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2004 NXL Championship Preview (Windows Media)

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NXL To Make TV Debut
By Bill Mills - Dec 2004 File Photos By Dawn Mills

Thursday Dec 9 – 5:00pm EST
Tues Dec 14 - Noon EST
Thurday Dec 16 – 6:00pm EST

Since its inception, a major goal of the National X-Ball League (NXL) has been to televise professional level paintball competition.  The use of the X-Ball game format by the league was central to that goal, with games that last long enough to produce an hour long television show, and to have scoring and penalties which could be readily understood by the general public.

A major step toward achieving that goal came in the summer of the league’s first season, 2003, when it was announced that the NXL had signed an agreement with Dick Clark Productions, in which DCP would exclusively represent the league to producers and networks.

While the wheels of progress turned more slowly than some of the NXL’s players would have liked, they did continue to turn, and the 2004 NXL final championship game between the Philly Americans and Detroit Strange at the PSP Paintball World Cup was captured by a production team wielding 30 cameras all focused on a single field. 

The results of this effort are an hour long show that is scheduled to debut to the public Thursday December 9th on ESPN2, and again on Thursday December 16th.  According to NXL commissioner Mike Ratko, ESPN 2 is currently available in 84 million US homes.  An additional airing of the show is scheduled on December 12th, not on ESPN2, but on ESPN’s Latin American channel, with the audio tracks dubbed into both Spanish and Portuguese.

The 2004 NXL Championship marks a number of firsts for paintball on television.  One of the most notable is the way the show is being distributed.  Past nationally cablecast shows have used purchased airtime.  In this format, the producer of the show buys a block of airtime from a network, produces the show, and sells commercials within the show.  This method doesn't require convincing a network to back a show, the main requirement is instead cutting a big enough check to the network.  

In contrast, the NXL 2004 Championship is programmed by ESPN, who receives the show from the producers and is then in a position to sell commercial space during the show’s commercial breaks.  This signals what may hopefully be the start of a shift in programming – where network executives see tournament paintball as a subject worth risking airtime for a larger return in commercial revenues.  

Also unique is the show’s format.  After a short introduction to explain the game format by Bill Gardner, Jr., of Smart Parts, the focus of the entire hour of programming is a single X-Ball game, from start to finish.  With one game announcer and one color commentator further education of the audience comes in the form of commentary, explaining why particular moves or techniques are significant.

When asked in an interview with, what effect ratings of the 2004 Championship would have on the 2005 NXL season, Commissioner Ratko stated, “None of our plans for 2005 have been conditional on the ratings of the television show,” though he asserted that ratings would not be ignored.  

Adjustments to the season’s plans could still be made if ratings information points to ways in which they could be improved.  With this in mind, NXL team owners have been hoping that every interested viewer will watch the show, and spread the word to at least three friends to watch.

Finding out when to watch, may be a little tricky as conflicting times have been distributed in both programming directories and press releases (some of which listed daylight savings time.)  At the time of this writing is showing that the tournament will be aired Thursday December 9th at 5:00 pm Eastern Standard Time (4:00pm CST, 3:00pm MT, 2:00pm PST,) Tuesday Secember 14th at noon EST, and Thursday December 16th at 6pm Eastern., and Dish Network’s programming guides both show an additional 1pm EST December 9th air-time which is not reflected on ESPN’s web site.  

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