Friday, April 8, 2011

Mainstreaming Paintball

VFTD has discussed this topic at some length in the past; wisely, astutely and on occasion even brilliantly (as is the norm around here) and I would happy to provide some links but that would be borderline braggadocio and I am nothing if not modest and humble.
Also, a number of items in paintball news this week touch on the subject. Over at X3 there is news from Tippmann on their new media outreach. Along with a story on Empire's continuing relationship with the Boy Scouts & the Free Rookie Pass program. And a timely post over at Reiner's blog adds some nuance to the whole idea of mainstreaming paintball. Top the whole thing off with the NPPL's ESPN3 live streaming video experiment and it all begins to look like real, honest-to-goodness positive progress. Well, mostly.
Reiner makes an interesting case that paintball may be as mainstream as it's going to get given that the average person under 40-ish (my paraphrase) knows about paintball, more or less. It's not some quasi-secret backwoods activity that operates like the Masons or Fight Club. That the general awareness of paintball is probably about as mainstream as it's going to get simply because the realistic potential player pool for paintball is small and that's unlikely to change. He might be right but there's still opportunity there.
Empire's approach is an interesting one; a targeted approach that should deliver quantifiable data on the effectiveness of the programs. Remember the billboards? Working in cooperation with local fields it should be possible for Empire to determine if the billboard advertising contributed to improved local participation. The free passes only target high interest would be players and the Boy Scouts association is nearly perfect. Ideal demographic, middle class upbringing (predominantly), interest in the outdoors and outdoor activities.
Now Tippmann is going to try mass media using a 30 second TV commercial on assorted cable networks with a core demographic similar to paintball's. It sounds like a pretty serious campaign. It's also interesting in that it may be difficult to see a correlation between the advertising and say, increased Tippmann sales and if Tippmann isn't looking for a direct sales boost it will be nearly impossible to determine the program's effectiveness. On the plus side it's a bonafide effort to mainstream paintball, but--at least from my perspective--I'm not a big fan of promoting that aspect of paintball--yes, I know recball is the lion's share blah blah blah and at least they didn't go hardcore scenario but even so I think the competitive aspect of paintball is a better figurehead for all of paintball. (Yes, I'm biased. I'm also right.) Of course that's not Tippmann's market, is it?
Speaking of TV (nearly) there's also the recent ESPN3 live streaming broadcast. Let us, for purposes of speculation, say the project is moving forward. At this stage what's its impact on the mainstreaming of paintball? To that I'd have to say (practically) nil. However, longer term, it would mainstream (and normalize) paintball in that it would give paintball (competitive paintball) (the right kind of paintball) (yes, dammit, I said it!) a place in the public conscience and marketplace. And it would drive interest in playing paintball like nothing else.
So here we are with all sorts of mainstreaming efforts going on all of a sudden. Will they be another flash in the pan or, after the manner of the fits & starts we've seen over the years or is this finally the beginning of something lasting?

Remember those links I wouldn't give you before? I've thought better of it. Who am I to deny you the pleasure of more VFTD? If you want more VFTD wit & wisdom--and who wouldn't?--look here, here, here & here.


Joseph said...

I don't think it will be a flash in the pan, but everyone that has a passion for this game, not just the field and store owners, but everyone that plays need to promote the sport to keep it alive and growing. Promote it among friends, families, co-workers... I wear my jersey on the way up to the field and when I stop in to get water, batteries ect. someone always asks what the shirt is for. I let them know where our fields are and about the empire program if they ever want to try it out, have even taken my co-workers up for team building and to just let off some steam, the same in college.

Promote it at the field as well. Every week there are a new bunch of kids playing rec ball. I personally try to get these "newbies" involved with "Real" paintball and will take time to coach them. I also let other people know to go a little easier, nothing will turn someone off of this game like getting the crap shot out of them. My philosophy, take it easy on them the first few times their out until that passion that all of us have start to take root in the new crowd.

Reiner Schafer said...

Mainstreaming efforts. Marketing efforts. It's the same thing. Even the NFL, NBA, NHL, and all the other 3-letter professional sports have marketing campaigns. They are all sports that have been mainstream for many years.

Paintball really needs to stop thinking of itself as the unloved stepchild. We are what we are. Can we become more popular or mainstream? Of course. With the right marketing and the right tweeking at paintball fields and changes in tournament play, we can attract more people into the fold.

I don't know what the numbers are, but I'm sure we are already well ahead of bowling for instance, which undoubtedly is considered mainstream by almost everyone. But we will never surpass soccer. We need to accept that there are limits to how many people we can attract.

