Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Where Did Everybody Go?

Picking up on the themes of The Monday Poll I want to dig a little deeper in response to Mark's Monday Poll comment. His concern relates to field operators who rely, to one degree or another, on tourney teams practicing. It's a legit question. Unfortunately I don't think there is a definitive answer. But there are some things we can take a look at that might be helpful.
Is the current relationship between (mostly) the PSP--there aren't enough NPPL fields out there to matter--and the local practice field(s) a positive one? Yes and no. Is dependency on an outside agent that has its own agenda a good place to be? More teams are more likely to schedule practices proximate to when events will be held but in some respects the PSP hold practice fields hostage to their schedule right now. There was a time when fields were only released 3 weeks prior to an event and the result was the majority of competing teams fit all their practice into that 3 week period. Because all they were doing was scrimmaging the layout. When given the opportunity to prepare for a specific layout anything else is pointless. Even with layouts released within a week or so of the prior event the schedule of events still impacts local practice habits. The longer the time between events the more practice sessions will tend to be distributed closer to the event. This is a result of two factors; a team wants to be most prepared just before the event and because of some limitation on how often a team can afford to practice.
Does maintaining the status quo do anything other than to assure that everybody eventually goes down together? Or pass off responsibility for what happens next to an agency that has its own survival to think about? On the other hand we already know what happens when teams don't have the next event's layout, they practice anyway. And how they practice is up to them.

In order to free up local practice fields one needs to disassociate practice from specific events as much as possible and reduce the cost of practice. And if practice can be conducted at a lower cost it should yield two positive outcomes; dedicated teams on a budget should be able to practice more often and players and prospective teams will be more likely to reform old teams and/or start new ones because the bar to competing has been lowered.

In the last two or three years lots of theories have been offered for the decline in competitive paintball participation. Everything from blazing gats killing newbies to the economy stupid. And each theory has its own proponents because most of them sound reasonable in one way or another and each of them connect with our assorted biases. And chances are many of them have some degree of validity but sorting out the percentages is a near impossibility. Instead I want to show y'all some numbers and let you make of them what you will--and I'll tell you tomorrow what I make of them.
All these numbers are World Cup numbers in the Xball Era. The most teams ever at WC was in 2002, the last year before xball became a regular option, with well over 400 teams. 2005 was the first year xball was the stand alone headliner at Cup with only 77 xball teams & 247 5-man teams. 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. 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. Make of them what you will.

To put all this into a different context here's an alternative option. Given that the PSP has not hesitated in the past to change the format in an attempt to preserve (and/or grow) participation what if they followed the Amodea Plan of slightly enlarging the field and adding a couple of larger bunkers in the back to make it easier for the older more financially stable player to compete along with all the broke ass bunker monkeys. (I'm putting this out there because John suggested it in an X3 editorial a few months ago and because I disagreed with it at the time.) Is another format change either less threatening or more likely to succeed than simply no longer releasing the event layout in advance? And if it is how does it impact cost of participation? Or maybe you'd like to see both?


bronc said...

I suspect John simply went back in time, like you did, and looked at what the fields and games were like when our sport was growing like a weed. With all the crazy changes that have been pushed upon us, and with the declining numbers of teams showing up, what's the worst that could happen if we open the game up to older players, and less financially viable teams?

I'd like to see it happen, being someone getting closer to 40, I'd love to be able to step back on the field again and at least have a fighting chance.

raehl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
abc said...

Ya I've been wondering where the 200,000 guys who bought Ions went...I thought that was the perfect gun to move 'em up the ranks into tournament ball.

raehl said...

Why is it so difficult for people to acknowledge the real change in tournament paintball?

There's all this talk about the bunkers not being big enough or the field not being long enough, and it's a waste of time. The field isn't any shorter than it used to be - lots of fat guys played 5-man for years on fields 120' long with no problem. And the idea that making a couple bunkers a little bigger is going to reverse a massive decline in participation is just plain silly. There are simply not that many fat guys to make up the losses.

The real problem is the paint-cost-per-minute is double what it was 5 years ago and quadruple what it was 10 years ago, due to the combination of complete loss of sponsor paint (teams that were paying nothing to $20 per case in 2006 are paying $35-$40/case now) and doubling of the paint shot per minute compared to the early 2000's.

You can make the field dimensions and bunker sizes whatever you want, release the layouts whenever you want, but as long as a player has to spend $200 in paint to win an event, none of that is going to make a damned bit of difference.

It boggles my mind that we keep trying to dial the clock back 5 or 10 years to see what changed between when paintball was growing like crazy and the best we can come up with is it's because the bunkers moved 10 feet.

