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  • Freddy Ramirez

IRT vs WRT, Rival Pro Tours / Has This Been Good For Racquetball?

The International Racquetball Tour has pretty much dominating the professional tour market since 1990. The World Racquetball Tour has been operating 2 years, give or take. With one look at the WRT, you immediately see the deep foundational relationship with Gearbox Racquetball. Gearbox was a relatively new player in the racquet production and was fundamental to the WRT was formed. Being a new, and a smaller outfit, Gearbox approached communicating their brand and selling racquets differently. Together with the WRT they found some fundamental common ideas about what they believed would be needed to grow racquetball. What effect will this have on the IRT and the state of professional racquetball going forward?

Both the IRT and WRT:

- Rely heavily on tournament directors to raise money for tour stops.

- Rank their professional players and formally manage their relationship with the tour.

- Both tours have live feeds and produce content.

But in each of these 3 things, there are very significant cultural differences inherent in their respective approaches. A comprehensive look at each one could be its own blog entry. Another entry could be how Gearbox Racquetball is thriving and is alone deeply entrenching in the market through Disruptive Innovation.

"Disruptive Innovation is an innovation that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts an existing market and value network, displacing established market leaders and alliances." The explanation of this term is taken directly from Wikipedia.

Although the market is not yet displaced, there is clear evidence that many of the progressive signs have occurred and are clearly measurable. In the 2 years or so the WRT has been operating, they have begun to change the market tendencies within professional racquetball.

Disruptive Innovation

For a brief breakdown of the type of thing I'm talking about, check out this video.

If you don't want to give this one 4 minutes of your time, you can find a shorter slightly more general video here.

Has this been good for racquetball?

I would have to say a definitively solid yes.

The sport of racquetball has been stuck culturally in a club-based model of the 70's and 80's. Professional racquetball hasn't been adjusting and it finds itself behind the cultural shifts to information being the new economy, and so, the sport as a whole is not benefiting from this shift. The social networks the fan base frequent, to which the tours and organizations passively rely on, are the entities benefiting the most from fan and enthusiast engagement right now.

But that does not mean that I'm fully behind there being two professional tours continuing to operate indefinitely. I believe we are entering a crucial time for pro racquetball. If we continue with two tours, and the models don't fundamentally change, one will eventually break. It may continue this way for a season or three, with a sputter here and there. But if it continues as it does now for more than this season, then my answer to the main question would turn to a definite no. Because that would mean another 2 years of scratching to secure tour stops and a shrinking handful of professionals that can earn a significantly comfortable living while touring. That would not be good for professional racquetball.

Further growth for the World Racquetball Tour will require one of two things, Taking more possible market-share from the IRT, or figuring out how to provide the deep direct connections it provides for Gearbox to other manufacturers or outside companies, which would enable them to lure big name pros with prize money. Further growth for the International Racquetball Tour would require figuring out what more they can offer in the way of return on investment, or monetizing their touted reach.

In the long term, markets always correct themselves. Whether professional racquetball will carve out its own sustainability in relative terms in the new age of information consumerism or 1:1 marketplace is the question. As long as some people play racquetball, somebody will always win. If more people play racquetball, pro racquetball will win. But it's almost a catch 22, in that, I believe, in order for growth (more people playing and paying) to occur, there has to be a culturally thriving professional tour of some type. And it has to be easily accessible and comparatively engaging to a younger culture.

Can both tours work together? My guess is that they both would publicly say they are open to come to the table, but would on the surface be passive or apathetic to it.

Privately, that would be a much more comprehensive undertaking filled with landmines.

Underlying issues from the past and personal positions have to be smartly and

delicately addressed.

Do they have to work together? Well, that depends. Maybe no. For one of them

however, working together may eventually play out as the "should have" thing to do, if the rival tour grows. If they find themselves in a market where their competition is legitimately thriving, they will find maintaining sustainability without a significant change or expansion in business modeling getting harder and harder. The market today is just too taxing on tournament directors. The key is not only mutual benefit, but also a progressive redesign on the offerings available to sponsors in terms of return on investment.

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