Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Marketing in Competitive Paintball

Having just read the book How to Market Your Paintball Field and then having read some posts on VFTD about marketing National Paintball leagues, or lack thereof, it made me wonder who and to what end, competitive paintball is marketing to.

Obviously the competitive paintball side of our industry wants to become more popular. I'm sure competitive paintball would like to have more participants and I'm sure they wouldn't mind having throngs of fans. Fans willing to pay to watch competitions live, but also fans that would watch the competitions aired either in live broadcasts or even broadcast after the fact. Fans that would watch regularly and who could be marketed to by outside sources and would pay for advertising during these broadcasts.

I think paintball will always have problems establishing itself as a viewer friendly game. Fans of almost all sporting events prefer to see competitions live, whether in person or in live broadcasts. Every form of competitive paintball that I have watched, with the possible exception of 1 vs. 1 competitions, are hard to follow. Yes you can watch one individual player or one individual battle, but while you are watching that, chances are you missed some other crucial, tactical play that had a huge bearing on the outcome of the game. An edited broadcast of the competition could help this considerably, but who wants to watch a game that chances are they already know the outcome?

I don't see competitive paintball ever attracting a large viewership. Therefore, I assume marketing efforts, when there are any, are made with the mindset of attracting more participants. This brings me back to the book, How to Market your Paintball Field. The very first thing the book implied, and repeated several times in the rest of the book, was that a paintball field must ensure the new player has a "good experience", or else any marketing that is done to attract that player, would be worthless. A "good experience" to me means something that is enjoyable to do and doesn't cost more than the value of that enjoyment. It doesn't matter how enjoyable something is, if it costs more than the perceived value of that enjoyment, the amount of participants is going to be severely limited (by the way, time is also a cost of participation).

So how much enjoyment is there in competitive paintball? Most of the "enjoyment" in serious competitive sports actually comes from a sense of accomplishment, either winning or at least doing well, or seeing an improvement in your personal or team's abilities. When players or teams stop improving, the enjoyment or satisfaction factor decreases. If the cost to take part stays the same, or maybe even increases as a team tries to climb to the next level, these stagnant participants are going to start dropping out. This is not a problem with just paintball, but virtually all competitive sports. When players lose hope of improving, they stop taking the sport seriously, and thoughts of other activities enter their minds.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because the marketing that competitive paintball does (or should be doing) is basically to try to attract new players into the game; new players to replace at hopefully a faster rate than those aforementioned players are dropping out at. So back to the "experience". There are certain sports that are considered mainstream sports in our society. These are sports that are played by virtually everyone in some form, some time in their life (mostly as kids). Sports like baseball, soccer, basketball. These are all competitive sports where the participants get enjoyment and the enjoyment is greater than the cost to participate. These and other sports are widely participated in for that reason. Competitive paintball is not as widely participated in. Why not?

Competitive paintball is a competitive team sport, just like baseball, soccer, and basketball, but there is a huge difference. First of course is the cost of participation. it's much, much higher. To overcome that, competitive paintball must be much, much more enjoyable and I believe in some aspects it is. There are a lot of people that like to shoot guns and the adrenaline that flows by being both the "hunter" and the "hunted" is not surpassed by any other competitive sport, in my opinion. That places a high value on the game, and is the only reason competitive paintball can exist at all.

But the new player stepping onto the speedball field for his first day of competitive paintball, is he going to feel that value? Is he going to leave after that first initial experience convinced that the value of participation is equal to or higher than the cost of participation? Is he going to "feel" that value with second, third, fourth and fifth hit after his elimination? Is he going to "feel" that value as he is "walked" off the field? He may feel that it is all worthwhile; that the value is there. There are certainly thousands and thousands of people who do. But there are a lot more people playing baseball today than there are playing paintball today, even though the adrenaline will not pump as strong through their veins. There are a lot more people playing soccer today as well. Basketball too. Countless other competitive team sports as well. The new players playing baseball for the first time will not "feel" punches to the body as they are walking off the field to take their turn at bat. They will not "feel" multiple stings to the body as the other team tries to get them out.

The experience a paintball player has is twofold. There is the enjoyment/satisfaction factor and there is the pain factor. Both are part of the experience and both combined are what make up the sum total of the overall experience. The cost of that experience (or the cost of participation) in dollars and time, needs to be less than that sum total.

