April 10, 2012

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The Future of Professional Bboying and NBL

Do you want to get paid just to show up at a battle? So do we! This post is to start a discussion to make this a reality.

NBL is the world's first Breakin' league with a goal of sharing the intensity, flash, and competitive nature of bboying to the world through a full-fledged professional league. Being crowned the national champion should be the ultimate bragging right, but NBL has lost some steam over the last couple years. While we fully support NBL, the future of NBL was uncertain to us; especially after the size of the event was much smaller than we expected. Why is that? Luckily, we had a chance to speak with Johnny Castro, Chris Couplin aka Ill Skillz, Chris Wright of Freestyle Session and the organizers and owners of NBL.

What we wanted to know was the future of NBL. Will this ever be a professional league on the scale of pro sports? We asked ourselves what it would take to create a National League that professional bboys could compete in and be paid professionally?

To answer that, we need to look at what creates a real professional league in sports and work our way backwards to where bboying is now. First, there is money involved from sponsorship and fans. Sponsorship only comes from having lots of fans and spectators. Whereas bboy events tend to only have bboys, dancers, and a few family at their events. Any national league has thousands of fans and spectators, many of whom do not even compete in the activity they enjoy watching. A fan is someone that is willing to spend their hard earned money on 3 things:  1. Event merchandise (so they have something tangible to take home and share besides just the memory). 2. Tickets to events (obviously). 3. Team or Athlete personalized memerabilia.  With this inflow of money NBL can steadily grow. Even the largest events in the world, like Freestyle Sessions, still only attract dancers and the hip hop community.

So, we asked ourselves why is it that bboying has not attracted millions of fans? Here are few obvious differences we came across when looking at the bboy community vs the professional sports community and other large events or shows:

  1. Crews come and go since they are managed by the "dancers/athletes" who also come and go. Professional sports teams are run by managers who are separate from the performers and can trade and manage players and the team brand. Without steady bboy crews for many years running, there is little time for a fan base to be created, and fans that are created disappear when the crew falls apart. In fact, the crews that have been around for a long time are the few crews with fan bases outside of their own home state. One example being Skill Methods (click on the name for a link to their website).
  2. Professionalism is lacking across the board. From what is known as "bboy time" (showing up late), to the lack of crew uniform, and even to the inexperience of event organizers. The vast majority of bboys in the scene don't seem to take themselves seriously (I'll explain), so how can the rest of the world take them seriously? 2a. Events do not run on schedule. This cannot happen. When drawing a fan base, events have to run on schedule so that fans know when to show up and leave. Within the League events, bboys need to know that staying on schedule is mandatory. This can also be helped by shortening the event and releasing a schedule ahead of time for everyone to see. 2b. Crews do not dress the professional part. Professional sports teams rarely change their uniform.  I realize bboying is about self expression, but this is a league separate from the underground scene. To create a fan base, crews need to always look similar in every battle to keep up their image and brand. This allows fans to relate and also purchase similar gear as the crews, so they can feel like "part of the winning team". I like to look at this topic as not the disappearance of self expression, but the rise of crew expression.  Just like the Warriors movie! Each crew needs to have their own style as a whole. This goes without saying that if bboys know anything, it is STYLE, so this shouldn't be difficult for a crew to discover and maintain. 2c. Crews do not maintain their brand. The problem with many long standing crews is that many lack "branding". Humans think in images and every crew needs a logo that represents the crew, so a single image comes to mind when a crew is named, not just the sound or word of the crew. One crew that comes to mind that has a logo is Knuckle Head Zoo (click on the name to see their website).  2d. Not all events are hosted by professionals. While Generation BBOY always shows love to event hosts, we all know that some events are run better than others. Events must be held by people with experience and knowledge in hosting events, not just knowledge on the scene and hip hop. An experienced event host knows that their event needs to be consistently great to create a following year to year. NBL strives to keep the quality of the event high so that viewers know what to expect and look forward to future events.
  3. Events are tooooooooooo loooooooooooooonnngg for a fan to stay engaged. Look at any pro sports event or any show that the average person goes to watch. They tend to be less than 2 hours long, not including travel time. This is the perfect amount of time to hold an event without starving the average fan, while also selling some concessions. It's also much easier for a spectator to plan a 2 hour evening event as opposed to a 6+ hour bboy battle. A fan can easily say, "let's plan dinner and a 2 hour bboy jam/movie/sports game/zoo trip/etc." Most bboy jams purposely include time for bboys to cypher. This is great but will have to be cut for the fan based model to work and for a league to grow. You don't see a bunch of pro football players in the stands watching another team play their game and at half time amateur athletes  come on the field and play a game of touch football. You also do not see amateur contortionists, jugglers, or magicians come on the stage of a circus show and just play around on the equipment.
  4. Even if there are fans, there is no merchandise. There needs to be a constant inflow of money into bboying from outside the bboy community (and parents of bboys don't really count). Every NBL event should strive to have NBL gear available. Also, once the regions and their teams get organized, there needs to be memorabilia of each crew/bboy available. Even if it is just stickers, tshirts, and hats, that is a great start!

