This quote was from a post I wrote almost 2 years ago. "I was on a call in February and heard something that made me take note. There were a few people on this call and the comment came from the head of a major racquetball manufacturer. It went something like this, "...and there is no growth in Outdoor..."
I realized this weekend the racquet manufacturer guy was right. And exactly how. Back then, I argued it was wrong and pointing to behavior to prove my point. But as I have been looking at professional racquetball players comprehensively over the past few months, I am sure he was spot on.
But he was right from a manufacturers point of view on the professional side of things. Think about it, a small number of racquet manufacturers are basically the only profitable group in the sport. (I'm not including clubs. And as for coaches, well, there are only a handful that are making a living as a full-time coach.) Because a racquetball racquet manufacturer's goal is to sell racquets to what is a finite and shrinking group, they can adjust their business practices to keep things profitable. The ones that adjust properly, stick around.
• Let's talk about growth a bit.
One kind of growth is growth in participation. This is the ideal type of growth for everyone involved in racquetball. It's basic. It's not rocket science. More players. More money flowing from consumerism directly related to racquetball participation. When these numbers go up, it's creates a healthy fight between racquetball manufacturers and vendors. This would be considered easy street for the "pro" player. Show up and grab some of the extra cash manufacturers may have to impress portions of this group to gain on the prestige that can develop when groups grow large. I don't have enough facts to say whether participation is up or down, though it doesn't feel like there is this type of significant growth from here.
Another kind of growth comes in the form of diversity. Racquetball players are becoming more engaged in different ways to participate with each other within our group of racquetball lovers. (Which I pointed to in the past article.) They are playing different forms of outdoor racquetball. They are engaging in different sports together like pickleball or paddleball. Add to that the occasional exposure to other similar fringe sports that our group accesses at outdoor events, e.g., handball or the catchy fringe sport videos on social feeds. This is happening. Racquetball players are growing out. It's no secret manufacturers are catering to our group and growing out with us with new products in their line up directed towards us. Pickleball is a good example of this. Manufacturers target the pickleball market, but can get a foothold in it through our growing participation in pickleball.
• Manufacturers won't employ full on professionals to "be" professional racquetball players anymore.
(Consider this a very late marketing trend statement.)
Most top level pro players will not gain ground monetarily with manufacturers because they can't really offer manufacturers value that can't be acquired by manufacturers easily by just giving product away to other selected players for various and timely reasons. As long as players will easily say yes to free product and maybe a monthly or quarterly check that covers a round trip airline ticket, this will remain easy pickings for manufacturers. If you are a "professional" racquetball player dealing with manufacturers for contracts, ask yourself these very real questions: Can you prove you can make people buy racquets? Can you grab the attention of racquetball players that don't already know about the brand you rep in detail?
• The following statements don't apply to a handful of players. (Put it this way, if I was counting the players these thoughts aren't directed to using fingers on one hand, I'd have a couple left over.)
Today's pro players have a few options that will allow them to be full on professional athletes / racquetball players. If you define yourself as a pro racquetball player, before you can find out what those things are there are some things you need to do. If you're not doing these things, you in no way have these options available to you. (Not listed in any particular order.)
- If your not continuously active and talking racquetball with your followers.
- If you start to try to engage your fans and you continuously fall off.
- If you don't have other interests or skills, or you do and your racquetball followers don't know details about it.
- If you're not training comprehensively with goals.
- If you're not truly committed or you're on again - off again about your commitment to racquetball.
- If you don't follow through with what you say you will do.
- If your not grinding it out, making your way into every possible event, including outdoor.
- If your attitude is "unless I get paid to do it, I won't or can't".
- If you don't know ahead of time all the events you will attend on your tour(s).
- If your not engaged, active and participating in the goals and the process of your tour.
Sure, today's pro racquetball isn't what it used to be. But there is definitely opportunity for growth. If you call yourself a professional racquetball player and you can't positively check off all the things I just mentioned, you're not going to see real "professional" growth opportunity for yourself in racquetball. But that is ok too. You may be happy just showing up to competitive events a few times a year.