I agree that when things started they were on bigger fields and out in the woods...But the idea that fields stopped paying refs and then the volunteers got lazy is not what I recall as much. When I first played in 90 the game was played on larger field out in the woods, but the "refs" that were there were volunteers just as they are today. They were either friends or family that helped out at the field. Usually for nothing or for paint.
And speedball was a natural evolution of the game. That is not to say it is where the sport needs to go, but it is a natural progression of the sport. When things started everyone had pump guns. Then the semi's hit the scene and the sport sped up. And it continued too with the ROF increases in the markers. That is natural.
Field sizes started to drop because owners realized that people naturally head for certain areas on a big field. And when you can advertise that you have 3 fields while your competitors only have 1, you draw more of a crowd. Plus as the sport grew and more than 10-20 people were showing up Saturday morning to play, some with special groups and various levels of experience, there was a natural need to have to break up the groups into smaller groups. This meant you also had to split up your fields. So even though your field was originally 20 acres you now had to break it up into 2 10 acre, or even 4 5 acre fields.
You have to remember that many fields did not have the ability to purchase the property next to them or anything else, so they were in a sense landlocked and had to work with what they had in order to stay competitive.
But what you are talking about as far as using the big fields and getting into the woods is exactly the reason another natural progression of the sport is becoming really popular now and that is scenarios. You are seeing a growth in that industry as they can draw hundreds or even thousands of players to the field for a weekend.
The comments of Speedball not being a spectator sport is true, but then what sport really is? Sure the fans that go to them really enjoy it, look at golf...not a whole lot going on there and quite often if you are a spectator, where you are standing is not in full view of everything anyways, but if you are a fan you are glad to get the view you have. The spectators of a sport are generally the ones that enjoy the sport to begin with.
One thing that really kind hurt speedball early on was technology. Look at football today and the camera work they are able to do in that sport now days. We could not do that 20 years ago. HD camera's have intensified the sport of football and made it a whole new experience to watch at home. If Speedball had that sort of technology available even 10 years ago then it is possible we could have seen better growth of the sport as it would have been more entertaining to view even on television.
I think even today on the woods fields...and with the UWL and similar leagues. Being able to bring the experience to new people through sources like video can do nothing but help the sport out. Video technology is not that expensive now days, placing stationary cameras in the strategic spots on the field. Refs with cameras, and even specific camera operators on the field could help capture the experience, and also allow you to "sell" the days games to people. Advertising spots could be made, youtube utilized and many other avenues of revenue generated.
Plus if the cameras are fed to the spectator area then you have something for people to spectate