By the way, I do consider competitive paintball to be the right kind of paintball, for you and your kind. ;)

Joseph said...

I agree 100%, and for the love of god I hope we are beating bowling, but the difference there as far as coverage is that bowling is easier to follow, rules, and for television viewers (ugh, who the hell would spend an afternoon watching that?)

Probably going to go on a tangent here.

I don't think that we are the unloved stepchild, but there is still a bad image of the sport. Much like Skateboarding was in the 80's, we just have to try and overcome that perception, and maybe take a page from their book on how they did that and adjust it to our needs.

And sure, HUGE amount of cost involved, I spend close to $100 bucks a weekend on paint and field fees, but lets take a look at something like golf. A good set of clubs will exceed the price of an NT, and during the busy season you will pay almost $100 just for a tee time!!! And on the professional level, look how much money they get paid to whack a ball around, MILLIONS!!! How much did our pro players make last year?

If I was the NPPL, PSP, or any of the other leagues, number 1, combine them, get everyone on the same page, same rules and more than a handful of events a year, it would be hard for anyone to promote their business if they only ran an ad 4 times a year. 2, Get some big name sports behind them like Nike.

Sorry if Disjointed, tired and at work at midnight.

Reiner Schafer said...

Joseph, I don't think we are the unloved stepchild either. I think many people involved with paintball think more outsiders think of us that way, than actually do.

For the PSP, NPPL (combined or not) to have more events, I think the overall structure needs to change significantly. Events should be more regional and the only ones that would be expected to go to all the events would be the pro teams. But of course, the way it is structured now, most pro teams can't afford to go to too many more events. Therefore the structure would need to change such that the pro teams are actually getting paid, or at least getting a free ride (expenses paid) to attend the events. At least that's the way I see it from an outsider's perspective.

houdini said...

Maybe we need to look at what made some niche sports 'mainstream?'

If you compare paintball with skateboarding, they both have similar target markets, they both have professionals that the youth can idolize but where paintball falls short is that few pb companies have attempted to create retail products that will appeal to non-paintball playing fans, family and friends.

Skateboarding companies didn't make all their profits by selling skateboards. They developed fashion ranges that represented the values and attitudes of skateboarders and that helped bridge the gap between those that participated and those they didn't.

Paintball needs a company who can follow in the footsteps of companies like Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Vans, DC or Globe. They all took advantage of what was considered an 'underground culture' and made it 'mainstream'

Companies like pbfashion are just what the paintball needs more of. Add to the mix video producers like Der Der & Social Paintball, create a few new pb magazines and look at ways of expanding pb tournaments events to attract more non-paintball playing audiences and it may just create the spark that paintball needs.'

It's a win win scenario for everyone if it's done properly...

raehl said...

Is someone suggesting that paintball is ahead of bowling?

Paintball isn't even CLOSE to bowling. You know what the #1 sport in America is? The one that more people do each year than ANY OTHER sport?


About 57,000,000 people bowl at least once a year. It's indoors. It's social. It's (relatively) inexpensive. No talent or physical skill required. You can even drink beer. The next closest? Billiards.

For every person that played paintball last year, 10 people went bowling.

Bowling doesn't appear to be something that a lot of people want to watch on television, but at least anyone who watches bowling on television probably knows what the rules are. Most people who have played paintball probably have no idea what the rules are when watching paintball on TV.

Reiner Schafer said...

I didn't realize that Chris. You Americans must really love your bowling. The bowling alleys here have all closed down (3 in the last decade) except for one and apparently it is pretty quiet, from what I hear. But to be honest, I have no clue what the stats on bowling are. I just assumed it was dying with all the bowling alley shutdowns.

houdini said...

I have the SGMA Team sports stats and unfortunately they don't list bowling.

Basketball ranks highest on the SGMA Sports Particpation Trends list for 2009 followed by baseball and soccer. Paintball participation in 2009 was about the same as Track & Field, Gymnastics, Indoor Soccer and Volleyball.

The 9 year trend 2000-2009 for paintball participation is still a positive growth percentage of 25.9% even though the charts show a steady decline in numbers from 2007 figures.

What is also interesting is a chart they call the Churn Rate or Leaky Bucket Syndrome.

This measures the newcomers/returners against those that leave the sport. Paintball's 2009 churn rate was -38.1% compared to it's newcomer/return rate of 31.8% but most of the sports on the list also had higher churn rate percentages compared to their newcomer/returning percentages so across the board their seems to be an overall decline in team sport participation.

Just some useless stats to keep the discussion rolling...