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December 02, 2008
In the wake of an announcement e-mailed by Camille Lemanski and confirmation by Paintball 2 Xtremes editor John Amodea, the paintball industry is rife with rumor and speculation about the liquidation of Pacific Paintball and its subsidiary companies and brands – NPPL, XPSL, Paintball 2 Xtremes, Xtreme Paintball fields, Camp Pendleton and Paintball.com.
The National Professional Paintball League began in the early 1990s, fueled by dissatisfaction with the state of national tournaments. Complaints of biased reffing, high prices and field-paint-only policies were a driving factor in the formation of the NPPL. The original NPPL was started as a corporation owned by its member teams – the professionals of the day.
The original NPPL structure allowed tournament promoters to bid to the league for the right to run an NPPL sanctioned tournament. Sanctioning gave the league control over rules, prices and a bring your own paint policy. The league used a 10-man, two-flag format with a rotating roster of teams from within the league to serve as referees. Reffing at a tournament gave the equivalent in annual series ranking points to wining the event, guaranteeing willing referees and theoretically provided fair judging by peers. In practice, players threatening referees with reprisal at a later event when their roles were reversed was not an uncommon tactic when calls were disputed. Most importantly, the bidding process meant that promoters had to provide a quality tournament if they wanted to keep producing for the league, and a standardized set of rules determined by the elected representatives of the players themselves – not dictated, or worse arbitrarily decided by the promoters.
The original NPPL grew and flourished quickly – but not in the way its founders had intended. Because players were receiving the better value they were looking for in tournaments, the effort put into the league evaporated. The league's board of directors, member teams and officers stopped putting in the time to keep the league structure operational. Promoters kept the tournaments running while the corporation that was the legal entity of the league was eventually dissolved by the state of New York for failure to pay its taxes. This transpired with no notice or complaint by the teams and players competing in NPPL tournaments because they had what they were after - tournaments they were happy with.
By the late 1990s, the NPPL existed as little more than a name used on tournaments such as the Las Vegas Open produced by DYE Precision, Bad Boyz Toyz' Chicago Open and Paintball Sports' Paintball World Cup. Tom Cole, the league's last elected president, and its rules committee were all that were left of the league structure. The concept of sanctioning went by the wayside as DYE and BBT kept the NPPL's 4th event of the year going by jointly purchasing the rights to the Atlanta Open from its previous producer, and rules were in the hands of the promoters as Paintball Sports enforced a rate of fire cap at the 1998 World Cup in response to the Shocker Turbo, the first publicly available marker with a ramping mode.
Also in the late 1990s, 5-man competition started being added to more NPPL tournaments than just the World Cup and Chicago Open, eventually appearing at all of the league events in the new millennium.
Then came the 1999 Paintball World Cup. While the paintball world in Europe was shown the beauty of what tournament paintball could be with the 7-Man World Cup Toulouse tournament held in a major sports stadium, the World Cup was moved from Old Town Kissimmee, Florida to a nearby piece of land used for cattle grazing and farm equipment auctions. The new location offered more grass field space – an important feature as the league moved to more concept fields and fewer wooded fields - but got off to a late and muddy start due to Hurricane Irene blowing through the region just before the tournament started. Games were delayed, netting had problems and the tournament was heavily criticized in paintball magazines.
Through the 2000 season, player dissent grew. Although the tournaments had markedly improved in terms of venue and participation over previous years, player's voices grew louder over the promoters not being held accountable for event quality, and issues of safety, site layout, overall look and presentation of events and even prize packages and profit levels. Internet forums were alive with accusations that event promoters had taken over the NPPL, and the players needed to regain control. Paul Alders took advantage of the Internet to gather amateur teams into a player's union.
In January of 2001, concerned parties sat down in Las Vegas to plan the year and take a serious look at league structure. For those representing the league, they wanted change – they wanted customer satisfaction, while the promoters didn't want to see the businesses they'd built and invested in taken away from them or destroyed.
An early point of contention at the meeting was deciding who really owned the name NPPL. The original NPPL corporation no longer existed, and the name had been used in business by the promters. The wild card in the mix was Scottie Flint who had registered a trademark on the name himself. After a short discussion he turned the registration over to Cole, so that it could be used as leverage to make sure the players got their due.
At one point in the meeting, frustrated with the possibility that the league would have the power to pull event sanctioning away from the promoters who invested the time and money to build it up, both parties left the table with very heated words. When they came back in the morning, the promoters had a new tactic – they had joined together to form a single company, Paintball Sports Promotions (PSP) and would produce their series of tournaments with or without the support of the league.
Eventually agreements were reached for more player representation, and for PSP to fund growth of the NPPL – supplying it with equipment to make player ID cards, among other items.
