(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the paintball industry
The first game of paintball was played in the early 1980s in America, using paint guns originally designed for marking trees and cattle. A year after the first game was played, the first paintball centre was opened in New York state and the growth of paintball as an international activity began.
Today, paintball (and its 'sister' airsoft, which uses small plastic balls instead of paint markers) is well established in the UK and is a popular recreational activity. The main UK association for the sector was formed in 1990. Initially called the European Paintball Sports Federation (EPSF), it was formed by members of the trade concerned that the wording of the Firearms Act at the time may have led to a Home Office ban. Throughout its existence the EPSF (which became the United Kingdom Paintball Sports Federation (UKPSF) in the late 1990s) has had an ongoing dialogue with the police, the government and so on to ensure the sport is fairly represented.
The UKPSF operates an accreditation scheme for paintball sites. To become accredited a site must be a member of the UKPSF and have high equipment standards, services and levels of staff training.
Recent developments include:
- a general increase in interest in all leisure activities
- outdoor activity centres becoming increasingly popular venues for groups celebrating an event, such as birthdays or stag and hen weekends. Many businesses also use activity centres for team-building exercises for their employees
- improvements in quality and safety at most paintball centres
- the designation of paintballing as an official Scout activity as a result of the above improvements
- a general trend towards taking more holidays and short breaks in the UK
- technical developments - for example the introduction of laser paintball systems
There is some evidence though that paintball participation is currently weakening, with speculation that the popularity of events like Tough Mudder assault-course races is eclipsing paintball. Others suggest that paintball has just gone out of fashion somewhat.
The economy took a sharp downturn during the late 2000s and remained weak during the early 2010s. Unfortunately for leisure businesses like paintball sites this did affect demand, as people reduced their non-essential spending and businesses cut back on costs like corporate events and staff days out. Nevertheless, paintball remained popular, and because of its status as a 'special event' activity there was still reasonably strong demand. Centres had to keep their prices keen though, and the market became very competitive, particularly as new paintballing sites continued to spring up around the country. The mid 2010s saw the economy begin to pick up, although people remained cautious with their spending.
The economic recovery, which started in 2013 and continued during 2014 and into the first half of 2015, slowed in the second half of the year. The slowdown in the economy continued throughout 2016, made worse by the economic uncertainty and a loss of confidence amongst both consumers and businesses following the Brexit vote in June. The pound fell after the vote, increasing inflation and reducing consumers' spending power. The economy continued to perform weakly with low growth in 2017 and into 2018. Little change is forecast for the foreseeable future. To off-set this to some extent, the weak pound meant more people staying at home and holidaying in the UK and people on holiday will often be looking for activities for the family. Also, people have continued to spend on leisure activities despite the squeeze on household budgets.
Keeping up to date with developments
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date. The United Kingdom Paintball Sports Federation actively represents the paintball sector in the UK and can provide helpful information, publications, training and support for paintball businesses. You can find more information on the UKPSF website.
You can get a lot of useful information by visiting a trade show for the paintball industry. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future equipment buying. Information about forthcoming trade shows for the leisure and outdoor sectors can be found on the exhibitions website.