Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Being Honest With Ourselves

Ok, so I've been reading some paintball forums and sites lately and I can't help but to laugh. (which, is of course followed by extreme frustration and the smashing of the closest item on my desk) Although I have to applaud the fact that at least people are discussing the industry and what they think is wrong with it, and even giving some good ideas about what should be done to fix the problems they are discussing, no one has hit the nail on the head yet as far as what the real problem is. It's like no one gets it...really gets it. Everyone obviously sees the trouble we are in, and yet no one really wants to talk about the REAL reasons it's all happening. Does no one really know? Do they know, but are unwilling to ruffle some feathers? Have they thought about it, but think it's something we just can't fix, so why bother? Of course the economy is not helping things, but that's not the real problem. Neither are any of the other things people have brought up. One person says the high ROF and FPS is keeping new players out of the sport. Someone else says that the leagues running national events are doing things wrong and there needs to be different conferences, and more local leagues to bring team counts back up. Some have said that the cost to play is too high and that's what is keeping people from playing. I've even heard that players bad attitudes is to blame for paintballs recent down turn. While I will agree that all of those things contribute to our problem, I still have to say that non of those issues are the root of our real problem.

Maybe people are so used to having other people make decisions for them in the real world, that they are unable to think for themselves when conflict and trouble hits them in a more personal arena. That arena being our beloved paintball industry. I know so many people in this industry that have told me they agree with what I think, as far as what is wrong in paintball, but none of them have ever really said it publicly. The sad part is that a few of them had the stage to do so, but they didn't use it. For the most part, people have pussy footed around the issues at hand because if your in paintball, chances are, you are in some way connected to the problem. Whether that be from owning a paintball business, owning a team, playing on a team, or even just working in the industry in general. Basically, you just don't say anything to stir the hornets nest, because the sting could be more than something one of moms home remedies could fix. You could lose your ties to the industry and in turn, your business, your team, your sponsors, your job and in extreme circumstances, all of the above. Yes, it IS that bad. I'm not saying it's like the mafia, but it's corporate, only on a mom and pop level, which to me is much worse.

Most corporate problems revolve around the breaking of rules that were set into place by their respective industries for the sole purpose of maintaining as fair of a playing field as possible for all parties involved. Paintballs problem is that we don't have any such rules to break. It's a free for all. The only rules around, are the ones that are unspoken but avidly enforced. You've heard the old sayings, "Never bite the hand that feeds you", or "don't burn your bridges". I heard that many times in this industry throughout my years. I think those sayings hold different meanings in paintball though. They don't mean, "don't do something foolish or greedy now for your own benefit, because it may backfire on you later", or "watch the things you say because you don't want to be misunderstood and cause problems". In paintball those sayings mean, "Shut up and do what I say, or I will take away from you, what you have helped me create". I think too many people/players left in the paintball industry are afraid to to say anything about what is going on because, unfortunately, they depend on using those bridges to get to that hand that feeds them. These players have spent so much of their lives playing a sport that they love and believe in. They have been playing paintball, starting teams, opening stores & fields and helping these companies grow and become what they are today. They have put so much of their own time in for the love of this sport, their teammates, and their sponsors, that most of them haven't done anything to prepare themselves for the real world. The world outside of paintball. The world after paintball. And because of that, they are now stuck keeping their mouths shut and playing the role they were groomed from youth to play.

After all the problems last year in the NPPL, under the leadership of Shawn Walker, a lot of people were starting to lose faith in the league (more so, Shawn's ability to run it), including myself. I decided to try and see if we could help get things back on track. I wanted to see what everyone thought and if I could get support in an idea I had. I personally talked to over a dozen industry suits and players. I talked to everyone from manufacturers to team, store and field owners, sales and management at major paintball companies, to some of the authors of your favorite paintball magazine articles, to some of your favorite all star players. (all of which you would know their names instantly....that's not to toot MY horn, but to let you know that these were all people you would know) I heard so many things that Shawn had done, that in one way or another, was not on par with what someone in his position should be doing. (I'll just leave it at that). Everyone of those people were fed up with the way the season had gone and all of them in one way or another saw Shawn as the direct link to the problem. I tried to get them to get together and write a letter to Bruce (the owner of Pacific Paintball) explaining our concerns and letting him know what we knew about Shawn and the things he had done. I didn't then and I still don't know Bruce personally, but I have heard nothing but good things about him and what an ethical person he is, both personally and in business. I figured that was the best person to talk to. We hoped that at the very least, Bruce would sit Shawn down and get him back on track. Well, no one wanted to write Bruce. Everyone was unsure about the outcome. They were all very passionate when telling me in private how unhappy they were and how much they wanted Shawn out of there, but no one wanted to do more, than privately vent. They were all connected to the industry, and all of them felt that if the letter didn't get received as well as we wanted it to, then that might put them in a tight situation within the industry and with Bruce, Shawn and the NPPL. First of all, I thought they were giving Shawn way too much credit for his position, but I also thought, "Wow, it's no wonder we are where we are". The only people willing to stand up and say anything, are the ones that are lobbying for themselves to get into power positions so that they can put their own agendas into action.

