VFTD now returns you to our previously scheduled series. Keep in mind this is part 3. Parts 1 & 2 are down the queue on the main page and the whole tends to make more sense if you start at the beginning. No pressure just a suggestion. Also, the original piece was written in late 2005 early 2006 and this re-posting is intended to serve as a history lesson of sorts--not commentary on the game today. Two more parts to go.
Rumors abound that business is down and that some of Paintball’s biggest corporate players are feeling the financial squeeze. It’s gone so far as public acknowledgment of merger talks between a pair of industry giants. All of Corporate Paintball could be in line for some seismic shake-ups and if we see any of the giants falter that could (and almost surely will) have a domino effect on sponsorships across the board. What the business types might call consolidation may end up looking an awful lot like contraction to the Pro teams. Even if the contraction doesn’t happen Corporate Paintball is dominated by a handful of companies and the nature of the business is changing for them, too. Fewer, if larger, companies would predictably narrow their sponsorship focus, perhaps trimming their list of sponsored teams but surely making the bottom line decision to dispense the majority of their sponsorship dollars to a shrinking list of elite teams, the sure things. (It’s already happening in portions of the industry.) Contraction would guarantee it.
This really isn’t anything new. Most of the available money already goes to the biggest, most valuable (promotionally) teams. This dichotomy hits even the Pros and, coupled with the growing demands of professionalism, is already putting a severe strain on more than a few second tier Pro teams. A shift towards a tighter focus on sponsorship returns will only draw the dividing lines more sharply between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s not the whole story.
Teams aren’t only competing amongst themselves for sponsor dollars, they are competing against one of the leagues, the NPPL. (The structure of the NXL precludes this concern but otherwise the NXL has its own laundry list of issues. See the View from the Deadbox column in PGI issues 195 & 196 for the NXL story.) Right now it doesn’t seem like it because everyone is used to the industry paying vendor fees to promoters but the NPPL model is intended to function differently, particularly at the Pro level. In a fully realized NPPL Pro future the league is the star player and the principle revenue recipient with the teams as expendable dependents. This is so because in the NPPL model it is the league that validates the status of the teams while at the same time offering the industry prestige and profile as high visibility supporters, or “partners.” Unless there are plans in place with promises made for the teams to share in the potential Pro prosperity in ways other than simple conditional participation then whether they recognize it or not the Pro teams are already competing with the NPPL for future support and the attention and popularity that helps make a team a valuable commodity.
That leaves small paintball companies, outside the industry sponsors and discount sales often called sponsorships. Ignore the last one as it doesn’t apply to this situation. The small companies have the same decisions to make as the large ones but in cases where they are in direct competition with the large companies they usually get frozen out of the major sponsorship opportunity because of the disparity in budgets and are left picking up the next best available teams. There is no reason to expect this to change except to the detriment of the teams as changing opportunities vie with traditional sponsorship to attract the limited available dollars. Which brings us to the outside of industry sponsors. Paintball already has a few. Should more come on board their interest will be in associating their product with Paintball in hopes of finding favor (and sales) amongst ‘ballers. Further down that road the value to a company comes in finding favor with fans of paintball. In either case it’s a wide net they are casting and given examples from other sports-supporting companies like Coke, Budweiser and Gatorade it will be the leagues that receive the biggest benefit. That doesn’t mean that individual teams won’t benefit from outside of industry sponsors only that there is little reason to imagine most Pros will automatically benefit as a result of increased popularity to the Sport generally unless they are a part of a league’s revenue stream.
Next time the impact of chasing TV.