NEH: Something Wicked Comes this Way

hurricanesThe following is a guest post by Jeff Stein of the New England Hurricanes, entitled “Something Wicked Comes this Way”. A bit of background; a few weeks back we broke the news that the New England Hurricanes would be restructuring their pro paintball organization. As a follow up to the announcement, Jeff answered a few questions for Now, almost two weeks later the Hurricanes have released several important pieces of information, shedding light as to how the guys from New England plan to build their new paintball team.

Something Wicked Comes this Way by Jeff Stein, New England Hurricanes

OK, the quote doesn’t work nearly as well as the Doors quote, but I like the New England-specific double entendre of the word “wicked” and, using the New England colloquial definition, I guess it works fine.

I’ve always prided myself, rightly or wrongly, on being something of a big picture guy, on being able to consider circumstances and events from multiple angles and on understanding the interconnectivity of events and ideas. And to that end, it was never a question, in my mind, of what would happen with NEH; it was simply a matter of when. The writing was on the wall, and it was there, if you looked for it, for a few years. I thought I’d have another year, and I thought that in that one remaining year, I might be able to do enough to squeeze out another year after that, but there was a lot of stealing from Peter to pay Paul going on, and I ultimately wasn’t surprised when it all came crashing down.

A lot of what happened had to do with finances. Not short term finances – I try not to respond to short term conditions – but the longer term future prospects of NEH. The team was entirely beholden to industry sponsors. We have no store, no field and no business interests to speak of. And so we were more exposed to changes in the sponsorship climate than we should have been. I think we’ll see a lot of teams who put themselves in that position in trouble this off season or next.

That reliance on industry sponsors comes from what I’ve been calling the 2004 pro team model. Back in 2004, the NXL was locked and prohibited teams from playing any other league, the NPPL was adopting a locked pro division at the end of that year and there were a lot of teams trying to cut their teeth as pros (the Hurricanes amongst them) so they could get in before it was too late. The job of a pro team back then was very simple – play to win. That’s it. Nothing more was needed or expected of us. There were a large number of magazines and paintball video companies and the Matty Ho show on YouTube and the hope and dream of television was everywhere. So it was believed that if you did well on the field, the existing infrastructure of paintball would take care of telling everyone for you, and in so doing your sponsors would derive value. It was believed to be very linear: do well –> be talked about by the press –> sponsors get value. TA DA!!!

That is no longer believed to be the case. For one thing, that “existing infrastructure of paintball” is gone. For another, no one is looking at television as our savior anymore. And sponsors no longer believe that the value they get from the press generated by the remaining media outlets is enough to justify sponsorship (not to mention, none of those sponsors have the money to spend on sponsorships anyway – so the pie is smaller and pro teams are getting smaller pieces of it).

And so we see the introduction of a new style of pro team. One that takes on the off-field stuff with the same vigor as teams in 2004 tackled the on-field stuff. We see teams like Explicit with aggressive grassroots marketing approaches. We see teams like Vicious, who have based the success of their organization in a regional hegemony that extends past the team and really adopts their entire region. And we see a lot of new pro teams that have alternative sources of income – be that a business that actually uses the team to drive revenue or charging players a portion of the costs for running the team. While that may not be enough to fund a team, per se, it does insulate the team from changes in the industry.

But there was more to what happened to NEH than just the money and sponsorship side of things. A few months ago, I became aware of an image issue with the Hurricanes. It isn’t so much about what people thought as it is about why they thought it. And they thought it because they hadn’t seen us in months and when they did see us, they weren’t prepared for it. (What I mean by that is, for every 5 teams that ask to scrimmage us, 1 would end up complaining about the speed or intensity of the game, or why we bunkered the snake guy or why we bonus balled the dorito corner and more than 1-in-5 would complain that we were cheating. This was one reason I stopped playing against other local teams unless I knew them.)

Let me tell you, it is a lot of work trying to compete at the pro level. You have to grind almost every weekend (NEH practiced almost 40 times last year), and each practice has to be valuable. You can’t just be out there screwing around or you aren’t going to be competitive. Trying to compete took all of our time – it basically put us in survival mode right off the start – and that didn’t leave us any time for anyone but ourselves. In essence, the New England Hurricanes became just about the Hurricanes, and not about New England.

That left NEH in an untenable position – we needed to fix issues on the field and with our long term financial stability and we needed to reestablish NEH as New England’s team, in more than just name.

And so, without further ado (950-odd words is enough), I’d like to announce what most people have already guessed at: the new New England Hurricanes.

I will be starting a new team. That team will play either D1 or Semi Pro (I need the PSP’s 2010 player ranking rules to understand the tradeoffs before I commit one way or the other). It will comprise a mix of players to be selected over a series of try outs (the first of which will be an Open Try Out). These players will fit one of two molds: either they will be players who we believe can play pro in 2 to 3 years or they will be players who we believe can train that first group over the next few years. Make no mistake – this team is being bred to bring the NEH name back to the pro division. It will take a few years, but that is the direction we are headed.

This team will be coached by Tim Maher, who played for NEH from 2000 through 2005 and coached us in 2008 when we had our best year, and Georgie Zervas, who has years of experience in managing and running a national team from his time with NEX. We are talking to DA about getting him back involved with the organization. We may expand the front office, but I’m content to start off walking before we run, so there’s no great rush.

We are going to videotape the building and running of this team, and will release webisodes throughout the year so that everyone can get a real behind-the-scenes look at how this is done (or, at least, how it’s done by me). I’ve never done a video before, so I’m personally looking forward to that project. I don’t know if it will be more educational/instructive or more colorful. I’m open to ideas here, so lay ‘em out there.

Of course, all of that is the easy part. The harder part is getting back to our roots – becoming part of New England again so that we can represent New England again. I even bought an NEPL franchise spot so I can take us back to where it all began. Unfortunately, there is a lot I can’t talk about yet; details yet to be worked out and finalized. But I can tell you that the end result is that we will be at the fields you play at and we will be playing with you. We will be approachable, not in a come-as-one-may fashion, but as a matter of principle. We are bringing bring back NEH clinics – two are currently scheduled at Matt’s Outback and 6 are going to be scheduled at Obnoxious Paintball in Long Island. Expect more to be scheduled after the national and local leagues release their dates. Fans are as important to our success as players, and being an active part in the New England paintball community is the cornerstone of everything we can possibly hope to accomplish in the future.

I have spent a few months talking to people about NEH, our image, our successes and failures in the eyes of local teams and players and businesses. I’m going to try to do those things that people want us to do. And I’m also going to try to build a winning professional franchise. And I believe, given the new parameters involved in that, we can accomplish both this time, instead of having to turn our back on New England in order to push for first place. This isn’t just dropping NEH down a division or two and then going back to what we were doing. This is a whole new way of doing things, a whole new mindset and approach to the team. And I’m pretty confident that the regular tournament player in the north east will notice the difference.

Over the next few weeks (and months?), I’ll release more information. PbNation is allowing the Hurricanes to keep our forum, so be sure to check back for updates.

Happy Holidays