Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Selling Paintball--Again

The problem seems to be despite lots of hand-waving and hand-wringing and a determined desire to sell out nobody is buying. Paintball as Sport as supportable entertainment, that is. In the comments to 'What's A Fan To Do?' a VFTD regular offers some thoughts (see below) that I think warrant a brief history lesson--among other things.

As the article points out; if your favorite college or professional team lost all it's players - what happens? Nothing, they're still there. You'll just have new players in old roles, doing the same thing.
And what would happen if Paintball used the same model...What if you only had so many teams in Pro? What if the only way to get into the Pro league was to 'buy' your seat? (Think Investment) Want to add a team to the pros, expansion team / buy a seat? 

What would happen if as a league, you went to RedBull ..

The commenter posits a strategy of a limited number of vested pro teams cooperating as a league in order to both provide a sporting product and control its marketing and outreach. It's an interesting idea and it was called the NXL or, in a different incarnation, NPPL 1.0. (The NXL teams were purchased franchises of the NXL conceived to function like the typical American pro sports model. At that time many of the franchisees were also owners of the PSP. The NXL's focus from first days was breaking into television and early on a deal was made with Dick Clark Productions to produce NXL programming for TV. The broadcast premier was on ESPN2 if I recall correctly. NPPL 1.0 was the Pure Promotions promoted version and first iteration of the NPPL as separate from the PSP--a whole other story--and while their model was based on a more European structure its goals and purpose were similar.) Both entities managed to produce television programming and both achieved modest but respectable viewing numbers. Yet none of those efforts resulted in sufficient advertiser or network interest to keep paintball as sport on television. In hindsight I'm sure everyone involved would admit mistakes were made but the fact remains--paintball has been on TV numerous times and has failed every time. Does this mean paintball can never succeed on TV? Of course not but it clearly won't be as simple as if we build it the world will start throwing cash at us. 
Today we have PBA and its efforts to "sell" paintball. Initially the webcast production company was focused on building a viewership they could sell as a highly desirable demographic for niche marketing and micro ad purchases--and to date they've failed to make that model work. As a result they've been forced to switch to a direct buy model for those specifically interested in paintball.
So far none of the efforts to sell paintball  have worked. Is it because of the 'guns'? Is it because of the numbers? Or a lack of expertise on paintball's behalf? Or because no mainstream advertiser is interested despite the prime demographic?
Let's take a quick look at a similar situation. Hunting & fishing shows on television. There's quite a few of them and mostly the hosts and guests sit around on boats or in blinds and occasionally catch fish or kill animals. Is that compelling television? What they all have in common is their advertising is almost exclusively from within the hunting and/or fishing industries, The industries that supply hunters and fisherman make the shows possible by using them as promotional vehicles for their products. Paintball as an industry is probably not able at this time to something similar and maybe never has been.

More next time when VFTD explores the counterfactual 'What happens when the Champions sit down with RedBull?' 


Brad Johnson said...

its the numbers, always has been and always will be.

Fullbore said...

Redbull doesn't give you wings!

Bruce Anderson said...

Every time we bring up paintball failing in TV, the reasons are rarely considered.

Why did it fail?

TL;DR - It failed because it didn't capture the essence of the game. It tried to give an overview, but missed out on the details that actually make the game interesting.

I own so many DVDs from the "golden" age and one thing that is missing from that collection: NXL games. The only thing we have from the NXL video-wise is a small bit about Trauma winning it all one year (was great since I'm in NC :).

I miss the days of Traumahead - these guys would actually try to get down in the bunkers and get some good gun-fighting shots. Of course they weren't live and had other issues, but the combination of 7man, and the camera angles, often gave it a feel that I just haven't felt from PBA.

I also enjoyed the commentating from Danny Manning and Rich Telford - they had a completely different vibe than the guys in PBA. The production levels weren't super high, but at the time it's all I had. I would sit down after work and watch these over and over when I was in the depths of my paintball obsession.

One of the DVD collections I have is from the Smart Parts Championship. This one was unique in that it showed every game (traumahead often would miss key matchups or be blocked from showing the finals :(. It was about as close to the NXL type play we could get at the time and still suffered from what we are seeing in PBA - limited camera angles. Still, I wish there were more of this from the NXL period.

They didn't have HD back then, and they did their best. We have HD now, and we still can't see the paintball streams very well. Players keep using these dark shelled paint and while I completely understand why, as a viewer this has to change. There is a combination of shell color and filtering that would give us the streams of paint that could help reveal the magic of this game.

Imagine watching these games, but instead of these sideline angles we are left with, we instead are granted with the following:

1. Behind the box shots from the break: seeing the actual streams of paint and seeing hits.

2. Camera angles looking down the popular gun fighting lanes - seeing the actual gun fights as they play out is HUGE part of paintball from a players perspective. This is something we almost never get to see.

