Saturday, February 27, 2010

Professional Paintball

The looming question from an outsider…can a Professional Paintball League survive with no one paying the bills? With no viewers, save a few clamoring wannabe elite players, and dwindling sponsor money, how long can we have “professional players, teams, and leagues?

Professional players, by definition, need to be paid. The amount they get paid may be debatable and maybe it’s just enough to break even after their expenses. But a league that requires their professional players to pay their own way, is not really a professional league. It’s a league made up of the best players that can afford to play, not the best players money can buy as is the case in most other “professional” sports.

What we call Professional Paintball is the top tier in competitive paintball, no argument. Any popular sport will have varying levels of competitiveness. Any popular sport has kids aspiring for greatness. The level of luxury attached to achieving the top spots, has much to do with the number of kids and the strength of those aspirations. If the sport is fun to play, that will bolster the number of people who want to take part. Paintball is fun to play. It’s got that going for it and all of us involved in the sport know this. But there is a big difference in a sport that is fun to play and one that is popular enough to attract big money in the form of paying viewers and/or revenue from manufacturers selling high volumes to fans and throngs of aspiring athletes. Paintball does not have that going for it and I doubt that it ever will.

Those involved with high-level paintball can wish all they want that the tide will turn and money will start flowing into their coffers. But unless a format can be found that people will actually want to watch, or will allow the masses to take part because it is fun AND affordable, wishing it to be so will be as far as it goes. That’s my take.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


My least favorite part of operating a paintball field is staffing. Don’t get me wrong. I like my staff and many of them have started off or become friends over the years. But staffing a paintball field, at least the way we run ours is a little tricky.

First, we rarely know exactly how many staff we will need on a particular day. It’s always a best guess and we try to side on the side of caution, often bringing in more staff than we actually needed. Being understaffed sucks for everyone; the overworked staff, stressed out supervisors, and under-serviced customers. There is nothing wrong with being overstaffed other than it costs money. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like spending money superfluously.

Then we have to make sure we have the right people on hand. We need mature, experienced staff to take control and keep a handle on running their groups, and we need to have enough other, possibly less experienced staff, to make sure everyone is taken care of and follow the rules. Staffing with only mature experienced refs would be best of course, but there are never enough around. Let’s face it, although working at a paintball field is not hard work and might even be considered more enjoyable than working at many other jobs, it’s not a job most will pick as a permanent career choice. Eventually, all our staff move onto bigger and better things, and to be honest, I encourage them to do so.

Next the problem of staff wanting days off arises. The biggest problem is when the staff wants to play paintball. Often they know each other and have become friends so they want to play together. Pump only days have created problems for us over the years as many of our staff seem to drift towards pump play. We encourage that of course, but when we have a pump only game, we also have at least one regular open game and may have one or more private groups as well. We need staff to operate a business and when most of them want to play, it gets tough. So far we have always found enough volunteers to forfeit playing to help us out. We are always very grateful to those that make the sacrifice.

We try to stay away from hiring tournament players because practices and tournament days draw everyone to those events and away from work. I have no problem with staff that play tournament ball, it just creates a scheduling problem, so in general I don’t hire a lot of tournament players. This year, some of the staff has chosen to form a new tournament team. I wish them well. They practice every Saturday. Our busier of the two days we are open. We are just getting into our busier season and now find we need to hire several new employees to make up for the shortfall. Many of the staff that are on the tournament team are all asking to work on Sundays because they need money (funny how playing tournament ball can make you broke – another topic). But I know that when tournament season starts, these players will be gone on tournament days (mostly Sundays) and I’ll be left scrambling to find enough staff on those days again.

There are no easy solutions. If we hire way more “on-call” staff than we need, we get complaints that they aren’t getting enough work and will eventually find other places to earn money. If we do not hire more staff, there will come a time when we will be turning customers away, because we don’t have enough staff to run all the games. That’s not really an option. We can’t afford to be turning customers away too often.

I hate scheduling staff. I can certainly understand why some industries have mechanized most of their operations so they don’t have as many staffing issues. It sucks for our society to lose jobs, but I can certainly understand the reasoning behind it. It makes managers’ lives a whole lot easier. Now if we could only develop the paintball field staff robot.