Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Future of Pro Paintball

Looking rather bleak isn't it? The future of pro paintball, that is. Among the noble but dwindling ranks of hardcore competitors there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty--and if not fear at least concern. What's happening? Why now? What, if anything, can be done about it?
The rather bleak answer is nothing much because the impermanence on display is a feature not a failure. Granted it is also a largely unintended consequence too but once the basic pieces were in place all of this was pretty much inevitable. The PSP's origins were nearly the opposite of what it became--a for profit paintball event promoter. The beginning of the NPPL was as a representative body acting on behalf of aligned tournament teams to improve the quality of events by acting cooperatively. The NPPL was to vet promoters and see to it that events the NPPL teams agreed to attend were held to certain standards. Within a couple of years that morphed into a smaller sub-group from within the NPPL promoting sanctioned events which in turn evolved into the PSP. And an operating assumption of the league is that players and teams have a shelf life--and they act accordingly. The league is, after all, a business. It provides the best tournaments it can and they do their best to get as many teams as possible to play. Who those teams are is ultimately not important because teams come and go. It's just the way things are. What does concern the league is numbers. That is the environment the pro teams compete in.
The other principle contributors (would be virtually irrelevant if the good times had continued to roll) to the coming complete collapse of pro paintball as we've known it in America was the electro-pneumatic marker, the rise of the Russian Legion and the shift from a growing industry to a declining industry. The Legion pushed the existing pro teams to professionalize (and consequently spend more money to be competitive) at nearly the same time sponsorship dollars began to shrink. The end result seen in recent years were a top tier of pro teams that were either the factory teams of a declining industry or teams with independent outside resources. Ironically applying more pressure was the move amongst a few of the independents to buy what they hoped were elite players in order to compete for wins right away.
All today's top tier teams will be gone in 3 years if things stay the way they are. The future pros will be simply some percentage of the best divisional players and either by rule or necessity the standards and demands placed on pro teams will decline. New names will rise up but in the near term future the quality of play will also decline--although making that quantitative judgment may prove difficult or be disputed based on whatever game is then being played. And somewhere around 5 years into the future the cachet of pro paintball will be sufficiently threadbare that it jeopardizes the existence of the PSP. (If it takes that long.)
Could a brighter future exist? Sure, I'm simply extrapolating the near term future. Who knows where competitive paintball might be in twenty or fifty years? (And most of us don't care all that much.) I also think it's possible for a different path to lead to a different outcome. My comments reflect the way things are today.


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, if the league were to enforce a salary cap, how would it do it? What should it be?

250k budget for a team including all gear paint, PSP travel, and compensation would be 25k an event per team and another 25k per practice for five practices a year. You could basically pay all expenses, give some free gear as compensation, but not much else.

What would happen the sport in that scenario? Talent stagnate? Teams grow more stable as there is less reason to jump ship?

On one hand we have the Dynasty guys playing for what seems like minimal compensation, and still a top team, and the other hand we have the Heat guys getting tons of cash (allegedly).

You can't suggest players will go away with a cap, because we have the two best groups of guys in the sports history at polar opposites in compensation still sticking it out.

Could the league do a salary cap? Require an owner to show all contracts, and player compensation. If evidence is found that violates, the team and players in question are banned for a year.

splatkid10 said...

All I took from your post Baca was BLAME THE RUSSIANS!! -classic.

To the above poster, the salary cap thing is bogus and I think you are missing the author's point. Players getting a salary are receiving it from a wealthy individual or are working for an industry company (which is why they have a salary). Teams are leaving because the owner (or players) just doesn't want to shell out $ anymore. Think about it, does CEP really pay salaries? No. But they left...

I think the industry at large is going to see some churn here in the future. The dwindling pro teams is evidence of that. Surprising, the economy is strong now, maybe just not enough people are going to the field and renting M98's.

If it does dwindle...opportunity to get in and turn it around for a starry-eyed entrepreneur.

Reiner Schafer said...

This talk of salary caps for the pros got me thinking that everyone has it backwards. For competitive paintball to take off, Demand has to be created. I’m on board with salary caps, but more importantly I think there should also be salary bases (minimums).