Anonymous said...

couldnt agree more. I was apart of the not so financially viable teams, granted a local one, but still. every chance we got we'd use pumps for practice or run drills simply without paint(dry firing with barrel bag on was an option). but my point is the only factor we cared about was cost.

bronc said...

It boggles your mind Chris because you're too close to the problem. You love the game as it is today, along with most other younger and new players.

Paint isn't the problem. People know they need to shoot paint, that's why the sport is called "paintball".

The leagues have been trying to "solve" this non problem for years, with ROF caps, banned hoppers, bunker sizes and placements, etc. If this was in fact a problem then why hasn't the existing wisdom fixed it? When I carried 10 pods on my back when I played in Am 10-man, the cost was secondary, and we still had hundreds of teams showing up.

You logic is to reduce the rates of fire, or to shorten games, or somehow limit the amount of paint players shoot so the event doesn't cost as much. That solves nothing - other then limiting your playing time or putting an artificial limit on your equipment that you shelled out thousands of dollars for. How much have entry fees gone up since 2002, until now? How much has paint gone up/down since then? Not a whole lot. That being said, if paint was the problem, why are we seeing so many people showing up at scenario and woods ball games in record numbers all hauling 10 pods out with them?

If we want more teams on the fields, we simply need to learn from history. What were we doing when we had the most teams showing up at events? Call me crazy, but how about we try it that again since it obviously worked. Either that or we can keep floundering trying to solve a problem that doesn't exists.

Mark790.06 said...

"Is dependency on an outside agent that has its own agenda a good place to be?"

We put on a local series in cooperation with the PSP under the UCP. They help us and I sincerely hope we're helping them too, so I (have to) believe our agenda's are the same.
We can, and probably will, offer layouts of our own series. Will we make them available online or just offer them at our field to fill the scrimmage void? Kind of a dick move to only do the latter. Should we spend money to buy the 4 new bunkers they've come out with every year for the past 5 or so? Why should we, when 4 props doesn't matter on a layout you're not going to be competing on? For that matter why buy Supair anymore, doesn't someone make a cheaper knock off? Hell you can take an old hyperball field and make it into something resembling a race to field.
The company that made them big red chronographs went out of business a while back. Apparently not enough were being sold to make the company viable. In the meantime what does PSP do? Put out hand held units in the pits and never see them again? Losing more money than they already do. How many more lawsuits would they incur because guns were not being chrono'd?
A step further.....
How many SupAir fields need to be sold in a year to make THAT company viable?

raehl said...

Bronc, conventional wisdom hasn't fixed it because conventional wisdom has done almost nothing to curb paint-per-minute. At best we knocked out 15% of paint use when we went from 15.4 to 12.5. Putting more bunkers etc on the field certainly didn't do anything to reduce paint use and may have even increased it.

When you say "That solves nothing - other then ... putting an artificial limit on your equipment that you shelled out thousands of dollars for."...

Why isn't putting a limit on the equipment an option? Pretty much any sport where equipment is involved limits it.

And isn't the fact that players are supposed to shell out thousands of dollars on equipment to even compete part of the problem?

Pat said...

Mark- I have to ask why you are fighting for companies that have made seemingly horrible business decisions? Every case you proffer here suggests that those companies have specialized to the point where competition or lack of demand put them under. Business basics include investing principles(because businesses are investments) and all these cases have broken the top basic. Diversify, Diversify, Diversify. And if they weren't smart enough to sell high to a bigger company then why does a league have to take responsibility for their poor decisions? Same thing goes for field owners or SupAir. If they are not diversified enough to weather the vagaries of a still very volatile industry then why should they be the boat anchor that limits another entity that may or may not succeed regardless of them and their poor business management? If SupAir goes away you still have ultimate air, or mighty, or maybe dye or bob or some other unknown will buy it and add it to their own diversified offerings. As long as there is demand great enough, someone will fill the gap. Just because one person was really good at it but made poor decisions doesn't mean they have to slow down progression of the rest.

Reiner Schafer said...

"That being said, if paint was the problem, why are we seeing so many people showing up at scenario and woods ball games in record numbers all hauling 10 pods out with them?"

Because we have a lot less people choosing to carry 10 pods of paint on their back, practicing every weekend and instead opting to play 3 or 4 scenario games per year with 10 pods of paint on their back.

Scenario games seem to be the compromise people have made. They still want to use high ROF gear and shoot lots of paint, but they can't afford to do it very often.

Sorry for the interruption. You may now go back to your discussion on bunker shifting and field release dates.

raehl said...

Reiner, you certainly have a knack for msking something suddenly obvious.

Anonymous said...