At the second event of the 2001 season in Gettysburg, PA, just a stone's throw from one of the largest battlefields of the US Civil War, division of the NPPL and PSP was brewing. Team representatives met and voted to confirm Tom Cole as league president and Chuck Hendsch as Vice President. Later in the year, Cole resigned. Lacking by-laws or a charter with rules of succession, Cole appointed Hendsch as the new league president.
Chuck Hendsch then went on to create a new NPPL corporation, and continued to grow both its strength and vision. According to Hendsch, although he was the owner of the new corporation, the long term goal was that shares in ownership would be given to the professional teams that made up the league, much like the conceptual model of the original NPPL.
Through 2001, the formation of PSP had shown a positive impact on NPPL tournaments, if for no other reason than the companies which used to be competitors were now able to pool their resources, investing in infrastructure like a $200,000 compressed air system that could be transported to every event.
As the 2002 season started, the NPPL and PSP found themselves in opposition. While PSP representatives said the league was asking for too much in terms of sanctioning fees, the league said the promoters were asking for too much in terms of long-term contracts. The season's first tournament, the LA Open was held before an agreement was reached, and adding fuel to the fire, three teams practiced on tournament fields before the event were allowed to play after paying a $2,000 fine – which went to the league and not the promoters. In May of 2002 the league and promoters officially split, only to rejoin later in the month.
By the end of the 2002 season, it was clear that the new NPPL and PSP would not be getting along. In 2003, PSP added X-Ball to its list of available formats which still included 10-man and 5-man. The new NPPL had its true coming-out at Huntington Beach that year.
WDP created a subsidiary company, Pure Promotions, which came on board as the sole promoter of the new NPPL Super 7 World Series of paintball tournaments and took the appearance and presentation of the league's tournaments to a new level. Features such as team paddocks for staging, VIP areas and complimentary fruit and water were soon echoed by PSP.
Through its first season, of Super 7 competition, the new NPPL used the phrase “player owned league” in its press releases. When asked by WARPIG.com if this indicated that team ownership was now taking place, Chuck Hendsch explained that the league was player owned because he, as the owner was a paintball player.
For the past six years, the NPPL Super 7 World Series has set new standards in event excellence that have had a trickle-down effect improving both the quality of competing national tournaments and regional tournaments as well. It came through on one of its initial goals – televising professional tournament paintball to a national television audience, in what was arguably one of the best produced and most watch-able tournament paintball TV shows to ever hit the screen. Adding a scrutineer to tournament judging staff allowed the league to directly address rule enforcement over rapidly changing equipment technology.
Although the new NPPL moved to requiring field paint only, operating with a single promoter with no competitive bids, and ultimate rules control still falling under promoter approval, it has been well received by the playing public, as these issues that had been rallying cries for the formation of the original NPPL, and the NPPL/PSP split turned out to be not so significant to players. The bottom-line is really that players just want good tournaments – how they get them is relatively moot.
While talk of "reunification" between the PSP and NPPL has become a Christmas tradition for many in tournament paintball, it has never been very likely. Each league has had its own customer base that it draws largely because they like the features that make it unique.
In 2007, Pacific Merchant Capital provided the financial backing for the creation of Pacific Paintball, LLC, which acquired ownership of both the NPPL and the west coast regional circuit, the XPSL (the current incarnation of the Great Western Series which became the Pan Am Circuit and finally the XPSL.) The XPSL's former owner Shawn Walker was installed as new president of the NPPL, and in the following two years, Pacific Paintball acquired additional companies positioning itself to not only provide the tournament series, but the media outlets to promote it. These acquisitions included Paintball 2 Xtremes Magazine and Paintball.com.
The 2008 season saw Walker dismissed from his position, and the December announcement:
Assuming the bankruptcy goes through, this will result in all company assets being sold off under direction of the courts, with the proceeds distributed among the company's creditors. It also means that company records, especially those financial, will become a matter of public record.
Who will purchase assets like the trademark to the name NPPL, or what form PB2X and paintball.com will take in the future remains to be seen, though PB2X editor John Amodea has commented, “I’ve been in paintball for 23 years, with 18 years of running paintball magazines. This is what I am and this is what I’ll continue to be.”
This also opens the doors for change in the NXL and PSP for 2009, as they will be faced with how much, if any change to undergo in order to accommodate the wants of teams who had gone to the NPPL after the league split. The same is true for Europe. The Millennium Series had initially been so closely tied to the NPPL Super 7 that its events counted towards points in the NPPL championship, but more recently has moved to the X-Ball Lite format over 7man.
The only thing one can say for certain about the 2009 tournament season is that it is uncertain.
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