Here’s what I’m thinking (a little out of the box)...there should be a maximum number of pro teams (4-6 - can be increased at later date if format warrant it). Each team will have a certain number of players (a relatively low number) and each player will be guaranteed, along with expenses paid, a minimum salary in the $150,000 range. The salaries are only in part paid by the franchise owners with the rest coming from PSP and industry sponsor coffers. With the low number of teams and attraction of salary, the skill level will be decent (more exciting to watch) but you will instantly have created idols and a desire to attain one of those positions. This will not only attract considerably more divisional players/teams to the PSP, but will attract more players/teams to tournament paintball in general.

Can’t be done? Then I hold out little hope for competitive paintball.

Baca Loco said...

If that's your takeaway best try reading it again.

splatkid10 said...

Ahhh - see what one wants I suppose, but those damn commies!

Didn't really think the Russians had that large an impact, but when you consider your point it makes sense.

Why do you think the "electros" changed it so much?

Anonymous said...

No, the problem that the PSP has is that the carrot is not big enough to stop the exodus of teams - and by extension; the Team Owners.

Pro teams are the Brand.
Without them PSP has no product.
With no product is ceases to exist in any substantial form.

I'm not going to pay my $10 to watch Div2 teams play at World Cup. I want the superstars!

So you need a reason to keep the Brands in the league - and that comes down to $$ which is turn is generated by the PSP's Marketing strategy.

You get that by making companies want to advertise, which in turn comes from foot-fall at a grassroots level.

You need to go back to the local fields, you need to promote your brand there, you need to hit your recreational customer base, and the PSP needs to promote it's Product.

Capping the Players - impinging on any of the free market of the players is wrong - because that is not the solution.

The PSP needs to go full FDR on this, it needs to spend it's way out of trouble. It needs to promotoe itself from beyond a mediocre and confusing website and social media that is only preaching to the converted. It needs to find a way into the mainstream.. (or nearer to it at least!!)

MikeM said...

The real question is how and why do you continue as a professional paintball franchise after the core group of friends/players, owner's son(s)/friends no longer want to play? When that personal connection is severed, why maintain the financial connection?

This has always been the case for paintball with the exception of factory teams. Ironmen, Aftershock, Infamous. So these are impersonal franchise models.

Maybe there should be a salary cap. Maybe it should be zero. Seeing as only a small percentage of players actually get paid to play anyway and there are hordes of players that seem to be able to play without even getting their gear paid for. Sounds like the PB industry is moving in this direction when it comes to Pro team budgets.

The PSPs product is putting on events for teams to pay entry fees. That's their foundation of profit and sustainability. Professional sport as entertainment comes afterward.

Actually if the Webcast crew just wanted aggressive games they could just film more Division 2 games. It's always the most aggressive. Just like D1 is always the slowest.

Better Pro teams will have more boring games not less. Have you ever watched two really good Champions League soccer teams play? It's boring. All about ball possession to minimize the risk of being scored on. Sound familiar? Nevermind that mindblowing run-thrus have been penalized out of the league. They just are not worth it.

So I ask. Who's really going to notice the projected "inferior quality" of teams that can actually afford to play paintball? College football teams are way inferior to NFL teams but people watch the hell out of it. Not just their alma maters.

Perhaps we'll see the drop in quality once the '06 era players are all gone. But perhaps we'll also agree that the '06 era was rife with unsustainable player, franchise, and sponsorship development models. We'll still be watching what being a professional really means. Being the best. I don't see the upcoming teams as so far behind that I wouldn't be able to recognize that.

Baca Loco said...

It's really a combination of factors but I picked on guns because they facilitate the profligate use of paint--and would so regardless of things like format, practice habits etc.

451 Anon
Never going to happen

Mike M
I think the critical question is why do the part timers show up at PSP events? The 70% who attend one or two events. Do they play PSP instead of something else or along with a full league schedule in their area?
My opinion is the draw is the scale, spectacle and the validation and I doubt those features stand up without a strong pro presence.

Reiner Schafer said...

You are absolutely right Baca. Without a "Pro" division the PSP is just another torunament series, no different really from most others. The scale of the events would dwindle.

If you want to be at the best, you have to have and showcase the best. And the best better be something special, not just something they call the best.

MQ said...

Well, I 'm not sure we need to worry about what's shown on the webcast anymore...

Teams have folded before. Very few teams around now have any real longevity. Naughty Dogs folded, Bobs Ironmen, Strange, Trauma, NYX/Ground Zero, the list is longer than the list of last years participants. It is a shake-up, but it doesn't have to be all doom & gloom. People will still want to play pro. They may just have to adjust their expectations, as might we all.

Anonymous said...

