When is Paintball Just Like The Federal Government?

editorial-125-button1Answer: When it comes to budgeting.

The primary difference between a personal or household budget and the Federal budget is that with a personal budget (with rare exception) INCOME represents a finite monthly amount and the OUTGO must be a lesser amount (or at worst match it). Otherwise you’re forced into cost-saving measures like losing the house, selling your gear (or finding an additional source of income that will prevent you from doing other things you’d much rather be doing).

Of course we all know that the Federal budget is not under any such restraint. OUTGO almost always exceeds INCOME – seemingly with little or no consequences. But then Congress has the ability to adjust their income whenever they want to by the simple expedient of raising taxes, or simply by printing more money.

This is why, in many respects, the playing of paintball (especially on the competition level) is much like the Federal budget. When teams need to shoot more paint, they simply ‘print more’ (with little or no consequence) by the customary expedient of hitting their sponsors up for more dollars.

Much like Reaganomics, there is a trickle-down effect as well: unsponsored teams are forced to raise their own paint consumption to keep up with the Joneses, the recreational players that watch everyone practice think its ‘neat’ to shoot so much paint, the scenario/milsim ballers adopt tournament tech and before you know it, everyone is writing checks for paint that they can ill-afford.

And the sponsors begin to stare an economic crises square in the face.

Chris Raehl has a piece in the latest edition of SplatXD that addresses the issue (albeit from a recreational field point of view). In it, he provocatively suggests that rec players (casual players, walk-ons) should be paying twice as much for their paint. The suggestion is an editorial come-on designed to raise some attention and controversy which it no doubt will but –

the main point is essentially on target. Some mechanism that will encourage the reduction in the consumption of paint will positively affect player’s budgets and may even contribute directly to greater enjoyment of the game by the casual player.


I have it on good authority from at least one major manufacturer of paintballs (well, actually from two) that the font of all paintball goodness (paintball manufacturers) would much rather see everyone shooting less and playing more – rather than blowing their budget two months into the season and not playing at all for the rest of the year.

The bedrock companies in our industry (or most of them anyway) seem to have finally eschewed short-term profits in favor of long-term growth – a change in philosophy that I personally welcome (and say ‘it’s about time).

So, with that said, I’ll go Raehl one step further and say EVERYONE should be shooting less.

And here’s how.

Tournaments and other major events should immediately put themselves onto a limited paint format.

Or at worst plan for doing so with the inception of the 2010 season.

I know – you all just love making those ropes stream down the field, you all get an orgasmic rush from diddling that trigger and it sure is extremely satisfying when than a-hole from the other team gets what he deserves for having had the arrogance to think he can shoot at you, but:

You all want opponents to play against, you’d all love to practice more, travel to more events, stay on the gravy train another year and (I’m guessing here) want your games to be challenging and require just a little bit of skill, so that when everyone knows who you are and wants to wear your jersey, it actually means something.

Way back in the day (yeah, boring old PB history coming at ya), Jerry Braun hosted a couple of series that tried to get the players to accept limited paint. Back in ’97 I emulated that approach with another attempt – tweaking some of the elements to gain greater acceptance of the concept.

I played in almost all of Braun’s limited paint events and found that it added several different elements to the game that INCREASED the complexity and the enjoyment: teams ‘spied’ on each other to try and figure out how much paint they were taking onto the field with each other or how much they had left for the remaining games, folks invented tactics designed to get the other guy to shoot more, aggressiveness increased: we had to analyze the other teams and guess what kind of shooters they were in order to plan our tactics accordingly, we had to more minutely analyze our draws for the prelims – any number of other interesting tactical elements were introduced.

And what it did for the budget was nothing less than stellar. For the first time, we knew exactly how much it was going to cost for the event. No guessing anymore. We’d be buying X cases – and no more. We’d need Y air – and no more.

It had a direct and positive effect on a team’s ability to compete, because we were able to attend more events.

My own experiments on these lines were greeted with negativity, but I managed to cajole the teams into giving it a try – and carefully followed their input as things progressed. Once they started playing on a level budgetary field, everyone agreed that limited paint was not a detriment, it added positive elements to the game AND it was even possible to DECREASE the paint limit, now that they were familiar with it.


The benefits go beyond making the game a little more complex and tactically interesting – even beyond making more events per team affordable. Limiting paint also introduces a greater degree of access to more teams. I’d venture to guess off the top of my head that there are at least as many teams out there that don’t play a national circuit because of budgetary constraints than there are teams currently attending. And that’s just on the national level.

