Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Making Moves

I am leaving Tampa Bay Damage and joining San Antonio X-Factor for the 2013 season. I have informed TBD of my intentions. A month ago this would not have even entered my mind but things change, including me, and in retrospect it doesn't seem so unlikely. (Nor did I ever imagine I would be a footnote in any silly season and yet--here it is.)
Last season with Damage was more of a struggle than the triumph I had almost expected and despite enough consistency to finish second in both major leagues the overall result was a disappointment because we expected better. That was followed by a long silent off season that didn't resolve itself until much later than normal. While retaining a significant role with Damage I felt things had changed irrevocably.
Within a similar time frame--the off season--doctors discovered a growth that was at first believed benign but after it was surgically removed earlier this month proved otherwise. I am presently still awaiting the results of some post op testing but I am moving forward and God willing all will be well. (It had been my intention to hold off on any public announcement until all the testing was complete so I didn't have to mention it at all but circumstances aren't keeping to my time table.)
It is amazing what sort of clarity a situation like this affords. I don't recommend it but it has led me to a new beginning.
Which brings me to X-Factor. First I want to thank Alex Martinez and the whole team for making my move possible. You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to getting started. Second I want to explain briefly why X-Factor. My evaluation is that this team has been thru the wars and retained a core of highly experienced and talented players while adding some motivated youthful talent that brings with it a new energy. They have won together and they have lost together and they have made a commitment to each other and displayed a fresh hunger to succeed. What more could anyone ask for? See y'all on the field.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday Poll in Review: Biggest Payrolls

Well that was fun. For a day or two--and some of the results are interesting 'cus I haven't got a clue what some of y'all were thinking. According to the voters--and I thank you all for taking a moment out of your busy busy lives to make another The Monday Poll a shining success--the top five payrolls are: #5--LA Ironmen, #4--Tampa Bay Damage, #3--Russian Legion, #2--Edmonton Impact and--drum roll please, #1--Houston Heat!
Before dissecting the list I think some of the other results are interesting. Clearly many of you were swayed by off season activity. The only factory team in the top 5 is Ironmen but what separates them from say, Infamous (arguably the other major factory team)? Does Dye shell out more than KEE for their factory team? Or is that Ironmen have been in the news a lot lately making moves? And it's not like all the 'Men news has been positive as they've lost players too.
Even so I think, for whatever reason, you guys got it mostly right. After all the question posed was biggest payroll not deepest pockets. (Would you have responded differently?) Or the most expensive team to operate--which might have been the better question. In their heyday Tom Fore of Arsenal was widely reputed to practically throw money at his players--at least some of his high profile players and some of y'all know what's up with Art Chaos's owner who is believed to have deeper pockets than Sergey Leontiev of the RL. Now whether he shells out the cheddar like Sergey is another question. Whatever the truth what better way to waste a few minutes on a winter's day than speculating about the profligate habits of pro owners. (Not that I'm complaining, you understand.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Elvis Has Left The Building

In a bold move that is going to cost the PSP money the league has cemented its position as the preeminent tournament series in the world. There are details still to be finalized and odds are there will be a hiccup or two along the way but the framework is now in place that provides a path to the pinnacle of pro play and that will deliver minute-by-minute, match-to-match excitement. VFTD touched on this very subject back in November 2012 in pro division dilemma and again in early December with pro team dilemma revisited and I am excited to see that the league's solution is closer to those ideas than might have been the case. The other top contender under consideration for modifying the pro bracket was simply to add teams and reduce the prelim round to 3 matches in a move that would have drawn us closer to the Millennium model--a model that to my mind offers the least possible paintball one can still call a real competition.
Instead the PSP will offer a two-tiered pro division called Champions and Challengers that will use the first event in Dallas to launch the necessary changes. As many as fifteen teams may play PSP pro in Dallas in a 4 match prelim that will result--as has been past practice--in 6 teams moving on to Sunday. What will make Dallas different is that the top ten finishers in Dallas will gain spots in the Champions bracket for the next event and the remaining teams will compete in the Challengers bracket where they will be joined by some additional by invitation only teams to create the feeder pro division. Now this is where it gets good. The PSP will likely leave a couple of Challenger div slots open to allow greater flexibility in how they are able to respond to late comers. The end of the season will see the bottom two teams (in season rankings) in the Challenger bracket relegated to D1 and the top two teams in D1 promoted to the Challenger bracket. But here's the best part: Every event will see promotion and relegation between the Champion and Challenger brackets. Two up, two down. The Challenger bracket will have its own field and the PSP will expand the pro ref crew in order to provide the same high level of officiating across all the pro teams.
In the future it means the Challenger bracket becomes the crucible of excellence that creates teams capable of competing in the Champions bracket and a clearly defined by rule and practice pathway to pro play. It also allows for any outstanding individual team to make the jump to Champions quickly via event-to-event promotion/relegation. And imagine a webcast where nearly every match is meaningful. Where the audience can watch the best vie for titles but also thrill to the suspense of teams fighting to stave off relegation from point to point.
Still not clear? At the second event the Champions and Challengers will play self-contained tournaments. Besides their own field and refs the Challengers will be playing the same pro format RT7 and will be awarded prizes, etc. The rankings will carry across both divisions to account for the teams moving up and down event to event. From the second event results the top 2 teams from the Challengers bracket will join the top 8 in the Champions bracket in Chicago--while the 2 relegated Champions teams play the Challengers in Chicago competing to be promoted back up for the following event.