For years competitive paintball grew with very little marketing. During these years, the sum total of the experience was considerably different. The enjoyment of shooting guns was there. The enjoyment of being both the hunter and the hunted was there. But the pain factor that the new player felt was considerably less. The sum total of the experience was completely different. The cost of participation was still high (compared to most other sports), but the sum total of the enjoyment/satisfaction level outweighed the cost for a greater amount of people. It still does that today for thousands of people, but the number has decreased. For a number of years now, we are still getting the players/teams that drop out, as we always do, but the number choosing to participate has decreased. That number will increase slightly as the economy improves and a few more people can afford the cost of participation, but it will never be what it was, not unless competitive paintball changes dramatically, so the sum total of the experience is more enjoyable to a larger segment of the population. But that's not going to happen, at least not without some major changes in the mindset of those heading up competitive paintball and those already playing competitive paintball. And we all know how big the chance of that happening is.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review - How to Market Your Paintball Field

I haven't done a book review since High School and that was decades ago, so bare with me and don't even bother trying to review my review.

I was made aware of this book by our Tippmann Rep in one of his emails sent to us. The book is written by a couple of Tippmann marketing employees; Patrick Ehren and Ron Goldblatt. Mr. Ehren and Goldblatt spent considerable time interviewing Gio D'Egidio and Dennis Bukowski of Giant paintball Parks (which also incorporates Hollywood Sports Park, SC Village, and California Paintball Park), Mike Peverill of Pev's park in Aldie, Virginia, and Ray, Paul, and Mike Dagnino of CPX Sports in Joliet, Illinois. The meat of the book obviously comes from the opinions of these experienced field owners.

In the preface, among other things, it tells us that these men are willing to share their secrets to help other field owners attract new customers and help bring them back. This in hopes of making the whole industry stronger. This seems quite selfless and I had no feeling while reading the book that these men had any other motives than this during the process.

It is interesting that the very first thing the book states in Chapter 1 is that the reader will only benefit from getting people to their field if they have a "great experience" and come back. This of course makes absolute sense and something I (and others) have been saying for years, that being that if your customers aren't having fun and feel they are getting good value, they aren't going to come back. I wish the book would have included a bit more on what can and should be done to ensure that "great experience" other than the short two and a bit page chapter near the end of the book that touched on the subject, but then again, the book is called "How to Market Your Paintball field" and not "How to Operate your Paintball field". Apparently Mike, Gio and Paul, among other Industry veterans helped create a Field Operations and Safety Guide in conjunction with the Paintball Sports Trade Association (PSTA) and it is mentioned in the book, but alas the PSTA is no more and my search for the Guide lacked any substance. But I'm getting off track.

I found it interesting that much of the marketing these three separate groups of field owners are doing, seem to parallel each other quite a bit. Three of the most successful field owners all using similar marketing techniques? Makes one think there might be something to what they are doing and recommending others do.

I'm not going to go into details of what these techniques are. If there are any field owners reading this, all I will say is that the advice given is worthwhile reading. Seeing as the book is offered free to Tippmann wholesale customers, there really is no reason not to get your copy and check out what these successful field owners have to say. I will say that all of these fields give away a LOT of free play passes, one thing that I know some field owners seem to have a bit of a problem with. We have always done this at our paintball field and after reading this book, expect to be doing even more of this.

But that is just one of the many subjects discussed in this book. It's not a long read, but in my opinion, if you are a paintball field owner or a wannabe paintball field owner, this book is a must read. I'd like to thank Tippmann and all the contributors for taking the time and making the effort to write this book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Debate's not Over Yet

I was rereading the Middle Grounders post (whose comment section was graciously ignored by all visitors) I wrote a while back and the associated World Dominance - Airsoft vs. Paintball post. Mostly because it seems to be a topic of interest for some. Steve over at 68 Caliber and Baca at view From the Deadbox, both recently touched on the subject again because airsoft was a topic of discussion at the recently held Paintball Festival.

It seems some are worried that adding airsoft to a paintball playing facility to expand its offerings would be detrimental to the health of paintball, namely it would take potential paintball players and turn them into airsoft players. To be honest, I don't disagree that would probably be the case.

But going back to the Middle Grounders post, I spoke about a field owners' need to find the middle ground in their paintball offering. Somewhere where the game is fun and exhilaration and adrenaline is flowing heavy enough to get people excited enough to come back, hopefully over and over again, but not so extreme that the desire to come back is diminished. Right now airsoft would be chosen by many because it's a game of tag where the discomfort level is very low in comparison to what most paintball fields are offering.

It would seem that if some ingenious inventor/engineer would be able to invent a projectile that would be less painful than a conventional paintball, but still had decent marking capabilities, had range as good as or better than current paintballs, that would be the answer to finding a middle ground between paintball and airsoft. The projectiles don't necessarily have to be goo filled spheres. We need someone to think out of the box. Perhaps coloured pellets, larger than airsoft pellets, so the physical sensory level is slightly higher, made of a material that breaks apart on impact and leaves a coloured powdery residue, as well as a puff of coloured dust in the air around the impact point visible from a decent distance.