Sponsors will obviously benefit, since ANY degree of limitation will staunch the blood loss of open-ended paint sponsorship (and the same for teams that supplement paint budgets out of their own pocket). I expect that under such a scheme, sponsors will be able to either support teams more deeply, add teams to their rosters, increase their direct support of events – or perhaps all three.

And finally – doing so will bring paintball more in-line with other professional sports. You don’t have baseball teams fielding multiple pitchers (though that might be ‘interesting’), nor soccer teams fielding as many players as they can afford, nor any other sports analogy I might care to offer, because one hallmark of the rules of professional sports (of all kinds) is that there are limits. Fields are constrained within certain dimensions, there are time limits, roster limits, equipment limits.

I’d like to see the folks who will directly benefit from such an idea begin to get behind it so, sponsors, what do you say?

12 thoughts on “When is Paintball Just Like The Federal Government?

  1. “My area is dominated by low cost fields, so maybe we don’t have the higher priced (lower volume) paint fields to provide competition like in your area.”

    Every area, no matter what type of paintball product they supply will have a certain demand curve. The damand will stabilize if the product is not changed dramatically. Your area has what it has and will probably continue to plod along as it has for a while, assuming no major changes take place. But that does not mean that should there be changes in the supply of the paintball product, one way or another, that the demand curve will not change.

    I believe Jeff Perlmutter understands that concept and is why he is actively buying up paintball fields and changing them to a variation that he feels will be popular with a lager number of people. He is most likely looking for fields that are not doing so well, but knows with the right changes, they can attract more customers and become profitable. If I were more of a go-getter and didn’t like my relatively comfortable life on my little piece of this rock, I would probably be doing something similar.

  2. I don’t think the economy has affected attendance at paintball fields in general (maybe in the toruney scene where players are always playing “at the bottom of their wallets” to be competitive). People still need/want to have recreation and blow off steam. Many fields have seen an increase in attendance the last year after having seen drops in previous years when the economy was booming. Equipment sales are down though. That would be due, in my opinion to the economy and even moreso to the fact that we have less people catching the bug and becoming “regulars” that need/want new equipment on a regualr basis.

  3. @Reiner: Perhaps the fields in my area are a bit different than those in your area. I thought that the poor economy would keep people from playing at my home inexpensive paint field, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, there seem to have been more people playing than in years past. My home field has an odd mix of players, so it isn’t uncommon to see someone using a stock-class pump on the speedball fields, or to see bright jerseys and DM9s in the woods. My area is dominated by low cost fields, so maybe we don’t have the higher priced (lower volume) paint fields to provide competition like in your area.

  4. “My comment was addressed more towards Reiner’s comments about growth rates of PB dropping as cases went below $100 and “better” rec fields charging more for paint. ”

    Steveo, you may want to reread my post. I didn’t say that “better” rec fields charge more for paint. What I said is that most of the best attended paintball fields have higher paintball prices. I don’t hink this is a coincidence. I know of several local examples in my area of the world, where fields that are quite similar have greatly varying attendance; the higher (considerably higher) priced fields get far more attendance than the cheaper fields.

    The types of customers are also quite different, which when you think about it makes total sense. The higher paintball prices keep those who want to shoot high volumes away and attracts those that preferto play in a lower volume environment. On the flip side, the fields with lower priced paintballs attract those players that want to play in a higher volume environment. I’m not saying that one field is bad and one is good. They are just different and therefore attract different types of customers. There just happen to be more of one type of customer than there are of the other.

    In areas of the world where customers do not have a choice (ie. only low priced paintball fields around), only one type of customer is catered to. The other type of customer is staying home or spending their time and money on other leisure activities. That’s the way the marketplace works.

  5. SteveO, it may not be more fun for you. It may in fact be less fun for you, if you prefer to play paintball in the 1 case/player environment. However, if you prefer the environment that 1/2 case/player creates, it will benefit you because it will create that environment for you. So it really depends on what environment “you” like. The cost remains the same eithre way.

    Raehl’s argument is that MORE people in general would prefer an environment created with half as much paint in the air. That means that there are more people playing paintball, more people at the local fields to play with, more people learing the game and “graduating into tourney players. In general ,it just means a healthier, bigger industry.

