Finally we've reached the series conclusion. One last (longer) bit and you can say you read the whole thing--or skimmed it or skipped it more like. Either way for the younger generation if you have any follow-up questions I've got answers--that might even be true. (If you've just arrived this is the fifth installment of a series that you can find down the queue on the main page of the blog with part one furthest down.)
Dollars and Sense
Pro Paintball’s ticking timebomb is the success we’ve been chasing all along. Or more accurately, the changes that success will bring–and is already bringing. Used to be that success on the field was enough. In the emerging Pro environment success off the field will prove to be as or even more important. The competition to score the serious sponsorship deals is fast becoming a more ruthless game than any the fans will ever see played out on the field. The dream has always been about making big money but somewhere in the imaginary calculations it seems no one took seriously the idea that as the stakes grew greater so too the price tag to participate. And the price tag for failure.
That’s the overview but when we get down to specifics it’s important to realize there are two kinds of Pro teams; the owned and the independent. Ownership of Pro teams resides principally in the hands of industry-tied individuals or companies. The few remaining independents operate in different ways but are independent in that no specific paintball entity controls them outright. This distinction identifies which teams are at the greatest risk. Industry owned teams have more resources at their disposal and revenue sources separate from the team. In essence those teams have a safety net if ownership is willing to spend more money. The independents don’t have that luxury and must operate with what is available to them.
Regardless, all the Pro teams must re-orient their approach to meet the growing demands of professionalism in a time when the traditional resources don’t meet a team’s needs. When greater and greater dollar amounts are at risk industry and sponsors require greater assurance of success and stability. The new professionalism on the field must become the policy and practice off the field.
Should any mistake this as a veiled cry of poverty, it isn’t. It is a warning and an acknowledgment of the shifting state of Pro Paintball. It is the teams’ responsibility to maintain themselves but at a minimum it needs to be recognized and understood that it will almost certainly prove impossible for some and there comes a time when the flagging vitality of the Pro teams will inevitably effect the leagues as well.
The bottom line is simple. The cost of being a competitive Pro team is skyrocketing without a comparative system or structure in place to support it. The race to successfully lift tourney paintball to Sport status and attract outside of industry interest (and money and support) and gain a foothold on TV hold out the promise of future prosperity but the question becomes how many of the Pro teams will survive to benefit?
Behind the scenes there are teams in turmoil. Some are easily guessed, others might seem the picture of health. While it’s human nature to be curious it would be unfair to the teams and players to openly speculate as to their fates, but here’s a few clues to look for in the coming months and even the coming years. Routine or excessive player turnover. Teams with declining or unexpectedly poor results on a consistent basis. Signs of strife among the players. Those are a few of the most visible clues to potential problems and can be indicative of poor management or a lack of leadership or both. Teams without established sponsorship relationships of some duration. Teams tied almost exclusively to one sponsor. The independents. Teams in these categories are at immediate risk should the status quo change.
Look for a dramatic off season, it’s coming.
The New Era
The New Era is gonna require some fresh thinking and, perhaps, some revised expectations. It will require business savvy and management skills. At some point in time the leagues may be forced to take affirmative action to help maintain the viability of the pro teams and in the meantime the teams that are serious about being around for the long haul had better start exploring alternatives to the status quo or at least find supplemental ways to improve their financial health. The days of treating Paintball like a hobby are over, at least at the Pro level. Like it or not it’s become a business and in the future the teams that succeed will be businesses first and sports teams second.
Not exactly the way you pictured Paintball success would turn out, is it? Of course, we aren’t there yet. There’s still a long way to go and the only thing that is certain is there will be a growing list of the victims of success between here and there. Between now and then. Tick, Tick. Tick.