What's not to like? The competition will be brutal and the process will assure that each event the ten best teams in the world are competing against each other. And once the Challengers is fully populated with 10 teams those teams will be battling it out for not only a series title in their division but the opportunity, every event, to make the move to the Champions bracket with the possibility of staying as long as they remain in the top eight. There has never been anything like it and I am convinced it will take our great game to new heights.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Special Wednesday Edition of 'The Monday Poll'

The race is on! Bart busts out the checkbook once again and sends the Loonies flying--or does he? (Siewers to Impact.) With lots of high profile Pros playing musical chairs this silly season which teams have the deepest pockets and the highest payrolls? And will it payoff in the end with victories in 2013? From the list of pro teams given it's your chance to pick the Yankees of paintball. Choose your top five payrolls and see how it squares with everyone else's choices. Don't be left out. Your guess is as good as the next guys.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eye Of The Storm

Aight. I have reservations about commenting on any of this but here goes anyway. I could re-hash ancient paintball history for those of you who haven't been around long enough to know the antecedents of this latest brouhaha in a teacup to afflict paintball--but then there really aren't all that many paintball type people who really give a rat's posterior. Wait a minute--you don't know what I'm talking about? I'm talking about the recent failed "negotiation" between Valken and the PSP and the effort by Valken's chief to seek more favorable terms in the court of public opinion--or perhaps do a little preemptive cya.
Some of the confusion (and squawking) springs from the fact there are really two different but intertwined issues at play here. One is the relationship (if any) between Valken, as potential sponsor, and the PSP as a tournament promoter. The complication is preexisting sponsor relationships of long standing and the fact an ownership stake in the PSP belongs to an industry competitor. Two is the adversarial relationship between the two major league tourney series (PSP & NPPL) and the complication is that much of PB industry is determined to see one league prevail whether it's by buy out, merger or whatever. There is of course more to it but I'm not going to get bogged down in the history or personalities though both play a role in the present. However a little history will be helpful. Last year Valken was the exclusive (wink, wink) paint sponsor of the NPPL and a gear sponsor in the PSP--Valken product lines excluding paint. Recent seasons have also seen the industry struggle to support two national leagues and struggle to decide what to do about it other than push the leagues to settle it themselves.
With respect to issue One, it isn't about Valken being a sponsor of the PSP it's about them being a paint sponsor. Here the PSP must weigh in the balance the loyal support of its current paint sponsors, the value of that sponsorship and the possible consequences of accepting additional paint sponsors--particularly as the existing sponsors are manufacturers and the new guy isn't.
With respect to issue Two, this is the framework that makes a paint deal between Valken and the PSP acceptable to all parties--at least all the parties the PSP needs to be mindful of. After all, does the NPPL survive without a Valken deal? All the rest is smoke and mirrors including the 10K "surcharge" and I suppose reasonable people can reasonably disagree about the merits of the deal (although it appears to me that the majority of the outrage on Valken's behalf comes from those beholden to Valken in one way or another. Just saying.)
The upshot however has left Valken vulnerable in a couple of ways; with customers they may have made promises to with regards sponsoring the PSP and having paint available and in the arena of public opinion. To forestall those possibilities Gino starts the "extortion" talk on a private Facebook page knowing full well it will be common knowledge in hours. Valken becomes the aggrieved party, he a man of his word, company of the people blah blah blah. And, who knows, maybe some public pressure will improve his negotiating position.
As it turns out that doesn't seem to be the case. (That, btw, was ironic understatement.)

The larger question is what's really in the best interest of the game? The there can be only one--league--crowd must be disappointed. (Again.) The grow the game crowd is generally incoherent and as fickle as a spring breeze. The for the good of the game squealers and average players tend to see everything in terms of how it affects them. And most everybody wonders at one time or another why can't we all just get along? So pretty much business as usual.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

League War Heating Up?

