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.


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