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Hurricanes’ Jeff Stein Interview

The NE Hurricanes were a top 4 NPPL/USPL team that made the transition to PSP Pro in 2009. Beset with difficulties on and off field, for 2010 Team Owner/Captain Jeff Stein has decided to take the team off the pro circuit.

1. What was the biggest factor in your decision to discontinue the Hurricanes as a PSP Pro team?

Jeff: The fact, and it was a fact, that the team just wasn’t sustainable. I’m not in paintball to make money, but I’m also not interested in losing my shirt. The way things were going, I was going to have to put in 50% more in 2010 than I did in 2009. And in 2009, I put in 100% than I did in 2008. There comes a point where you just can’t afford to keep putting money in. I saw that point coming and decided to go tackle that problem before it tackled me. And, unfortunately, in order to do so, I had to step back from the pro’s.

2. I noticed that you’ve taken the team off the Pro circuit. Do you intend to compete the team as Semi-Pro or one of the higher divisions?

Jeff: There will be a Hurricanes next year. Right now, I expect that to be in D1 of the PSP, however the final decision hasn’t been made. I need the PSP to announce their team roster and player ranking rules, so I fully understand my options.

3. I know that Frank Connell of Avalanche played with the team for World Cup, and that there were rumors of Avalanche and Hurricanes merging for the 2010 season. Is this still a possibility under the Avalanche banner, and if not, why not?

Jeff: Well, that would a question for Frank, not for me. But from my conversations with him, I tend to doubt it. Frank, as you know, is no longer with ProCaps, and ProCaps was a major sponsor for Avalanche. Last time I spoke to Frank, he didn’t know if he wanted to stay in the industry or try something else. If he tries something else, it’ll be hard to get sponsorship. If he stays in the industry, he’ll get sponsorship – he’s been too big a name for too long not to. But then Frank needs to decide if he wants to survive. If he does, then I hope he keeps Billy and Thomas and maybe picks up some other ‘Canes and goes and kicks ass in the NPPL. But I think that the same factors that led to my decision are probably weighing on Frank, too. So we’ll have to wait to see what he decides.

4. If the Hurricanes were doing so well in the NPPL/USPL, what drove the decision to move to PSP Pro?

Jeff: There wasn’t money to play both and the PSP was the one league at the time we had to make our decision.

5. How did the players react to your decision?

Jeff: Some were surprised, some weren’t. Everyone was unhappy.

6. Among other things, there are rumors that this current situation isn’t the end of the “Hurricane brand”. What are your intentions with the name, or ‘brand’, moving forward?

Jeff: Well, as I said, I’ll have a team in the PSP. But I will wrap a new business plan around that team. We have a hell of a brand here, with a large fan following and some great players. There is a lot of great talent and a lot of heart in the area. In the past few years, we were so focused on trying to keep afloat and the here-and-now, we could never take a step back and address the larger picture. There is a difference between winning battles and winning the war. So I’m taking some time to regroup and retool and when you next see us, we are going to be ready to go after the bigger picture.

7. Aside from being one of the more amiable and approachable pro level players/coaches, what impact do you think your departure will have on the national level tournament scene?

Jeff: I think the national scene needs to decide what it wants from its teams. Is it all about the noncompetitive side of things? Is it all about the amount of product you can move? Is it all about demographics, market penetration and ROI? If it is, it is, that’s fine, but if it is, we are going to lose some really good teams and some really really good captains and owners who are just not in a position to play that game. That’s not their fault, it’s just that this is something new that wasn’t asked for in the past and it takes a lot more than just going out and winning.

When you think about professional sports teams, they have a division of labor between the coaching staff and the business of the team. Players play, coaches coach, general managers manage and none of them are preoccupied with selling jerseys or tickets or negotiating television contracts. But in paintball, we dump everything on the shoulders of the owner. Now, it is a transition and we’ll get through it, but I just sort of shudder to think of how much we are going to lose on the way.

8. Overall the economy is in the tank, and it seems that everyone is hurting financially, even the larger paintball companies. Now that you’re officially separated from the pro circuit, what do you think needs to happen to reform the industry and the leagues?

Jeff: That isn’t for me to say. There are lots of people with better information, more experience and more invested who know the answer to that better than I do. I think national paintball needs to focus on how to reduce the costs of competition and provide better incentive for teams to move up. I think a focus on regionalized competition that graduates to national play will be a part of the new picture. I think the industry will come to realize it wants pro teams who do the promotion and marketing work better but also can play some good ball. Eventually, winning will become a real big requirement again. And I thin the new pro teams will have larger organizations behind the team and will do more things and do them better.

9. What do you personally have on tap for 2010?

Jeff: New team, new business, new challenges and a new approach for success. When NEH went pro in 2004, we earned it. We had help, but we earned it. We didn’t buy our way in. And at the time, I was very proud to be one of the few team owners who went from novice to pro. Well, that’s not so special anymore. Lots of people go from novice to pro. And, frankly, I’m not sure if you have the option of doing that without buying a pro spot. I mean, you can’t be promoted to pro in the USPL without buying into the league. And the PSP doesn’t have a clear cut promotion or relegation plan. So, what NEH did, it doesn’t look so special anymore. But… to take a team from divisional play to the pros twice, that would still be something special, no?

The Ford Report sends their thanks and best wishes to Jeff Stein and The NE Hurricanes as they deal with this obviously difficult situation.

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