Any takers? Let me know if you need a business partner.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Growing Pains

It's the day after West Coat Pump Weekend. Time for rest and a recap. There were 77 players over the course of the two day event with 66 players (22 teams) participating in the 3-man fun pump speedball tournament portion on Saturday and about the same number taking part in the recreational pump games on Sunday. Some players couldn't make it this year, but more new faces took their place. We had less players travelling long distances (I'm going to guess the economy might have something to do with that) but a higher number travelling from the lower mainland by ferry to Victoria. Thank you to all the mainlanders who made the effort and those who did make it from Alberta. I do not believe we had any Americans attend this year. Hopefully things will improve south of the border and we will once again enjoy the company of our southern brethren.

One of the reasons we are growing is due to our great staff. Therefore I would like to formally thank all our staff and guest refs for the tournament portion of WCPW. Without you, none of this would be possible.

I was thanked countless times over the course of the two days for putting on the event. I was told by at least two new players that we have the best facility in BC and can't remember how many people expressed how much fun they were having and will be back again for sure. Thank you for all the kind words. I can only assume that next year's event will be even bigger. It is great that WCPW is so popular, but with growth also comes change. To be honest, I have never envisioned West Coast Pump Weekend to become a huge pump event. I would prefer it to stay a relatively small, quaint gathering of like minded, fair playing paintball players, coming together to enjoy a good time. Hopefully that is exactly what WCPW will continue to remain.

One of the things I am constantly telling paintball players on forums is that if you have a beef with a field, you need to tell the management of the field what you are dissatisfied with. Paintball field owners can't read minds. I walked into a conversation between a group of players yesterday after the event was over but they stopped talking when they saw me approach. I had heard the words "the only complaint" uttered, so I stopped and asked what they were talking about. Apparently some of the players felt there weren't enough games in the fun tournament on Saturday. Honestly, that doesn't surprise me. I myself said to my business partner on Saturday that I wouldn't enjoy playing speedball on a regular basis if you had to hang around all day to play a few games, most of which last less than a minute.

One of the problems we face is that we are limited to having one speedball field (we have to partially dismantle one of our rec fields for the day as it is to fit the one in). With 22 teams this year and running late into the day the previous year with 20 teams playing 7 games each, I felt we had to cut it down to 6 games each so we could finish on time. The guys that set up the field this year made the field play much faster, so we actually finished a little early this year (with 7 games each we would have run late again). So what to do? We only have room for one field and it is relatively small. We are growing and every year there seems to be a few more players wanting to take part than the year before.

The only possible solution I can see is to change the format to a 4-man competition from a 3-man version. This way we could cut the number of teams down slightly but still accommodate more payers. The field would need to be made slightly larger than it was this year (this is possible) but would still need to be designed to be play quite quickly.

So, not engraved in stone yet, but what I see happening is changing to a 4-man format, limiting the teams to a maximum of 18 (which will accommodate 72 players) and playing 8 games each. For this to happen, we would need to run a very tight ship to get 72 games in during the prelims and then another 6 games for a round robin finals (top 4 teams). The first 72 players that sign up for the tournament are in, so it would be a first come, first served kind of thing. This would take away a little bit of the relaxed drop-in atmosphere of the event, but may need to be a necessity for the sake of efficiency.

For the Sunday rec portion of WCPW, we may need to split the group up into two games of 35 to 40 each. This year we had over 60 on the fields many times and that is definitely stretching the capacity of the fields. It was fun and I heard no complaints, but if we continue to grow, eventually it would just be too many players for the fields to handle. Most of us pump players like to move and standing in one spot having gun fights is not what most of us signed up for.

Then there are the camping issues. I offer up my personal property which is next to the paintball field for attendees to camp at and socialize at, but some campers tend to lose some common sense (probably has to do with the consumption of certain beverages and other substances). It seems some feel it's OK to walk around the neighborhood with open alcohol beverages and brandishing paintball markers that some less educated folk might mistake as handguns (Oh to be young, carefree and stupid again - OK, maybe I don't want to go back there again). Luckily I'm on good terms with the neighbours that witnessed these acts, but maybe next time we won't be so lucky and other, less tolerant neighbours may get wind of stuff and then the whole house of cards will come tumbling down.

Anyway, some things to ponder over for the next few months. I sincerely hope all who attended WCPW '11 had a good time and hopefully all will work out well for continued good times at WCPW'12.