(Business Week) – This summer, Sal Corallo, a high school student in suburban Long Island, got some bad news via Facebook (FB). His favorite place to play paintball, the Island Paintball Arena, a rectangular brick building across from a graveyard in West Babylon, N.Y., was shutting down. Corallo, 16, had spent countless hours running around the course, firing colorful paintball rounds at goggle-clad opponents, and ducking for cover. He’d grown into a respected competitor, starring on a team of young sharpshooters and traveling to tournaments throughout the region. In the announcement on Facebook, the owners, John and Anthony Pennino, thanked their customers for 12 amazing years. “I think my heart shattered into pieces,” Corallo posted.
All across the country, paintball participation is plummeting. According to a recent study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the number of Americans who play paintball fell from 5.1 million in 2008 to 3.5 million in 2013. During the same five years, U.S. sales of paintball equipment dropped from an estimated $240 million to $139 million. Early in 2014 executives at Atomic Paintball in Southlake, Texas, abandoned plans to build a national paintball empire in favor of a more promising pursuit: mobile and outdoor advertising. In February, Kee Action Sports announced it was shutting down its paintball manufacturing facility in Clearwater, Fla., and laying off more than 100 workers. Yelp is strewn with reviews of local paintball venues that have recently gone out of business. In March, Los Gatos Pursuit Paintball, a family-owned facility in the woods of Northern California, closed after 18 years. “I don’t think paintball is dying,” says Joe Pommier, the field’s owner. “But I do think that anywhere you look, you can see a decline.”