your boss/wife when they are in “the mood”) you can’t get the support from home front as your neighbor gets for his soccer camps and cups. Plus paintball still costs so much you have to have a job and listen to your boss.
All serious players keep telling how fortunate they are, and they really are. They have managed to dodge most of those “external factors” us mortals have to fight against. (or they have sacrificed a lot and you can take a pick of above mentioned factors to sacrifice)
So I agree fully that 80 or even 90% of the changes in tournament numbers is due to external factors.
Here in Europe we have more or less stabilized the format for 3-4 years now. (5-man, race to x) But other factors have taken effect maybe more than in US, for example: global economy problems, legality problems in many European countries, unreasonable management/fees in major tournaments.(standardized format but no competition is not the best place for development)
But euro changes have a lot to do also with lack of organized fields, so our base player pool is so small that even small waves make a big effect.
Should I try to get back to topic?
No, I don’t think that NPPL vs. PSP is a problem in US; these leagues should keep their formats and ways to do things. Don’t fix something that is not broken.
Problems are more complex and mainly external.
I see a future where we have airsoft guns replicating Geos and Egos. This is something where in my sports club we could invite a school class of 10-11 year olds to try for in indoor tournament field, nearly free. After this tryout we hand out leaflets to take home and tell parents about our junior team that practices weekly. (Price 10-15 USD per week, 2 hour session, inc. 1000 airsoft balls)
When a young man has really practiced tournament paintball from 10 year old to 17 he is more capable dodging some of those external factors mentioned. His parents see this hobby as a sport and this continues to workplace/marriage later…


Juice
team Urho
Finland

Reiner Schafer said...

External factors are what's keeping a lot of players from playing paintball. It affects paintball as it does all other sports. The more expensive sports are going to be affected even more so.

But we have no power to control external factors. We can't tell kids not to get girl/boyfriends. We can't tell a person to tell the boss to shove it and come play paintball instead. We're probably going to have very little affect on getting people to give up video games (although there might be some value in trying). Life outside of paintball goes on.

We can only control paintball itself. We can control how we play (the format) and try to create something that the most amount of people, not affected by external factors to the point where they can't take part, will want to take part. And we have some control of the cost, again in the format. So although external factors are of concern, they are not really what we need to focus on. They (external factors) will limit the maximum number of people on our planet that can take part, but the internal factors are what determines how many of that maximum, will actually take part. It's really like a business venture trying to attract as many customers as possible. Competitive paintball competes against everything else in the world to attract people (and keep them). So we have to ask ourselves, what business are we in? What is it that we are trying to sell? What will attract a person to play competitive ball and what will it take to keep them playing?

The most obvious answers are cost and satisfaction (if participants aren't getting anything out of the experience, like fun for instance, they aren't going to stick with it, no matter what the cost).

First, are the current formats attractive to as many people as possible? Second, are the current formats affordable enough to keep the people attracted to them so that the format can be sustained? If the answer is no to either of those questions, changes need to be made. If the answer is no to the second question and changes aren't or can't be made to change it, then there is really no point in having this discussion. and competitive paintball will just slowly bleed out.

bruce said...

The current formats are not attractive to as many people as possible. Look around at those who were playing this year - young, in shape, wealthy. Pick two.

As an american, I know that the majority of people are middle aged, out of shape, and dealing with tough economic times. Those under 18 are finding it more and more difficult to find money to participate (parents strapped and under 18 jobs are rare now).

The demographics do not overlap very well (need a venn diagram nerd plz). What we need is: more money and more people to get in shape so they can compete on the modern field.

Dear APPA - can we have some demographic data on tourney participation. Can we have that data from 2002-2010. Also, can that data be split by division and age?

Baca Loco said...

Juice
Fantastic comments. I appreciate the additional perspective.

Reiner
I would make some distinctions. One is that not all paintball purveyors are in the same business either. You may be interested in competitive paintball peripherally but it isn't part of your business--nor is there any reason it ought to be. There is also a difference between competitive paintball and MLP. MLP is a subset of competitive paintball and what may solve some issues in some places for competitive paintball may not, in fact are unlikely to, apply to MLP.

Reiner Schafer said...

Absolutely Baca. I didn't mean to imply that all competitive paintball treat their "business" the same, just like restaurants all need to be run differently, depending (mostly) on their intended customer base and how they want to differentiate themselves for competitive purposes.

raehl said...

First, are the current formats attractive to as many people as possible? Second, are the current formats affordable enough to keep the people attracted to them so that the format can be sustained? If the answer is no to either of those questions, changes need to be made. If the answer is no to the second question and changes aren't or can't be made to change it, then there is really no point in having this discussion. and competitive paintball will just slowly bleed out.

I have decided that I need to just make more money and hire Reiner to do all my talking for me.

Now just have to figure out where to get that money....