Let's just get things straight. For there to be a pro league, the league will have to host events that are much different than the average jam. We are not eliminating local jams. In fact, the local jam may get 10x as many spectators because people want to get their fill of breakin' and the next league event is not for a few months. Also, because NBL is run by bboys for bboys, the NBL events can help promote the small local events.

If all these things are met a league will be formed. However, isn't there already a league out there that we all know of? We believe that Red Bull BC one is the closest thing to a pro league right now. There are a few key things that Red Bull does that make this event so spectacularly successful. First of all, they do much more than the average bboy event to cater to the spectators. BC1 is run as a show as well as a battle. They follow all the above points mentioned. They run on time. The event is short and to the point, but still epic. And while crews come and go, the same bboys are still there representing his own style and thus can create a fan base year to year. What is also important is for fans to know the line up (competitors) at the event. BC1 announces the bboys early on to create excitement. Red Bull makes sure the competitors are taken care of at the event, just as much as any athlete or star. This ensures the bboys are engaged in the event and not off exploring the city which may lead them to being late to the event. I also wouldn't be surprised if the bboys are paid just to show up to the battle (can anyone confirm this?).

What I have concluded is that it will be difficult to conform bboy crew mentality to the professional level (same uniform, keeping the crew together, etc). So, perhaps a crew vs crew league is not what is needed! Perhaps Red Bull stumbled upon the magic formula, or it was well thought out? I will never know. Perhaps a 1 on 1 league is much more feasible at this time until sponsorship picks up. Perhaps NBL needs to have 1 bboy represent each state. These bboys can be invited or advance to the championships through a local qualifier. This way the championships have 16 states/regions represented, not 8. It is also easier for a single bboy to rep a state jersey (professional gear) as opposed to getting an entire crew to rep the same gear. Not to mention, it is also much less expensive to fly out one bboy and make one custom jersey or outfit.

Just Generation BBOY's two cents. Get down on it,

Silva

P.S. Take UFC for example (<<click the link), a once bankrupt brand in the 90s that is now making in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. UFC was originally created by "true" martial artists who wanted to truly determine who was the best fighter. There was no rules and regulations, just an octagon with two fighters (weight class did not matter). Eventually the UFC wanted to grow and they had to do two things: create rules and market so that the general public would come to love the sport. The rules turned away a few of the old school fighters and organizers who believed that the competition lost the "true best fighter" aspect when weight classes were involved. The change in marketing was huge too.  UFC was marketed to the general public as a blood sport, which backfired on them and made their life very difficult by conservative groups and politicians. The marketing shifted direction to being more about skill and performance of the fighters and the general public grew to understand the fighters were real people and not monsters. Does any of this sound familiar to bboying?

Bboying has many parallels to UFC. The general public doesn't get what they are going to see, and they don't understand the competition because the rules and judging is vague and not similar from event to event.


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