Mr. Curious says in the aftermath of another failed (sale) (merger) (deal) between the NPPL and the PSP that things may be heating up. Rumor has it that the NPPL has more teams looking to get into their Pro division than they have slots available (currently). Of course all those teams would enter the fray sans pro experience though the amount of past pro talent on the hopeful teams is believed to vary widely. And with the seeming impasse over the August event date--each league has an event on the same weekend--word on the street is that the NPPL is advising its pro teams they must commit to playing all the events. Now just what that really means or if it's intended to be more than a trial balloon is open for debate. The announcement by TB Damage that it would not be competing in the NPPL this season seems to lend credence to the league's (seeming) intent. If this really is a heating up of the league war it will be very interesting to see if a team's sponsors have an impact on the outcome.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Great American Venue Hunt

Everybody loves the Phoenix venue. Except for all those Left Coast teams that don’t routinely show up.
I am writing about this because, well, it’s that time of year. Does that mean the leagues deserve carte blanche in taking care of their business? Of course not.
Like you I want to know at least 3 months in advance where and when the next event is gonna be too. Like you I frequently wonder what is the hold up? Why is this taking so long? How come nobody seems to manage getting their venues sorted in a, dare I say it, professional manner?
The simple answer is that even under the best of circumstances it’s a more complicated process than it might seem to the uninformed. And Phoenix is the ideal example.
Let’s look at the numbers first. First year for Phoenix, 123 teams. (A modest drop from the year before when there were 130 teams in LA.) Second year in Phoenix, 143 teams, Third year, 109 teams. Each time Phoenix was the first event of the year. First year for Galveston, 126 teams. Second year for Galveston, 150 teams. (Followed by a Phoenix event that only had 114 teams. Were the two events scheduled too close together? Was there some fallout from the deluge in Galveston? Who knows.) What the numbers do show is that for all the positive reviews players have given that venue the number of teams participating haven’t justified returning (over going somewhere else) and when you look at all the other factors involved Phoenix loses much of its panache–at least for the league.
What factors might those be, you ask? (Not unreasonably.) Let’s look first at the factors directly impacting the teams. Nice area. Easy highway access. Lots of hotels/motels, restaurants and entertainment options nearby. Excellent grass. Compact venue with good (free) parking, permanent facilities on site and perfect weather–if you account for the aridity. Phoenix is otherwise a little on the pricey side for flights but within driving distance of SoCal for those willing to make the trek.
One question the PSP raises when it considers a venue is related costs to the teams and players. At what price point do airline tickets become a reason not to go to an event. The same for hotel rooms. Rental vehicles are similar most places–at least the big vans are. So a place can appear ideal but if the associated costs are too high the league immediately projects how many teams won’t come on that basis alone. [I wonder if that was more of a concern when significant numbers were playing 5-man back in the day or RT2 now.]
At any rate we now have some conflicting data. While everyone wants a great venue it seems that the venue alone doesn’t have a significant impact on attendance.
And we still have yet to look into the other considerations that the PSP has to factor into their decisions. Remember Omaha? Turned out it wasn’t particularly cost effective or easy to fly in and out of and with the airlines reducing and consolidating flight schedules the number of viable destinations is shrinking. Remember Pittsburgh? Had numerous NPPL events plus years of the IAO. Not a good place to fly into from much of the country however unless you enjoy multiple connecting flights.
What is an acceptable travel distance from an acceptable airport to a venue? It seems like the league figures around an hour’s drive tops. So another limitation. Let’s see. Grass? Check. Large enough for between 6 and 10 fields plus vendors plus parking. Check. Within an hour’s drive of cheap to fly into airport. Check. Reasonably priced accommodations. Check. Dining and entertainment options. Check.
Now comes the tricky part. Vendor travel and transportation costs plus accessibility and placement on site. Paint trailers? Transportation of all league equipment. Equipment rental costs on site. Local labor costs. Staffing transportation and accommodations. Rental cars. Miscellaneous ad infinitum. Then there’s the venue itself–and we’re back to Phoenix. In the early years the league negotiated with a property management company responsible for the stadium and surrounding properties. Every year they would charge a bit more but the deals were pretty straightforward and manageable. More recently control was held by a bureaucratic panel within the city government that seemed more determined to see how many hoops they could make the league jump through than in continuing a positive and profitable relationship. And, oh yeah, the price went thru the roof for use of the venue. And when you’re contracting a property use like this as a venue you have additional issues of indemnification, use rights granted and related use costs demanded–like paying overtime to off duty cops for security, etc. The list can be exceedingly long and expensive.
I’ve left out a bunch of stuff but this post is way too long already. The point is that finding and getting a deal done on a good venue (for everyone) is a bigger more complex process than it might seem at first blush. And that the league physically travels to lots of potential sites that don’t pan out for whatever reasons and with a full time staff of four it is a demanding–and can be a time consuming–effort.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Say The Secret Word