The real interest is how this will influence PBA going forward

Mark said...

Pro-mageddon is indeed upon us......

I just wanted to be the first to coin the phrase.

Baca Loco said...

All true but if any real professional future exists for competitive paintball it ain't likely to happen if things continue to go the way they always have.

Nicely done.

NewPro said...

What does your model of Pro Paintball entail? Not just the fluff but the infrastructure behind it, especially financing the division and its "Pro" players ?

Baca Loco said...

Glad you asked. That post will go up this weekend sometime.

Anonymous said...

Every one is going to hate me for saying this...

The PSP needs to increase entry fees by a lot. At least until they get more sponsors.

The reason I say this is who wants to go to a tourney to win back your entry and maybe half your paint costs.

If a pro team wins an event they should at least get 200k.

Look at eSports, They are playing for 500k with very little cost outside of getting to the LAN.

raehl said...

@12:12 Anonymous:

Nearly everyone, because nearly everyone goes to a tournament and wins nothing.

No league can survive with customers who are playing to win money.

That's just the reality of sports. The only exception are athletes that people are willing to buy tickets to see or watch on television.

That's not you.

Anonymous said...

I think a 100k package sounds like the way to go. Raise entry fees by 10% across the board to pay for it.

Division guys would be subsiding the pros though, and the fact is they already area (free paint/gear/etc comes from someone's purchase).

But the divisional guys can't complain too much because their free/sponsored price gear is already being subsidized by non-PSP player purchases.

But the reality, is we still need outside involvement. Who makes money off paintball players:
airlines, hotels, restaurants, rental car companies (or just auto companies).

I'm assuming the travel and hospitality industry doesn't care too much about the sport, but if there is someone who has any skin in the game outside the industry it's them.

Other than that, you've just got the whole energy drink action sports style market (gopro, etc) who might find some value in pushing the extreme nature of paintball to their non-playing customers. But we all hear the guns scare people excuse being used and unfortunately the big money types in these companies usually aren't pro gun.

Anonymous said...

When did it get all PbNationy in here?

Reiner Schafer said...

Who says it got PBNation in here? Maybe PBNation got Loco.

MikeM said...

PSP entry fees have gone up by $100-$150 across every division every year since 2007. A US inflation-rate of 4% adds about $100 to the entry fee, but this only occurred twice between '07 and now. So the PSP has been steadily increasing entry fees for more money. I'd wager much of that is being used to support the webcast, i.e. Pro paintball.

An even larger markup in entry fees would further squander paintball's opportunity of at-last having a unified league and rule structure. I wouldn't alienate your entire customer-base because an inordinate number of Pro teams happened to fold for varied reasons in one year.

I'd venture to say none of these teams quit because sponsorship dollars shrank or because paintball is expensive.

As for not getting paid. What 24-26 year old wouldn't take a fat check to play paintball? It's backward logic. "They wouldn't quit if they were getting paid" is not the same as "they quit because they're not getting paid".

Most paintball players do not know who Pros are. Most do not pay for grandstand tickets. Sure they play PSP because it's the biggest and where the best teams are. But it's where the best teams are for their division. Few if any would say to another paintball person "because it's where the Pros play". Perhaps on some kind of unconscious level it's a draw. But I don't see some urgent need to replace teams that fall off. It happens every year.

We knew the last years of NPPL "Pro" was a joke because there was another league full of WAY better teams. The only qualification needed is that the Pro teams can trounce any team beneath their division. The relegation process is making that happen. The rest is standard paintball attrition.

Anonymous said...

Non-Commercial Pro Paintball

MQ said...

There is no point talking about the webcast IMO.
I mean, is there anyone that thinks there will be a 2015 webcast?
The only way that happens is if someone wants to buy it, run it, and lose money, and nobody wants to do that.
The people that rave about the webcast but have never paid to watch it will be the most upset...

Bruce Anderson said...

Get rid of the stats and keep the webcast if that helps with the costs. The stats are worthless - the only stat that matters is the win/loss.

Anonymous said...

Stats are very important in competitive sports. If paintball wants to be seen as a competitive sport it needs stats. The current model is way over blown.

All I need to know as a spectator is who started the point and who finished it.

Bruce Anderson said...

Stats are important but Pro Paintball just doesn't have enough games for it to matter nor to justify the costs in the current model. Just like a Pro Team, it's not sustainable and will continue to bleed until either it dies or it turns into a zombie.

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