  6. My comment was addressed more towards Reiner’s comments about growth rates of PB dropping as cases went below $100 and “better” rec fields charging more for paint. But to the article and to the quote Reiner pointed out: “What I suggest is that everyone pay twice as much per paintball, but shoot half as many of them” — how does that help me as a player? My cost per day is the same if I am shooting 1 case of $40 paintballs or 1/2 a case of $80 paintballs — I’m still spending $40 for paint. I fail to see how this is more fun for me.

  7. I believe Chris Raehl is very serious when he says, “What I sugges is that everyone pay twice as much per paintball, but shoot half as many of them”. His intent is not to punish players by charging more for paintballs, his intent is to do them a favour by creating an environment with half as many paintballs and therefore more fun, while paying exactly the same (half as many for twice as much) for the environment that will be more fun.

  8. I could not agree more and have been saying this for years. It seems like debate after debate has ensued over the years over whether or not semi-auto should be allowed or only pumps (dating myself), later semi- vs. full-auto, ramping modes, etc, and ultimately just rate-of-fire. But through the entire history of the sport, while everyone fixated on the technology, the real issue they were trying to address was preventing the game from becoming a straight-up auction to whover’s willing to sling the most paint. It’s been observed often that a sure-fire way to do that is simply by having all teams walk on the field with a proscribed volume of paint…and, as noted above, the game takes on much more strategy, and is much more friendly to beginners. The current spray-‘n-pray game is very intimidating to newbies, and anyone who buys their own paint.

  9. SteveO,

    I think you must have misread something: Chris Raehl is the one who suggested that fields raise their prices in order to lower consumption – and he only said that as a provocative opening to a general piece on the concept of lowering consumption.

    I expanded on the concept and addressed the tournament scene, suggesting that the industry ought to be advocating (insisting) on limited paint events as a way to lower their own costs, the costs of teams and to make it more economically attractive for more teams to compete.

    No one – neither Raehl or myself – is suggesting that fields actually punish customers by raising their prices – and no one – certainly not Chris and most definitely not myself – is suggesting that long-running, successful and well-respected fields (like the two that you mentioned) should screw with their business model.

    I’ll bet that if you go and study recreational play at those fields, you will find a generally lower than average rate of consumption of paint on the part of their customers, and a generally higher than average level of satisfaction with the experience.

  10. Rec fields that charge high prices for paint are likely to get away with it due to lack of competition, not due to some sort of correlation between paint prices and quality of play. Good fields are good fields because they have good owners and staff.

    If you want an example of good fields with reasonable prices, travel to Upton, Mass., about 30 west of Boston. Upton is blessed to have not one, but two well run fields — Fox 4 and Friendly Fire. Both fields charge a reasonable retail price for paint ranging from $40 to $60 depending on the brand/quality. Not only that, but both fields are also always BYOP. Two fields in the same town are able to both stay in business because they are well run and have owners who care — not because they are making a $20+ profit per case of paint.

  11. Wow. Good concept. Sounds vaguely familiar. Paint that is sold too cheap at recreational fields is, in my opinion, the paintball industry’s biggest problem and is the reason the industry is in trouble today.

    Most of the best attended recreational fields in the world have higher paint prices. That isn’t a coincidence

    The growth rate of paintball at recreational fields (and by extension, tournament ball because most tournament players “graduate” from recreational players) didn’t really start to seriously decline until paintballs droppped under $100/case and dropped exponentially quicker as paintbal prices dropped further. Again, not a coincidence. This isn’t really rocket science.

    I’m not involved in tournament ball anymore but looking at it from the outside, I’ve always said that tournament ball would be much better served if it were based on a limited paintball strategy. It puts virtually everyone on an even playing field (much more so than reducing the allowable bps. Knowing before an event, exactly what the maximum that event will cost is a huge benefit for teams on a budget, which almost all teams are.

    There are also the strategic concepts that go along with limited paint events, as you mentioned in your article. I think you will see more and more “sponsors” getting behind limited paint events as they have realized it’s better to get MORE player and teams playing MORE often but shooting less paint, than to get a few teams shooting as much paint as they can, which is what the sponsors (manufacturers) strategy seems to have been since the beginning of tournament play.

    I’ll be interested to see what, if any, conversation Raehl’s article in SplatXD starts. I’m also interested to see what Raehl has to say about the problems facing tournament ball next month.

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