Today's secret word, boys & girls, is toolbox. Say it with me, toolbox. Now that you know the secret word Mr. Curious can let you in on Adrenaline Games secret props for the PSP upgrade kit this year. They are ... drum roll please ... 2 MDs & 2 MRs. Exciting stuff, I know, and there you have it. The not-so-secret-word is that the first orders should be shipping shortly and arriving at fields within two or three weeks.
If you think that was big news just wait. I think you may need to sit down 'cus there is BIG news in the works.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Is It The Player Or The Team?

This past weekend was a good one for sports fans--the final weekend of the NFL regular season with a few playoff spots still to be determined followed by a spate of New Year's college football bowl games and, oh yeah, the NBA (the national boring association.) Don't get me wrong, I love hoops, they just don't play it anymore in the NBA. And I'm still jonesing over no hockey but it's worse than that--the latest hockey strike is an outlier of what's coming down the road for all pro sports. Some serious belt-tightening and major league loss of revenues. But enough of the sour side of sports.
What got me thinking was some of the differences between the major sports and how fans relate to their favorite sports, teams and players. And if there's any lessons in there for paintball. One nugget of conventional wisdom says players in sports like basketball and baseball are more accessible to the fans 'cus you can see their faces allowing individual players to stand out more than in say, football where everyone is wearing a helmet and separated from the spectators by a greater distance. I'm not sure I'm buying that notion but there is one big difference that I think does matter--the way the different major leagues brand their product. In the 1980s the NBA was faltering under a cloud of player drug arrests and reinvigorated the league using the Larry Bird Magic Johnson rivalry and soon after the star system was born. Oh sure, there were star players before in all the leagues but beginning in the 80s the NBA made an affirmative decision to promote the league not thru its teams, tradition or history but thru it's current star players. Unlike the NBA the NFL is all about the teams, traditions and rivalries built on decades of Sunday afternoon games.
What I'm wondering is if there's a right (or a wrong) way to maximize support for competitive paintball as an emergent sport? Without much history or continuity it's certainly easier to focus on star players--and there's been a lot of that this off season as the PSP and PBA explore ways to use the player statistics collected last season--but is that the way forward? Are fans loyal to teams or do they simply follow their favorite players? Last time I looked this was still a team sport and star players only guarantee the usual collection of fair weather bandwagon followers. Okay, maybe that last was my bias showing a wee bit. I confess, I'm a team first guy. What about you?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Local Field Formed Club

Wow, the doubling-down has already begun. On the upside this post is gonna be short and to the point. In 'Paintball Clubs cont.' I apparently was unclear on a couple of things. (Or y'all failed to grok the obvious.) Either way I'ma help you out.
The principle objections are practically polar opposites. At one end there's the objection that the field formed club is throwing good money at bad or at least foolishly expending resources on a minority of potential customers. The other objection was that the field formed club isn't really a club, it's a gimmick. If I didn't know better I'd say the real problem was reading comprehension. But I digress.
Could a local field offer some or all of the suggested features without calling it a club? Sure but there's nothing disingenuous or gimmicky about packaging everything as part of a club. The focus of the field operated club is delivering a better playing experience thru education and training. Sounds like a club to me.
Nor does it need to be exclusive. If some regulars or recent players would like to attend a basic maintenance class put a price on it for those not in the club. You reinforce the value of club membership and provide extra service for anyone who wants it.
Which brings us to the idea that this club thing must be a big budget boondoggle. It's really very simple. Your typical smallish field has an owner or two, perhaps a manager and some part time refs. If the field has a proshop odds are the owner or manager have participated in some tech classes. Probably played a little tourney or scenario paintball and certainly knows more about playing the game than the peeps just being introduced into the game. Are we there yet? Not quite. But the small field operation also isn't spending money on any of this. It's adding value to the customer experience. Maybe charging a few bucks on top of the field fee or scheduling the classes at times or on days where they're trying to expand the business. It may not even be thinking club at this point but the rudiments are in place and the idea of providing services to your customers can easily grow--along with the field. Maybe it never grows into a "club" but that isn't eh point. At the same time a bigger operation might start bigger, might begin with the club concept fully formed (T-shirts and everything!) but it doesn't necessarily follow that it's gonna cost the field a lot.

Next time, the team-based club.