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Smart Parts Paintball World Championships 2006
From the Casino to the Screen
For the last several years Bill Gardner Jr., and Adam Gardner of Smart Parts have made a continued effort to promote paintball through television and the motion picture industry. This has come to fruition with the Smart Parts World Paintball Championship tournament, which will make its television debut on ESPN2, October 6th.
As NXL franchise owners, the brothers were involved from the beginning in the moves to take the league to television. Getting tournament paintball on television was in fact one of the main goals that shaped the formation of both the X-Ball game format, and the NXL.
In August of 2003, during the PSP Philadelphia Open, the National X-Ball League held a press conference in which it was announced that a partnership had been arranged with Dick Clark Productions to bring the league to television. In a press release following the conference, the league stated that, “Bill and Adam Gardner of Gardner and Gardner Productions and Smart Parts, have been instrumental in interfacing with several major producers for a paintball-based movie and celebrity challenge-series. Bill has indicated that paintball is 'on the radar screen' in Hollywood and goes on to state, 'Mr. Clark and his team are very enthusiastic about the long term prospects for paintball on television'.”
One year later, a deal was in place, announced at the 2004 PSP Northeast Open. That deal resulted in the 2004 NXL Championship game being shot for television and broadcast in December of 2004. Unfortunately, that was a single show, and did not lead to immediate follow-ups in the 2005 tournament season.
Rather than wait for another TV deal to come at the league, the Gardners worked with Paintball World Cup founder Jerry Braun and Stan Morger. Morger is an independent television air time broker, in the business of getting television shows on the air, and arranging the television commercials that will be used to pay for the production and air time.
With Morger's help, Braun and the Gardners put together a plan for a multi-episode tournament paintball series. As the NXL's media agents, the Gardners presented the plan to the franchise owners. Bill Gardner described the plan with a price tag of $800,000 to cover previous expenses they had invested in promotional efforts, and another $800,000 to buy out their media agency contract (as the league's media agents, the Gardners has been previously guarateed 12 percent of the league's future earnings.) They proposed a payment structure that would send half of every dollar generated by the television project toward paying the $1,600,000 and the other half to the NXL. The half going to the league could then be used as the franchise owners saw fit – from recovering their own investments in the league to paying players. Further, Smart Parts was prepared to contribute over $1,050,000 to make the television project happen, over $640,000 of which was to be used to buy commercials for the company.
The offer was not accepted by enough of the NXL franchise owners to pass, with various reasons being cited by those who voted against it, including concerns that the deal would not pay to the league anything until after it had paid the Gardners, and the possibility that entering into a television deal before the arrangement with Dick Clark had expired would obligate a percentage of the league's profits to go to Clark, regardless of who produced the show.
With a business plan in hand, funding, air time and commercials lined up, and a television broker who was not willing to wait until the Clark contract expired, the Gardners and Braun decided to hold their own tournament independent of the NXL. This led to the creation of the Smart Parts World Paintball Championships.
An invitation based event, the SPWPC, drew teams that compete in the NXL. Due to trademark restrictions, teams made up of NXL franchise team players could not use their NXL team name, although their rosters remained primarily the same. In a 2004 email interview with WARPIG.com, then NXL Commissioner Mike Ratco explained the name restrictions, “Any use of the name outside the NXL(tm) by players is not allowed. This is a pure business requirement dictated by third parties interested in working with the NXL(tm). The names and images of the NXL(tm) are to be protected. The NXL(tm) cannot trademark a city but it can trademark and/or protect the team name (e.g. Strange). Bob Long's Ironmen would not be allowed nor would anything Ironmen. Shock is not Aftershock.”
For the Smart Parts Paintball World Championships San Diego Dynasty played as San Diego Dynasty. New York Xtreme played as New York Aces. XSV played as LA XSV. Boston Red Legion played under their non-NXL name of Russian Legion. Detroit Strange played as the Atlanta Predators. The Naughty Dogs played as the Seattle Naughty Dogs. The Philadelphia Americans played as the Pennsylvania All-Americans. Miami Raiders played as Jacksonville Raiders.
The tournament was played in the X-Ball format with a retro twist. In August of 2004, the NXL changed from allowing only semi-automatic operation of paintguns to allow ramping modes (after the first three trigger pulls the paintguns may fire more than one shot per trigger pull) and Paintball Sports Promotions followed with their X-Ball competitions shortly thereafter. The rule change came about from the impracticality that the leagues had faced trying to enforce a semi-automatic only rule, while still allowing players to bring their own paintguns. The problem is that even using test equipment off-field, there is not a way to catch a player with cheater software loaded into their paintgun's microprocessor if the software only switches into illegal modes of operation when a secret code is tapped on the trigger.
With the tighter control available at the Smart Parts World Paintball Championships than at most events, it was decided to return the game of X-Ball to the style with which it had originated – semi-automatic one shot per trigger pull only. As a step to ensure that paintguns were operating with legitimate software that would stay in semi-automatic mode, tournament officials oversaw the installation of stock circuit boards in all of the players' markers.
As a venue, the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Uncasville, Connecticut was more than equipped to host the tournament. The resort's 10,000 seat indoor arena is regularly used for concert and sporting events. Being indoors, weather would not be an issue for the tournament or television crews shooting it, and the hotel and restaurants on site meant all of the teams could be close at hand.
To produce the television side of the tournament, Paul “G” Goldberg of New York based Tupelo-Honey Productions was selected. Goldberg was chosen due to his history in sports television production, including a stint at NBA Entertainment where he received an Emmy Award for the NBA's “I love this game” ad campaign.
Previously most paintball television efforts have involved independently operated cameras recording to tape for editing later. Goldberg instead chose the method used in live television events – live switching. Sixteen television cameras fed their signals into a 53 foot long mobile production truck. There, the director used intercom systems to get the camera operators to the shots that were needed, while switching and fading between signals to produce the program, while Adam Gardner assisted him in anticipating where action would occur on field.
After the tournament Goldberg described the production as very complex, ““I’ve done football, baseball, hockey and even poker. Paintball is the most complicated sport to cover television wise. With other sports you have a focal point, there is one ball traveling around. You don’t have to worry about the entire field. Every player is a focal point and it’s very tricky to nail the right shots. You need to plan your coverage – how you allocate cameras and the shooting space.”
As a safety, the images from each camera were iso-recorded, or individually recorded to tape. This made sure that any action missed during the live switch would not be lost, and was available for re-editing or slow-motion replays.
Glass walled staging areas and penalty boxes gave the cameras visual access to the players off-field, while 24 additional microphones and coach microphones allowed the sounds of the game to be captured clearly. A three-piece house band was even set up to play live music as the show went into commercial breaks.
Ever present profesional paintball player, and commentator Matty Marshall, who has appeared in every major tournament TV show in the last year was on hand to provide play by play commentary with Bill Gardner, Jr. Joining the pair was New York television personality Callie Stydahar to provide player interviews.
The tournament began with eight teams playing in a preliminary round. Traditionally professional paintball tournaments pit higher ranked teams against weaker ranked teams in the preliminary round, giving an advantage to teams that have won their way to the top. In contrast, the SPWPC was built to be a tournament full of games that were exciting to watch, so the initial team match-ups were chosen to put teams with similar strengths against each other. This resulted in several close games, some with overtime.
A win in the prelims was worth two ranking points, a loss in overtime a single point, and a loss in regulation play earned no points. From the prelims teams, were advanced to semifinals based on ranking points. Ties in ranking points were broken by giving the higher seat to the team with the greatest point differential (goal points earned minus points earned against them.) The top four teams moved up to the semifinals, and the winners from the semis went on to play against each other in the championship.