Over the last few weeks talking about the IRT and WRT tours, the conversations have mostly hinged on how having two tours operating in a small market is viewed by both sides. (If you haven't heard the discussions, you can hear the talk on the Racquetball Restrung podcast.) Resources, tournament directors and player opportunity drove much of the opinions about direction and sentiments of the differing directions.
One thing I have noticed this season, is the sort of turn around with some aspects of how things have gone down with young aspiring professional players and where they are showing up. The World Racquetball Tour was first established because of their drive to get young professionals towards competitive opportunity. To date, they have created events that bring their select players into markets that are both new and trending with revival. Since a WRT stop is considerably less expensive to host, as opposed to an IRT stop, what some tournament directors are realizing that what the WRT offers, helps them facilitate engagement where they are. Tournaments are cheaper to produce, and the WRT then brings high end players and streaming without possible conflict. So, for many events that may have been long lasting events or events in revival, it has become easier to keep them going or rebuild... events that are just that, local-event based, not necessarily pro player based, providing the same type of excitement, action and interaction with traveling professionals. The WRT has definitely given young players opportunities, and have revived some careers, but what they bring is an injection of youth and energy to locations... a traveling Dew Tour so to speak. But right now, their impact is grass roots, and the type of traveling that goes along with the tour, is ground based racquetball engagement.
With the International Racquetball Tour, the tour around has been a bit different. It's not so much in the events themselves, it's starting to happen in the draws. They've been able to benefit from some industrious players and creative problem solving with logisitcs and travel. They now have a bus that specifically sticks to their tour thanks to Momo Zeleda. The relatively small financial support given him along with hotel rooms to allow players to pile into, that are provided by Rocky Carson's relationship with the Reaching Your Dream Foundation has been helping to turn the early parts of their draw into legitimate action, filled with hungry aspiring professionals. No doubt, these draws seem more compelling because of who they play into.
Case in point, the first active weekend for both tours. The WRT was at the Longhorn Open in Texas, though not as a sanctioning body. The Longhorn is one of the most popular events of the year in that racquetball heavy state. The WRT was able to help with some of the logistical problems and provide streaming, which turned that event into something fun and big... it is Texas. The IRT, by contrast, was in New York. This event was an almost no go. The NYC stop was one of the most important in a number of ways being one of the few with 3 wall glass viewing. But it came together in the last few weeks in a big way, and provided an ideal draw with young, hungry talent. It's clear that, even with the WRT pushing for young professionals to see them as the tour with opportunity, there remains a strong young contingent that aspires to the IRT, rightly so, because they have the best players in the world right now.
It's about sustainability right now. With the WRT, as long as Gearbox continues thriving with their formula, they will be able to keep the WRT rolling into markets, bringing their brand of high level racquetball, cool easy, free streaming and engaging on the ground. The IRT will be heavily reliant on tournament directors, players and outside organizations helping to make things happen. They have access to video streaming on EnetLive and possibly the ability to turn that into viral stuff, but how that effort will be directed may be critical.
The WRT sees growth like building blocks. There seems to be a pattern. For the IRT, growth is resting on the shoulders of the players themselves and the thinking that helps them do what they need to do right now. IRT and WRT; Two different formulas at work. (I am looking at things respectively here, in the U.S.) As long as things remain comprehensively separate, it will be difficult for any large outside companies to see the big value possible with racquetball. As things stand, for the IRT, that would have to be solely created in this climate by the professional player on an individual basis.