Look, basically what I'm getting at is this, we have a LOT of work to be done before we can even begin to think about paintball going mainstream like the other extreme sports that are light years ahead of us. That work isn't just on our league set up, our formats. It's not just on price structuring. It's not just in media outlets. It's with ourselves and with how we work TOGETHER as a community to make this thing work. No one wants to work with anyone else because they are all sworn enemies. No one wants to speak out about the things that are wrong, because they are slaves to the hands that feed them. No one wants to give ideas or possible solutions on how to fix things because they are worried someone will either take them and make money off of them for themselves or that they will simply taint their original idea. I mean I can't blame them. Even I'm apprehensive about giving out ideas to the people in charge now. All that happens is they either outright steal your ideas and tie you up in court with their money, or they take your ideas, taint them and never do what was intended to be done with them to begin with. Without some sort of foundation laid down, without some sort of infrastructure that provides guidelines and rules to follow and consequences to those who don't......then we are destined to stay in this state we find paintball in now.

There needs to be a true governing body for paintball. A council, committee, organization, panel, whatever you want to call it. That group of people should be voted in by the entire industry which includes stores, fields, leagues and manufactures. Funding could come from a number of sources. Their job would be to lobby inside and outside of the industry for changes that would stimulate the growth of paintball and help shake this stigma we have. They need to be able to unite all the manufactures, fields, stores and leagues, so that we can make positive forward progress for once. The leagues don't need to merge, but they need to work TOGETHER in order to build new players and teams by creating nationwide leagues ran by local cities, schools, stores and even churches. The committee can work on a business model that accurately shows paintball as an industry and as a sport, so that they can take this to cities, sponsors, television stations, etc... We need to lobby at the city level for the right to put paintball fields within the cities to make it easier for leagues to form and for people to be exposed to paintball without having to drive out to the country to the closest field. Manufactures need to work TOGETHER and stop suing each other over every part that comes out. They need to work out a plan that they all can and will follow that will maintain a decent profit margin for their customers (stores and fields) and one that will stop the opening and selling of products to stores within a small radius of each other. They need to do more than MAP pricing. Both the leagues and the sponsors need to sit down and iron out a plan to separate the pros from the divisional teams, NOT to show divide between players, but to elevate our PROFESSIONAL athletes as such, so they begin to have worth. They need to be paid. The committee should work with outside sponsors and the leagues on ways to get money for the pro teams. Maybe that would mean the current team owners would have to sell a percentage of their ownership rights to a sponsor for the right to call them.....I don't know.....the "Chevorlet Paintball Guys"...., but that could be made up in merchandising later down the road. We should work with other extreme sports to help promote paintball with their demographically similar audience. What's wrong with a little piggy backing until we are recognized as a sport and accepted by the public. There are tons of other things we should be doing, but those were just some quick ideas as far as the direction of where we need to be headed.

I know it's a lot to ask for, especially with this unorganized industry, but it needs to happen. Like I've said before, I don't have all the answers and I don't pretend to, but I know we have to do something OTHER than what we have been doing for the past 25+ years. We have some people in charge of things now that not only don't know what they are doing, but they don't really care to do the right thing, because that usually means not making a quick buck. The old way just isn't working. We need to stop, rethink everything, restructure ourselves, work together for once and reinvent ourselves so that we can actually make a run at this thing the right way next time.

I know I'm not the most eloquent speaker/writer and I may not make a lot of sense to some, but I do know that we need structure.Leave a comment to tell me how stupid I am or to give your own thoughts on what needs to be done....I don't care which....just "Stand Up" and say SOMETHING!!!!

Brandon Lambertson


Gabriel R. said...

Are you saying the core problem with paintball boils down to greed?

Would it benefit the industry to have a nonpartisan, industry-wide advocacy organization?

One of the things I've long wished to see in the industry is a technology co-op. An organization where manufacturers can join and share their IP with others in order to avoid lawsuits that stifle competition and portray the industry as a bunch of children picking fights.

Brandon Lambertson 909 said...

Greed - Sad to say, but yes. Greed is a huge factor in this industry. It plays a role in every facet of life, but it just goes completely unchecked in this industry. Again, it's because there are no guidelines or infrastructure in place.

Nonpartisan - It sounds a little bit like a small government, but that's pretty much exactly what needs to happen. We need a party of people who have ONE goal in mind, ONE agenda, and that is to look out for EVERYONE as a whole. To help market paintball in a way that stimulates growth while educating the public on this industry.

Technology co-op - I agree that the lawsuits have gone wildly out of control. The big companies just want too much control, and they will put the pinch on any little guy who comes out with innovative ideas, simply by tying them up in court.

Gabriel R. said...

The new layout/design is a great improvement.

Baca Loco said...

Honest is better than eloquent any day of the week, Brandon. Look on the bright side, paintball's not going anywhere. And a little creative destruction may just be what the doctor ordered.