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by Bill Mills
On January 12-13, 2001, the National Professional Paintball League held organizational meetings to determine the structure of the league, and how it would progress through the 2001 season and on into the future.
Attending the meeting were:
Other Interested parties:
Regardless of who the attendees officially represented, members of all NPPL pro teams except for Rage and Lockout were present.
When the NPPL was founded by member teams who were disappointed with the quality of tournaments provided by the then leading promoters, it was a player owned league. Teams which competed in the league owned stock in the corporation, and even received dividend checks from budget surplus at the end of the season. Events were produced by promoters who had to bid to the league for the right to do so. The promoters were held accountable to put on a quality event, properly using the league’s rules and judging. Should a promoter fail to produce an acceptable event, they would not receive a sanction to produce a future event. This held the promoters accountable to the players.
Unfortunately, the NPPL board of directors, member teams, and officers failed to continue the steps needed to run the organization. For the past several years, control and accountability drifted into the hands of the event promoters. Some promoters went so far as to make rule changes on their own (game lengths, pre-game warning times, and even use of various trigger modes), and were not reprimanded by the league. In the 2000 season, while the league showed continual growth and was taking strides forward, the NPPL events took some of their heaviest criticisms to date, and many players began voicing concerns that the promoters were not being held accountable for their events. Safety concerns, site layout, overall look of and presentation of the sites, prize package sizes, and even profit levels were drawn into question.
Before the tournament promoters entered the meeting room, league representatives and other interested parties held open discussion about the league itself. It was noted by NPPL President Tom Cole, while he believed that Scottie Flint’s intentions were not hostile toward the league, his attorney had advised that a legal situation existed in which the league could not hold an official meeting with Flint present without jeopardizing important rights.
Cole then allowed Flint to address the room, prior to the meeting start.
Scottie Flint explained that not only had the league officers and boards failed to run the NPPL as it was designed to operate, but in fact, due to unpaid taxes, the corporation of the National Professional Paintball League had been dissolved by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance in August of 1999.
Tom Cole then explained that while the board of directors had not met and other boards of the league had failed to meet over the past years, the NPPL Rules Committee continued to function, and took the mantle of leadership, making decisions that would otherwise be made by the board of directors. Cole stated that he was advised by his attorney that while no longer incorporated, the NPPL was still a valid entity as a private company.
Scottie Flint also explained, that out of concern for the future of the NPPL, he had registered a national trademark on the name NPPL, in the hopes of protecting it from hostile parties. Showing that this was in good faith, he signed ownership of that name over to the NPPL rules committee so that ownership will belong the league.
With that issue settled, the promoters – concerned that they would be dealing with whichever party owned the name NPPL (the valuable commodity to them – the right to say their tournaments are NPPL events) entered the room, and the meeting began.
New faces amongst the promoters were Richmond Italia and Ed Poorman. At a World Cup 2000 meeting, the rules committee decided that having the 4th event (Nashville that year) produced jointly by DYE and Bad Boyz Toyz, who produced other events was not in the best interest of the league. Italia and Poorman stepped in to produce the 4th event.
Cole distributed meeting agendas to all in the room. The agendas had been prepared by Lane Wright, and consisted mainly of a schedule laid out by Scottie Flint. It listed important issues the league needed to address. Additional items Wright placed on the agenda were possible inclusion of the NPPL tournaments in the World Paintball Series (WPS) and a financial disclosure by Jerry Braun.
In the first day of meeting, final decisions were not made. Rather, topics were discussed openly, and ideas brainstormed in the interest of developing new ideas and determining what common ground existed between the league and event promoters.
The major topics covered were:
While Braun made it clear that opening his books was not something he intended to do again, and many present commented that it was something not necessary then, he stated that recent criticisms of the World Cup had left many with the impression that running such a large bring your own paint event was highly profitable. His goal was to show what money was made or not made, so that the league would understand that some things they may wish the promoters to provide at events might be prohibitively expensive.
