This past weekend saw the round up of the XXVII Pan American Championships. Again, I tuned into the good updates by Cheryl Kirk on USA Racquetball's website blog. A few things bouncing around my mind since following some of it.
Firstly, John Scott showing up and initiated the first broadcast on Enetlive for the International Racquetball Federation since their agreement. My first thought was, that, I questioned it because it nixed the IRF's practice of broadcasting two courts continuously throughout competition. Even though they were mostly random matches, based on scheduling times and divisional draws, at least there was always something to check out. Admittedly, I wouldn't stay on too long, unless I'd be lucky enough to catch some players I knew. And even then, my bounce rate was pretty high.
As soon as I tuned into the IRF Network broadcast, I was immediately impressed by the quality of the camera set in the back left corner. Crisp and clear, and together with John and Gary Mazaroff (IRF) commentating reduced my bounce rate, though the semi-final match-ups themselves would have had me watching, or at least trying to watch in-between whatever I was doing at the time. I think the energy level was markedly different than the usual pro stop broadcast. It was a cultural thing I thought. There is just so much upside with what is happening in Central and South America where racquetball is concerned. It's understood to me that it's this type of thing John Scott is trying to do with the EnetLive. (Which for me, is the IRT Network, because that's my interest group.)
Making it happen is definitely an endeavor of work in something you love, and Scott being a smart guy is working to make it profitable, sustainable. You gotta respect the guy. I admit, I often get frustrated working through all the ads on the pages that load first, testing my patience, which can be pretty short at times. I'm also a guy that is pretty mobile, and I'll watch on my phone, which often works better for me. (Though I often think, John, please, make that tiny tiny Android view link bigger. It's sandwiched between two ads that almost always draw a click...causing some choice frustrations. Whether it's inadvertent or deliberate to bump up quotable click throughs, I don't know but it's not finger friendly.) As things are right now, broadcasting racquetball and having matches available to view is worth the prescription rate, if you are a diehard fan.
Secondly, for a guy like Jose Rojas, operating in Central and South America may be key for moving a bit beyond just making a living for a few years playing professionally. I say this, because I'd be very interested to see a well developed age/participation comparison between that market and the US. I'd bet their median age group is younger.
Thirdly, what people are doing and saying. In many respects, we just keep looking to the old models here, so John Scott's model will be just too reliant on the same old groups. I'm not saying he can't sustain, I'm saying the game just won't change, if we keep looking to the clubs as the point of change. The same way health clubs changed in the 80's, accommodating demand for aerobics through to what follows today, will be the only way clubs adjust to demand. They are not going to build up/out or invest as a whole on racquetball as things are today.
There was an interesting article (re)posted by 40x20 on Facebook. The responses were typical. And though the article hit on some valid points, that in some cases may apply today, I can't agree, that we should be looking more to presentation at the clubs to make things interesting. I spent a week on the Gearbox Bus in Mexico. Rafa, Anthony and the WRT believe strongly in many of the points the article makes, and work really hard to engage in most of them. But it's still the same group that will be making the trip to the clubs. So, you are just somewhat augmenting the experience for the same group. For the most part, they will come anyway. Increased numbers, as they come by today, is only a matter of convenience. The return on investing in showmanship just doesn't return. And that is why I think that is not the place to start. You have to start where people are at and get them thinking "so cool", and get them acting in engagement. (And selling that to groups that don't see worth in what and where we are right now.) That requires a complete re-think and mostly a complete letting go of some things that are held too tightly. It's not going to happen in the clubs. The clubs right now, even though that's where we are playing and touring, are keeping the sport where it is.
But man, Maria Jose Vargas and Jose Rojas. (And Daniel...though quite intriguing that he wasn't playing singles. And for Bobby Horn and his experience there.) Big weekend for these two. Absent was Rocky, Paola and maybe a few others. Though it may indicate that they just couldn't justify the value of showing up, it was better that they didn't. It made Maria and Jose (and what and who they are,) more accessible to that growing group south of our borders.