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?