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?