Doubles, The Opportunity: Hits And Misses
Following professional racquetball is pretty much about knowing where the top players in the sport are competing for money. It feels like this year's tail end of the season has some big gaps between tour stops, which confirms that racquetball is mostly all about playing the sport. I've written recent entries where I mention the importance of tournament directors where professional racquetball is concerned. Since our sport is mainly about the experience of playing, it's the TD's that bring people together in the spirit of competition. The pro tour's (s) lifeblood relies on events that are built around having the sport's best players showing up to clubs and adding excitement and unique racquetball experiences for participants. Players show up, play in their divisions and hang out meeting and watching the pros. Right now, that is where the money is for professional racquetball.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a resurgence in doubles play at the top level. Since the 2014 US Open incorporated pro doubles into the event, there has been a renewed interest. Last season, the Long Beach Open had a very successful event that was exclusively men's professional doubles. This year follows suit with a one division Pro Only (32 team cap) $20,000 tournament at The Belmont Athletic Club, a hotbed for racquetball in Long Beach California. No other divisions, other than a 16 team Pro-Am fundraiser for the Reaching Your Dream Foundation. That an event like this could even be pulled of in today's climate, goes to show the interest pro doubles can bring.
What is a big difference and may be a game changer, is that this year, instead of being an International Racquetball Tour sanctioned event, the Long Beach Open is a World Racquetball Tour sanctioned stop. The WRT has more regularly incorporated pro doubles at their events over the last two years than the IRT has. But that wasn't the reasoning behind the switch. The switch was based on upside reach. We are talking about an event that is pro only play. Pro only play is all about who plays. Though the IRT is where the best players currently park their names in the charts, the number of the marquee names couldn't trump the upside of the spread the WRT offered. With the WRT, the Long Beach Open not only gets WRT players, but now has commitments from Central and South American countries to send teams to participate. Along with the free quality online streaming that comes along with WRT involvement, much of the interest from these places may have been easier to facilitate since the WRT's agreement with International Racquetball Federation.
2015 US Open Doubles are International Racquetball Tour Santioned
I added "Hits And Misses" to the title of this entry because part of me feels that an event like this could have been a perfect opportunity for the two tours to have representative players show up in one professional event that is not the US Open. A "miss" would be that since it is a WRT "sanctioned" stop, the top 8 or 10 IRT ranked players are restricted from participating in this unique event. Looking at the current IRT rankings, there are some names that pop out. Aside from the obvious Kane, Rocky and Alvaro, who would be expected to show up in the finals, names like De La Rosa and Jansen Allen stand out. Jansen Allen is probably one of the countries best doubles players. (This statement is based on Jansen's previous USA National Doubles and International appearances.) Also restricted would be the Rojas brothers. It would be interesting to see how they fair in this international field as well as head to head with WRT regulars. If it's a top 10 restriction... then Sebastion Franco who no stranger to WRT events would be out, being that he is currently ranked #9 on the IRT. So, I can only imagine what dropping some of these guys into this mix would produce. An upset at the very top would be cheered for like crazy because doubles play produces more spectator response. Yet, looking at the way things are shaping up, this event will be crazy regardless.
Another "miss" is the feeling that this event could have been pulled off as an "officially" independent non-sanctioned event with some negotiating. For obvious reasons, having free quality streaming is a huge plus. The streaming itself is a big draw for people to watch, which in and of itself, one would think has value enough for the WRT to participate in this event without official sanctioning. I imagine the ability to offer up to fans the ability for commentators to include their thoughts on IRT players could be justified as providing compelling content. And maybe the non-sanctioned status in this event would have been enough to allow IRT directors to participate by means of keeping the door open for their players to show. Since there would be dual representation, stickers could be provided for both. Yet, the true obstacles to a best of both worlds "non-sanctioned" status event are the tour administrators themselves. When both tours take sides on issues and hold on stubbornly to idealism and personal feelings, it prevents opportunities like these from testing new waters. And without taking opportunity, there will be no opportunity for some sort of basic foundational unification talk. I mentioned a few entries ago that it's at these types of events that there may be a table with seats soft enough for both tours to sit at the same time. (Focus On Tournament Directors / Don't Let Opportunity Pass) Because eventually, something will have to give in a climate that just can't facilitate two tours indefinitely.
Regardless, this is a key event and shaping up to be a "hit". As far as marquee doubles tour stops go, this Long Beach gem belongs to the WRT this year. Whether the IRT can pull off a marquee doubles event this season that could be dropped somewhere, like, say Stockton, California, remains to be seen. But as far as the 2016 Long Beach Open, it's meaningful enough for me to actually make this one of the few racquetball events I will travel to that I'm not actually playing in.