Good Exposure, Bad Press: NJ Super 7 in the Star Ledger
I got home from work today and my dad told me that the Super 7 made the front page of the sports section. There it was, a nice action shot saying the story was contained a few pages deeper within.
I get to page 47, and there is a whole page very nice looking spread. "Really nice exposure!" I'm thinking to myself.
Then I actually read the article. Whoever gave this guy his info was an idiot, or else the guy just made it up on the spot.
I highlighted the parts that pissed me off in bold to make it easy for people to spot.
Overall I'd say its good exposure but the idiot makes paintball seem like getting run over by a truck would be a less painful experience. I severely doubt anyone reading that article who was on the verge of coming to play would go now, thinking it hurts that bad. I can CERTAINLY see mothers who may have let their kids go beforehand saying no way now.
I plan on writing this idiot and trying to get a correction printed. True, no one reads the corrections, but its the principle of the thing. I suggest anyone else who lives in north jersey (the Ledger's distribution area) write as well. Remember to keep it civil, please.
Rise of paintball is paying off for best players
Sunday, August 10, 2003
BY ELI SASLOW
Alex Fraige slides his muddy hand deep into his back pocket and pulls out his favorite possession.
It's a flimsy, undersized business card, blue on the back and green on the front. There's a picture of Fraige smiling at the top and an e-mail address at the bottom. Nothing special.
But a sly grin crosses Fraige's face as he points his finger toward the bold lettering at the card's center: PROFESSIONAL PAINTBALL PLAYER.
"Those are the three most important words in my life," said Fraige, 20. "Because until I show people the card, they laugh at me when I tell them what I do. They don't believe me. They think that paintball is some stupid war game, like Taliban training out in the middle of the woods.
"Well, look at the card. This is a serious sport."
Or, at the very least, it's trying hard to become one.
More than 1,000 people competed in the National Professional Paintball League's World Series in Englishtown this past weekend, and each day more than 7,000 fans came to watch. The crowd was the largest in NPPL history, which didn't surprise league president Chuck Hendsch.
After all, everything about paintball is growing. About 8 million people played paintball in the United States last year, making it the fourth-biggest X-treme sport -- one slot ahead of snowboarding. Three hundred people, including Fraige, make their living as pro paintball players thanks to growing prize money and sponsorship opportunities. The NPPL is even beginning a push to make paintball an Olympic sport nine years from now.
"Everybody keeps talking about the bad economy," Hendsch said. "But we don't see that in paintball. Everywhere you look, this sport is booming. We're starting to take it mainstream. We're giving spectators something they've never seen."
Call it organized chaos. NPPL games pit two teams of seven against each other on a field slightly larger than a tennis court. The field is littered with large, inflatable barriers that players can hide behind when they shoot. Games last for 10 minutes, and the team with the most players left standing -- or the most players who haven't been hit -- wins.
Bleachers surround the field and, during a game, the noise is deafening. Top-level paintball sounds a lot like a thunderstorm, with 14 players firing 10 marble-sized paintballs per second. The pellets travel 300 feet per second -- fast enough to dent plywood from close range.
But because players wear heavy padding, serious injuries are rare. To walk onto the field, a player must wear goggles, ear protection, a face mask, knee pads, elbow pads and a hip pad. One pro paintball player broke a collarbone last year. Since then, nobody has suffered a major injury.
Everyone who plays, though, suffers significant pain. Getting hit by a paintball leaves a baseball-sized bruise that sticks around for about a week.
"It hurts worse than anything to get hit," said 47-year-old paintball referee Michael Diaz, who had three bruises on his neck. "You have to be a little bit crazy to go out there and get shot at. This whole sport is kind of a weird subworld."
And it extends past the field. In Englishtown, 25 paintball vendors set up shop around the field, giving the tournament a festival-like feel. Several players are heavily tattooed. Scantily clad women -- known to the players as "paintball groupies" -- walk around the grounds.
Young ladies have become part of the NPPL's marketing scheme. At a tournament in Las Vegas, the NPPL held a bikini contest to bring in more fans. At an event in Chicago, the tournament hired waitresses from Hooters restaurant to work on the postgame cleaning crew.
"The girls are a big part of the draw," Diaz said. "The NPPL brings them in and lets them shake it. They think that's what the fans want."
Said Hendsch, the league president: "Players like having the girls here and so do fans. It's a marketing tactic. Girls are a big part of what we're doing."
Girls, though, are not a big part of paintball. At least not yet.
Of the 300 pro paintball players, two are women. So far this year, 400-some teams have competed in one of the four NPPL tournaments. One was made up of all women.
"The more mainstream we get, the more those numbers will expand," Hendsch said. "Right now, too many people see paintball as a bunch of war veterans running around in the woods. They think this is some sort of cult.
"The big thing we have to do is get onto TV, and we're working on that. The thing I don't understand, they've got shows on ESPN that show lumberjacks chopping wood. So why wouldn't they want to show this?"
The lack of air time is causing the NPPL to lose money, even as its industry booms. The league makes money on entrance fees -- it costs $1,650 per team to enter a tournament -- and sponsorships. But it's still losing about $5,000 per tournament.
Meanwhile, paintball manufacturing companies are enjoying what they refer to as "The Gold Rush." According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the paintball industry grew by 30 percent in the last year. Five monthly magazines are devoted to the sport. More than 50 companies make paintball guns.
Raven is the biggest paintball gun manufacturer, and the company is indicative of the industry's growth. Ten years ago, Raven started with one paintball gun in Tina Chang's living room. Now, it's a multimillion dollar company.
"It's huge now, and we think it will continue to grow," said Chang, the chief of operations for Raven. "People get hooked on this sport, and they spend a lot of money."
The average paintball gun sells for about $200, but pros use guns worth up to $2,000.
"It's super expensive," Fraige said. "But we're starting to make our money back."
At the tournament in Englishtown, the winning pro team took home $20,000. Fraige travels 30 weeks a year, flying to tournaments in Sweden, Poland, Africa and across the United States. Sponsors pay for his travel and give him a total of about $15,000 a year. So far this season, Fraige has made $25,000 in winnings.
Because Fraige lives with six buddies in a run-down fraternity house near San Diego State University, $40,000 a year makes him feel like a millionaire.
"Can you believe it? I'm a pro paintball player," Fraige said, massaging his coveted business card in his right hand. "Life's good. The sport keeps getting bigger, the money keeps getting bigger.
"It's really amazing when you think about it: I'm a pro athlete living a wild life. And I'm doing it because of paintball."