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.


  1. I don't have the solution to add the masses to tournament paintball, but I have some ideas on how to make it far more watchable:

    1) Tournament paintball is not that fun when watching it live on TV. A viewer can't see if someone is hit and has no idea where, when, or how it happened.

    The solution is to edit after the event. This way, a viewer can see every hit and important event. I don't think a LIVE broadcast can have mass appeal.

    2) The strategy is lost because viewers can't see all the shots or people laning.

    Again, editing after a live event helps with this issue. I saw ESPN do this and it worked really well. They showed an overhead shot of the field where the players can be easily seen. They then marked (with dotted lines) where each player was shooting. This made it very easy to see what was happening and watching the angles change after each elimination was really interesting.

    I really like paintball and watching live events just isn't that fun. If I can't get into it, there is no way the masses will either.

  2. Legion, I agree that editing, combined with interjected good commentating, can make viewing paintball much more enjoyable. I do not believe however that a sport will ever become successful if it cannot be viewed in real time. Watching a game being played when you already know the outcome, just isn't the same. It's really hard to root for your favorite team, if you know they are going to lose in the end. I could be wrong, but can you name a popular sport that is always watched “after the fact” and rarely in real time?

  3. It's true that no major sport is not viewed live anymore; however, professional paintball should just be shooting for self sufficiency at this point. As you mentioned, there is currently no sustainability for "professional" paintball because people pay their own way.

    If enough people start caring that the shows are not live, that is a problem that would be welcomed! At that stage, there are enough people watching that it should be self sustaining.

  4. Hmmm. Shooting for self-sustainability would be good. In the end though, professional paintball, which is the highest level of what we normally call competitive paintball, needs to create a product or format that will attract either large amounts of viewers or large amounts of participants (or preferably both).

    Attracting enough players willing to pay their own way is, from the way I see it, the best scenario competitive paintball has had as its goal for quite a while now. That's better than bleeding money, but definitley does little for the long term prospects of professional paintball.

    Right now, competitive paintball seems to be relinquished to status similar as Frizbee Golf and competitive archery. They might be fun to take part in, but participation is going to be limited and there certainly isn't any chance of gaining popularity to the point where there is a truly "professional" league.

  5. Paintball as a sport is also kind of strange in that the format of "professional" paintball is different than the format most of the players participate in. The pros are playing airball/xball/etc, while the majority of non-pros are slugging it out in the woods. I also agree with previous comments -- I don't really foresee a watchable format. Even well produced taped events lack the excitement of watching plays develop in real time. I am much more excited to watch a rental group/birthday party playing airball at my local field than I am to watch the pros on TV.

  6. Anon, you are right that most people who play paintball play a different game than what the professionals play. But to be fair, games are determined by atleticism, the skills of those athletes, and tactics, need to be played on a even playing field. A well laid out airball field provides that. A random piece of forest, does not.

    I understand your comment about watching a birthday/rental group vs. a professional competition on an airbal field. In most sports, I, and I think most others, prefer to watch those that are are the top of their game. Having said that though, there are some athletic events that there is not enough entertainment value to attract large enough audiences. For instance, I run a bit and marvel at those that can run a marathon in world level time. However, I've never watched a complete marathon (like the Boston Marathon) on TV. Even with ongoing commentary, it's just not very entertaining. Maybe if I were striving to be a world class marathoner, I'd stay tuned in. I think I'm not alone, because there aren't very many marathons televised. However, I have much more often (not all that often though) watched a handful of random people compete in an obstacle race on silly Japanese game shows. Very little athleticism, but much more entertainment.

  7. Paintball is much worse off than frisbee golf or archery. Those require a single start-up cost, and very minimal to no ongoing costs. It's also easy to go do both of those things then to to the mall, get dinner, and a movie.

    Paintball startup costs are higher. Ongoing costs are higher. And playing invests pretty much an entire day and you're too filthy to do anything atferwards.

    High fixed costs. High variable costs. High time commitment. It's a wonder anyone plays at all!

  8. Yes anonachris. Luckily paintball is helluvalotta fun....unless it's not. Then there is no reason to make the time and financial commitment.

    There was a time, in my opinion, where a higher percentile of the population thought paintball was lots of fun (at least as much as it cost). I've always felt that the downturn in paintball came about due to the change in the game over the years. The change of the experience a first time player finds today at most fields compared to the experience a first time player found 15 or 20 years ago. That's at the local woodsball field and on tournament fields as well.

    It's not that a percentage of first time players don't still consider it enough fun to make the commitment, it's just that that percentage is lower. That equates to less people at fields, less people at tournaments, and less people buying paintball products.

  9. Just coming back to it. I think paintball is having a down turn as people realize:
    "Been there, done that."

    Most people I would imagine look back on their paintball experience fondly. But what keeps them from doing it is usually organization/time/schedule. It's hard to pick a Saturday when you can your buddies can devote a whole day to something. Not impossible, because it still happens, but not easy.

    I've tried to organize a group of friends I know, and we've emailed around a signup list/dates/etc list twice and it always falls through.

  10. Yes Chris, I believe part of the downturn is probably related to an initial influx of new people to a new sport and then again when we made it OK for younger payers to participate, we had another "burst" of players for a few years. That's what fues the "fastest growing extreme sport in North America" statistic we all touted for years. Like everything else, people only stick with things for a relatively short while, especially in today's society where so many options for entertainment are available.

    People are busier today than they were even 20 years and ago and the difference between today and 50 years ago is astounding. You really have to love paintball to make the commitment needed to play regularly, for sure. As an aside, that's why in my business, those players aren't our target market. We market to players that play very rarely (once or twice per year). From a business point, it makes more sense to cater to a much, much larger pie.