The Income and Expense statement listed event revenue and expenses which brought about a net profit of $130,350. Out of that money, $62,250 was used for capital improvements (hard goods such as netting poles, and other items that will be put to used at future at World Cup events). This left a final profit of $68,100 which Braun then put toward (but does not completely cover) the budgets for Ground Zero, Ground Zero Gold, and Ground Zero Silver. Other promoters commented that their tournaments which were smaller, brought in smaller profits, or not necessarily any cash profit – the main benefit being promotion and advertising of their own companies, as well as continuation of a league in which their own pro teams could play.
In most of the other issues, the general concept was that the league needed to be very specific with what it required of the promoters. The promoters would then be able to negotiate what was attainable, and then fulfil their obligation to the league. Some important points that surfaced during the discussion were a review of netting standards presented by Larry Cossio. A major problem with paintball netting in the past has been that there have been no standards – no definitions of what tests the netting must pass, how tall it must be, or how it must be secured. Thus claims that an event’s netting have not been “up to standard” have not been valid in the past. The National Paintball Association will be making these standards a requirement for all of the NPA insured fields and events. As the NPA typically insures 80 percent of the NPPL tournaments it would be sensible for the league to adopt similar standards.
Another key point in equipment standards brought forward by Bill Gardner is that at a recent ASTM meeting, a letter was presented from the American Medical Association stating that paintguns which were “mode capable” of firepower greater than “semi-automatic” were a threat to the health and safety of the public. The reasoning behind the letter is that with accidental, and even intentional eye injuries caused by a person, the likelihood of a double-eye injury (total blindness) was much less with semi-auto than with burst, full auto, and other enhanced trigger modes. Whether the risk is realistic or not, the political weight pulled by the AMA is immense, and Gardner suggested that the NPPL be a leader, rather than a follower in the move to only allow paintguns manufactured with semi-auto only boards (i.e. existing paintguns with multiple firing modes, even if they could be locked out, would require a new circuit board that is programmed to only offer semi-automatic firing.) One potential model discussed for how this could be implemented involved allowing only original equipment manufacturer semi-only boards. If it was later discovered that the manufacturer had a hidden method of changing modes, that manufacturer’s products would be banned from the league for a period of two years.
Laurent discussed possible inclusion of the NPPL tournaments in the World Paintball Series. This would mainly be a matter of working out the details of rules compatibility with European tournaments (most of which use rule books based on the NPPL rules), and point values for finishes in NPPL events. Performance at NPPL events would then provide points for ranking in the World Paintball Series. This would provide an incentive for more US teams to compete in European tournaments, and for more European teams to compete in the US.
The meeting moved with lively discussion of topics, and with most subjects, general agreement was achieved. The topic that became hotly discussed was just what the structure of the NPPL would be. On the league side, the idea was that the structure move back to how it was originally designed. Promoters would bid to the league for the right to produce an event, and the bidder which offered the most benefit to the league and players would receive NPPL sanction for their event. The promoters found this model unacceptable. They were concerned that after picking up the ball that the league had dropped, and building the NPPL circuit, they could produce an event meeting all the requirements laid out by the league, and still get dumped in favor of a producer with little to no track record, but with promises of grandeur. Tom Cole had researched team attendance via score archives at WARPIG.com, and prepared summary graphs showing the continued growth in NPPL events in 1998, 1999, and 2000 – growth as much as 20% per year in some cases. The promoters then used this chart to back their claim of having built and grown the league largely on their efforts. “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it,” said Dave Youngblood “but don’t punish me after I’ve done what I was asked.” After some of the most heated discussions of the day, the meeting was adjourned with the goal of meeting to set plans the next morning.
Prior to the Saturday meeting, the promoters met privately, and developed a plan, while the rules committee met privately, and voted Paul Adler to a temporary position of “Amateur Team Vice President” to give the team members of the APC a direct voice.
As the promoters came to the table, Jerry Braun dropped a bombshell. The promoters had agreed to jointly form a corporation which would produce and promote all of their events. This provided them with several key advantages. They would no longer be in competition with each other, but in cooperation. It was in the best benefit of all of the promoters to use their specific skills and expertise to make sure that all of the NPPL events were as successful as possible, not just their own individual tournaments.