It would be like watching football and never seeing a forward pass from QB to WR. We'd just see the QB throwing it, then cut to the WR catching it. Sure, it shows what happened, but it never shows how. Did that LB miss his zone? How did the line open enough so that the QB had an unobstructed view of the feel? Etc.

I'm sure I can think of more, but I think you get the point: I want to see the guts of paintball, and this has never been shown to any of us apart from being on the field.

Clips from DerDer aren't in the same category as watching the game play out - they do a great job of capturing a few moments here and there.

Anonymous said...

1. To see the stream of paint you'd need to be wide angled on the player. To see the hit across field you'd need a 500mm (or more) lens. And when you're that tight on a player from across the field you literally have a second (or less) of time where the player is in the frame.

2. You only get to see those angles from a handful of video guys who stand in the lanes behind the player. I agree it would be better. But you'd need camera guys on the ground moving around.

The final problem is the way the field is setup to shut down all but a few lanes of fire, which cuts both ways. If you close down shooting lanes, you close down video lanes. The field designs make it harder to film and show what the hell is going on from the ground. Which is why they've elevated all the cameras. If you elevate the cameras so you can see more of the action over and around the obstacles, then you lose the closeness you're looking for in the intensity of the shots.

Just my opinion. Whatcha got on Redbull?

Bruce Anderson said...

Start with better visibility on the paint, work towards better camera angles. Yes it has some technical issues, but the results when they get it right will put the entertainment value in a place where they can attract the viewer and dollars.

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the only way to see the paint is to be behind the player. The footage that pbn circulated awhile ago (yellow vs dark) was all behind the player and it was in slow motion so you had the effect of seeing a fleeting second or two over a long period of time making it feel like more.

If PBA is listening, you should be focused on cutting costs and making a sustainable webcast for the success of the psp and tournament paintball.

No one will get involved in paintball because you've nailed the formula to a great broadcast event. Honestly, you'd probably be better off if you wanted to get outside advertisers involved to do something like run the webcast and then use content from the webcast to produce a mini series for espn that shows the event action over multiple days with summaries and highlights, etc. like the lumberjack competitions.

We're not fit for live broadcast. But paintball is perfect for highlights.

MikeM said...

I think all racing leagues outside of NASCAR might be a better model to look at for a model more comparable to paintball.

Countless owners lose obscene amounts of money in racing because they love it. The investment dwarfs paintball, yet they keep coming back. The venues are within a drive to major cities but generally way outside of them, like paintball.

How is there still Indy racing? Think it might be worth a look.

MikeM said...

This: "We're not fit for live broadcast. But paintball is perfect for highlights."

In a world of 24 hour sports coverage there can't be 5minutes or even just 45 seconds worth of paintball highlights thrown in?

Baca Loco said...

Aight, keeping with the highlight theme how hard would it be for PBA to do a few short segments with some topical and informative (educational) voice over content and give it away to any network that might use it to fill gaps in their schedule, be it ad spaces or programming gaps. They've already got the people and content. Start getting more paintball in front of people.

Bruce Anderson said...


One of the biggest differences in racing and paintball is that everyone competing can typically play the entire "game".

Paintball can be absolutely soul crushing - and a big reason is you are not actively out there playing when that happens.

World Cup - doesn't matter what division. Don't make the cut? You just got to play a whole 4 matches. Your expenditures for everything non-paint is roughly the same as everyone else's, but your playtime is drastically cut short.

Anonymous said...

So if there was a way to schedule paintball like musical chairs, where everyone was competing for all 3 days and then whoever had the most overall points wins (without having a direct face-off) do you feel that would be better?

The idea has some merit. People might claim there is no true "winner" as the top two teams might not have went head to head. But we have that anyway. The current way games are scheduled makes certain match-ups impossible because some teams are eliminated earlier because they have the schedule from hell.

Would it be better to have everyone play everyone play more games (without eliminating anyone) and then declare an overall winner based on point margin? Basically just an extended old school prelims?

I do like the idea of playing more games for everyone, but it seems like it would be a pretty anticlimactic to all be waiting around the scoreboard to find out who actually won.

Bruce Anderson said...

Anon 2:07 -

I was just highlighting one of the many issues that keeps paintball from really growing as a spectator sport: keeping the teams active and viable.

The sport is designed to punish the players in many different ways - the worst of them financial. It's hard enough to keep a team around when they aren't winning. Even harder to do so when they are losing so much money just to compete.

Anonymous said...

True, but college basketball is like this too, and many teams in football get tough schedules while mediocre teams get easier ones and make it to playoffs