Do those 'hay day' participation numbers take into account the PSP is trying to make money now a days selling only four products a year. Do you know any other viable businesses that make profit selling only FOUR products in a year...

Baca Loco said...

The numbers reflect World Cups and WCs alone. The move to 4 events was intended to improve the league's bottom line as the August event was always the red-headed stepchild of competitive paintball. The move to 4 was also seen as a way to bolster the remaining events on a scarcity principle.
The Rose Bowl seems to be managing okay selling one event a year.

Mark790.06 said...

The only company I'm fighting for is the company of paintball, specifically competitive paintball. You seemed to mistook my point, which was that the nature of competitive paintballs' industry is a symbiotic one. There are consequences felt up & down the line if one goes bye, bye.

I appreciate the business lecture. Here's one for you:
How does PSP grow their customer base by removing the impetus for fields to keep current with the playing field on which their customers play?

Diversify? Sure, definitely a solid business practice depending on exactly what you meant. For a tournament oriented field that would mean to focus more on woods/scenario. For a store it might mean skateboards and/or air soft. For Dye it was pushing a button in a factory to produce digi camo and harnesses. In a down economy, diversification (for some) can be a problem.
Yet still, how does any of this grow competitive paintball?

As someone who dispassionately witnessed the positively giddy reaction EVERYONE had to the advent of X-Ball, I'm somewhat amused at a few of these very same peoples' 180 on it.

Some of you bigger prop/field crowd need to take a gander at some of the 10-man fields we actually played on (hint: Warpig.com).
ROF? Ok. I don't think 10bps was given enough time as well as being adopted universally.

Anonymous said...

the rose bowl isnt a league, or even a season, its one game. And beside that your comparing apples to oranges, football has a spectator base (which pays some of the cost of operating the team) on top of that the spectators outnumber the players by ALOT.

Anonymous said...

venue pricing may be a reason why theres an increase in psp event costs. reguardless, the counrty in slow and a cheaper replacement could be shopped out if the psp wanted. its about there profit margins and in order to gain more supporter psp is in need of an EGO check and needs to drop there prices, not raise them. its a volume market right now. win by doing more, not less

Baca Loco said...

You asked for a viable business that makes a profit selling four "products" a year. I gave you an example of a viable business, Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, that has organized and operated the game and other New Year's celebrations since 1895.

Anonymous said...

cost of the events is what drives out teams. equipment, travel, paint all cost more then they ever have and the economy does not help. Also what is the return if they win? In some cases nothing but medals.

The funny part is if you look at the PSP and NPPL the events with the most teams are held at non paintball field locations. Those events also seem to be the best for the vendors in terms of sales and non tourney player attendance. They also get the most press and attention and i think the teams like to go to a destination location?

Missy Q said...

Isn't part of the reason that 'codt' has become such an issue down to the industry demographic? I mean, I ewent to business-classes too, and I remember 'identifying your demographic' was pretty important.

We should do this like other sports. If a participant is under 18, then they play in the junior league. Once they hit 18, they can progress to the other divisions.
1. Costs/entries can be made lower for the youth teams, and this league will attract a different type of sponsor.
2. Grown men can compete together, like the good old days we all miss.
3. There will be annual excitement about the latest young prodigy to come out of the Jr ranks, and which teams are scouting him.
4. Pro teams can have feeder 'kids teams' as factories to produce the next young stars.
5. There is a goal for young players entering the game, and a direction for them to take once they start playing. This should keep them in the game longer.
6. Because you would originally start with aprox the same amount of players, the Jr league could take place Fri/sat, and the adult league would go Sat/Sun.

This would stimulate growth in both age-sectors, but also bring some of the maturity back into the game. The game is way too young, and this, for me, is the single largest threat to the industry, as we move further and further away from the wage-earning client, and closer to a customer who is financially dependent on a 3rd party that may not share enthusiasm for the game.

Anonymous said...

missyq knows what's up. good post.

Anonymous said...

Golf has a seniors league, so should paintball.

Baca Loco said...

How then do you explain the inability of the industry to make a success of MLP when an element of that industry was operating events that routinely attracted 200+ teams much closer to your desired demographic?

Missy Q said...

Do you mean 'how do I explain the drop in the general age of the industry demographic?' I'll answer as if that's what you mean...