While the league still maintained the ability to pull the NPPL sanction from the promoters, doing so now has greater consequences – it means that 5 tournaments get pulled, not just one, and new promoters would need to be found to maintain the league. At the same time, the promoters still have to answer to the league, and meet the league’s standards for each event. In two words – bargaining power.
The joint ownership of the events also meant that rotation of teams judging the event no longer depended on team and event ownership. Judge selection could now be effectively done by the league rather than the promoters.
Issues brought up the second day included the addition of new events and promoters. The promoters stood firm, that they would be the only promoters, but would be open to producing events on behalf of other major sponsors who’s name could appear on the event. Their concern cited was that the league would be judged on the quality of all events in the series, and if a new promoter came in and produced a bad event, they would suffer. While no plans were made yet for a 6th event, negotiation was very positive toward adding a pair of 5 man only events to the series. The leading location under consideration for one of the 5 man events was the island of Aruba, which is eager to host a major paintball tournament.
Then came the came the topic to end all topics – licensing of the NPPL name. The league wanted the right to license the NPPL name for promotion, advertising, and fund-raising, while the promoters wanted control. Various models were considered, with possibilities like outside sponsorship funding negotiated by the promoters going 80% to the promoters and 20% to the league, but if it was brought in by the league, 20% would go to the sponsors and 80% to the league. After various possibilities were discussed, and some conclusions reached, it was time for lunch break.
Both groups returned from lunch, the league representatives having met minutes before the return. Tom Cole said that the league would deal with individual promoters, and not a consortium, and left the table. Members of the rules committee stayed and talked to promoters, and some promoters followed Cole into the hallway to talk to him. After a few minutes, all parties returned, and discussions again resumed. Ultimately, it was learned that the big hitch in licensing schemes was that the league wanted the rights to produce and sell NPPL hats, t-shirts and jerseys as a way to raise funding to handle costs of properly administrating the league. Both sides of the table had different views of what name licensing had meant, and neither had a problem with the promoters licensing the name for use with outside sponsors (with a percentage going to the league) while the league raised internal funding through the sale of NPPL clothing.
Ultimately it was decided that portions of funding would flow from the promoters to the league in various manners, to make sure cost is not a hindrance in the league fulfilling its goals. The league will indeed be the sanctioning body. It has the power to determine what tournaments are NPPL tournaments, it has the power do decide what the rules are to be used at NPPL tournaments. The tournament promoters must submit site plans to the league prior to the event, and the league will have the power to require changes. Also discussed but not solidified was the possibility of the promoters putting up a security deposit prior to each event. Items not critical enough to pull the NPPL sanction away, but till important to the success of the league, would be enforced by percentages of the deposit not being returned if they were not fulfilled. Clearly visible barrel bag type safety devices will be required in the 2001 season (a number of methods for distribution are still being discussed). At some point during the season, ID cards will be required, and a team and player tracking database put into effect. At some point, probably during the 2001 season, paintguns which are “mode capable” of enhanced, burst, and full auto firing modes will not be permitted. Exact methods for this transition are still being discussed, as practicality of achieving this goal, is critical.
Also discussed as a future possibility was a restructure of the pro system. Many seemed in favor of not charging entry fees to pro teams, and providing only trophies as prizes, the pro teams would then win “contingency sponsorships.” An example given was that Smart Parts could offer a $5,000 contingency sponsorship to a pro team that won using Shockers. That way the prize money spent by the contingency sponsors would only be spent when it directly promoted their products. Also discussed was the future possibility of limiting to 16 pro teams, and granting each team a franchise – the ability to sell the right to be pro. Top amateur teams, instead of “going pro” would have their players classified as pro. The players would then need to switch to a pro team, or the team would have to replace a pro team that decided to leave (the bottom 4 pro teams would be charged an annual service charge, as an encouragement for them to leave to make room for upcoming teams). The other alternative for an amateur team who’s players had gone pro would be to purchase the pro franchise from an existing pro team. This would build into the model seen in other professional sports.
The rules committee also made the following rules changes, which will be in effect at the Los Angeles Open 2001:
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