    From day one we have offered Organizer Incentives for those making the effort to organize their friends or co-workers. We've been there and done that and like you, know how diffcult it can be. One thing we never tried to do back in the day when we organized paintball outings was to try to accomodate everyone. We picked a date, told everyone we knew, especially the key people who tend to be at the centre of their circle of friends, and started signing people up. We always collected deposits from people, because without them, the show-up rate goes way down. We went to a field that had 40 rentals at the time, so that was the limit and managed to get 40 (or close to it) people out a couple of times a year.

  11. I owned more than a few Paintball Retail stores, until I sold them (it was the only time I ever made money), and sponsored quite a few teams in speed and woods. Having attended more than my share of tournaments, and having played in even more - I can attest it is without a doubt not a spectator sport. One thing I did notice within the industry is arrogance. There were, and apparently still are a few behind the scenes wholesalers and retailers that basically dictate what is going to happen within the industry - opposed to allowing the participants and potential fans, and potential customers dictate the sport.
    Paintball is about the bottom-line; just as every sport nowadays is - however - the bottom-line is superior to everything else in the industry. It is also a "who you know" type establishment. Put it this way - if you're a "Professional" paintball player, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are good - a lot of "Professional" players are subjective to whom they knew in the industry, and were given the "Professional" label. I like quite a few other major owners started to compare this to Professional Wrestling.
    There are many instances where this became true - and then you look around to the sponsors of specific teams, and realize - "ahhh - now it makes sense" - I am not in the area of slinging names around - but when tournament producers/paintball distributors turn out a major tournament - at their facility - with their refs - and their teams are always winning off of calls filled with improprieties - hey if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, well...
    Listen, these guys made/make money off of these types of events. What always amazed me was, that it was obvious what was going on, and the moment someone spoke out on Smack Talk, these "owners" would have certain comments removed. Towards the backend of me selling off my stores, I stayed back and watched the industry getting comfortable with former competitors - from New Jersey down to Florida - where once fierce rivals industry, who would talk crap about each other got together to squeeze out others in order to create a monopoly. This is where the bottom-line met demise. And anyone who knows this industry knows exactly who I am writing about. It's a shame, because by now the sport could have been much more spread out - unfortunately greed takes hold.

  12. Hmmm, an anonymous post talking about anonymous entities. I'm confused (and obviously out of the loop).

    I agree that many professional players were/are probably professional as much due to who they know as how much talent they have. That's probably true to an extent in every sport. But a sport that is revenue dependant on viewership, will be much more interested in having the most skilled players in the theatre. Even if those highly skilled players are dirt poor when they start out, there are means to get to the top using the skils they have. That's not really the case in paintball. If a player is dirt poor (or even just lower middle class)...well...chances are, he/she will never play paintball. Certainly not competitively.

  13. I've been debating on getting into paintball myself over the past couple weeks, but everyone I talk to says that it's just not cool anymore. I think one thing that will really get things going again is holding public events. Have free days or something. Get in the public's faces, have giveaways, free tournaments, etc. Just for a little while until there's more hype about paintball.
    I only know a few people who actually like to play but there just arent enough people anymore who are enthusiastic about it. If there's more public events, everyone would get to meet people who play and set up games and stuff.
    Just an idea.
    -Anthony -Stafford, VA

  14. Anonymous. Advertising (getting into the public's faces) is always good for promoting a business. Of course advertising costs money and every form of advertising needs to be exaluated for cost effectiveness, either short or long term.

    As far as paintball being not cool anymore...I think what those people really mean is that it's not fun anymore. I think in a lot of places that might be true for the majority who try it. That's very sad and as an industry, very hurtful. Hopefully more and more in the industry wil figure out how to change that and then people like you and others won't hesitate to give it a try.

  15. I think paintball has two main difficulties in order to become a viewable sport. People who hasn´t played before probably won´t be interested, this is because paintball is a complex sport and people easily loose interest in something they don´t understand, take soccer and football, who would you think would stick around more watching a game for the first time, someone who hasn´t watched football or someone who hasn´t watched soccer before?. The second difficulty is that paintball is hard to follow, this is probably the main reason why a paintball match is boring to watch, even if you got some previous paintball experience sometimes is difficult to know what´s going on. This "match following" issue is hard to solve, but i think as you mentioned before an overhead shot of the field would really help a lot. But the main problem is that the audience can not trace the balls, and as long as the paintballs remain untraceble, paintball spectators would continue to lack interest in watching pb games. I don´t really know what good solution for this would be, flourecent paintballs or coloured beams in the guns only visible for audience?, I don´t know.

    That been said... field owners also hold in their hands a great potencial to be part of the solution to this problem. Take golf for example, booooring as hell if you compare it to paintball, and it is also difficult to trace, I mean you see the ball in TV but it doesn´t mean a lot when the only thing you see is a white ball and blue sky in background. Other thing about golf is that people enjoy playing it is because thay are spending time outdoors, in great weather and in a great landscape, those thing are not there for who is watching the match in TV, but despite this a lot of people watch golf on TV. What i´m trying to say is that there´s hope for paintball, field owners should worry about modifying their fields so they become spectators friendly, probably by placing the spectators above the arena where they can clearly see what´s going on. They can also host proplayers matchs so their clients would also develop a spectating culture in addition of just playing. Creating a "spectating culture" on your costumers would not only make paintball more interesting for everyone, buy it would make a better business of it. And more important it will make solid basis for professional paintball to grow in.

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