It started happening in earnest in 2000/2001. Dynasty became successful, and all I heard from team captains from that point forward was "we have this young kid playing with us now, he's lightning fast, and so small, difficult to shoot", etc. They would also say things like 'I have to play at the back now'. Captains would explain to me that the kid in question was being paid for by him, or by the kids parents, because they would otherwise not be able to afford to play at this level. Seemed harmless at the time.
So, captains substituted players that could afford to play ball, with small, fast kids, who had to be subsidised/bankrolled. This worked from 02 to 05, because there were all kinds of sponsorships available, and the industry had promotional dollars to throw at these young kids to make them the next prodigy in their ads (they were still running ads back then). Pro teams understood that to be competitive, especially in the new Xball format, not only did people need to be young and fast, they also needed to be physically very fit, and be able to spend a lot of time practicing. There goes another 30% of the adult wage-earning player-base. This is where the industry set a bad example. They loaded their own factory teams with kids, in order to compete with Dynasty, setting the worst possible example (financially speaking) to the teams that emulate the pro's. At that point, from the top down, we started becoming a kids-sport, rather than an adult sporting-hobby.

There are now enough kids in the game for a Jr league to be 100% viable, especially when piggy-backed onto the Adult league. I actually think the league would be more exciting if this were the case.
Adults would regain an adult environment, and the cameradery & maturity that comes with that.
Junior league players would be more supported by their parents and even their schools, if they were playing a sport dedicated to their age-group. I think parents would also be happier, if their young boy wasn't hanging with a bunch of guys that look like the Crips every weekend.

So, in short, I think it was the teams' desire to compete and win, combined with some well-placed and well financed captains/owners that could afford to play benefactor in exchange for glory, or in some cases, promotion and advertising.(Avalanche/Warped, Philly/SP, Ironmen/Dye, etc)

Missy Q said...

OK, were you asking, why weren't the industry making a success of events when the demographis was older?

In which case, if that was the question, the answer is that they were making it successful. In some cases very successful. If we go back to the WC days of 2001 and older, those events made a lot of money, as did the Am open & the Chicago Open. I asked to buy the WC in 1999, and you would not believe the price I was asked to pay for it (because it was so high). I was shown documentation to back up the value asked.
The following year I heard that the same guy who had asked me for 7 figures claimed he had lost money for the past few years running the event....
He was lying.

raehl said...

I think Missy is only half right.

The other half is we finally made it OK for kids to play paintball.

back when paintball was just something army wannabes did in the woods, there was a lot more resistance to letting kids play at all.

Tangentially related, I don't think we'll ever be successful running a national circuit based on anything other than the best players playing. Guys who are not the best but want to play for fun would be far better served by local competition. (Well, everyone except those who want to compete against the very best in the country are served better by local competition.)

bruce said...

That may be true (that the best should be playing at the top) - reality may just catching up to those who have subsidized younger players in order to compete.

Paying for a younger player without means because he is at the top of the pile of talent is one thing. Doing the same for a divisional player is different.

Missy Q said...

I don't think the younger player is a bad thing in general, and the fact that we have made paintball viable for kids is a success.

The key is the customer. Sports with a young demographic typically have a lower entry cost, enabling success through higher volume. MLP comes with a high price-tag, requiring a more affluent demographic to succeed.

The industry basically needs people to keep buying gear. They are then able to remain profitable, show up at the events & sponsor them, sponsor teams, and generally invest promotional dollars. Everyone wants to talk about making the game cheaper, they say "MLP is just too expensive, we need to bring down the cost to play".
What happens when we bring down the cost, or even limit paint used?
Less money is made, and the league becomes less profitable/viable
Is a less profitable/viable league the best thing for the industry, and does that help MLP?
Of course it doesn't. So then, if the cost remains the same, or even increases, there is very little option but to aim at a richer/older demographic for MLP, while maintaining the youth client and having them aspire to play in it. For me, this means making it more fun for adults to attend and giving them additional value.

Reiner Schafer said...

Interesting discussion. I don't know how to do it, but I think for competitive paintball to be truly successful, it needs to find a way to sustain itself without industry help.

What other sport needs to worry about how the manufacturers are making out? Being dependent upon industry will never allow the sport to truly take off.

If that's not possible, then competitive players should be mandated to stand on street corners promoting recreational play at their local fields, so the industry can make enough profit to subsidize competitive play. See how stupid that sounds? But that's what it amounts to. Recreational paintball needs to be booming, so that competitive paintball can be subsidized.

bruce said...

Right now, whoever has the most money, wins. The Russians are proving that pre-released layouts and 4+ days a week of dedicated practice = WIN.

Damage is one of the few other teams that competes with Impact coming close behind. Many of the other teams are just now building up/rebuilding (Vicious, Dogs, X-Factor), limbo (Entourage), dying (Aftermath, All A's, et al), bromancing the stone (Infamous, Shock) or flying in talent (Ironmen, Dynasty).

3DSteve said...

It looks like somebody over at the NPPL has been eavesdropping.