It Really Is Hard To Be A Fan Of Professional Racquetball
Video. Where is the video? Where are the highlights? Where are the short clips that run through my feed that I will inevitably click on that engages me? This is especially troubling to me because I follow professional racquetball hard. Or at least try to. I want racquetball to be experiential outside of playing with my groups. I enjoy writing about the players and how they progress in their rankings, something that is hard to do without substantive video. I can honestly say, this season felt like a total bust where video is concerned.
I read an article that had me completely frustrated for racquetball during the last two weeks. The piece, titled "Thanks To Youtube, Squash Is Your New Favorite Sport", had me realizing that if my passive behavior online is any indication of what my favorite sport is, the title was talking about me. I watch way more squash than I do racquetball. I am introduced regularly to new top players through the course of a season. I have developed the habit of clicking on almost all of the short videos that now pop up in my feed regularly. I almost knew exactly where the writer was going even before I could finish his paragraphs. Over the last couple of years, I've written a ton about what the tours haven't even come close to doing, which is use video to build up casual NEW interest. (Related BLOG articles listed below...)
By just writing this article, the author, Mikey Jarrell, directly represents an engagement value that the Professional Squash Association has deliberately worked for over the last two years.
What these videos have done so far for the Professional Squash Association:
* More fans from the outside of squash
* More aggregate traction with presence that directly contributes to larger pools of money for events leading to more and overall bigger events.
* Learned / learn how to more easily produce content that draws and holds meaningful engagement.
* Provided a platform for players (their product) to negotiate for themselves more lucrative deals for potential sponsors / advertisers.
* Put them in a position of leverage to merge with the women's side of pro touring. (Imagine the traction throwing Paola into the mix could produce.)
The move to condensing match action and getting it out fast was a deliberate decision and incorporated into their operating strategy. It is not passive, where as long as someone shows up with a camera and streams, then that's it. These videos are recorded then crafted based on the action AND the players. Videos is easily available to anyone wanting to see them, and better yet, it's the videos themselves that turn viewers into active fans, fans who aren't formally playing squash, or only playing with their friends and take note along this line, the writer breaks down his favorite top players and draws his comparisons of other sports figures based on their game styles. This type of pro tour engagement would not have happened with just an available free live stream or a paid membership. What free does is it gives someone who is already highly engaged the option to decide to sit through a 40 minute match and hope for something remotely gratifying. Beyond free, there is continuous work to do.
With what is available now with racquetball, well, it's asking a lot of me (and fans) in today's social environment to actively try and find action remotely on the level of gratifying when you look at the sport in these terms. (So much so that I don't even try anymore mostly.) It's so much easier to just get my need for racquet action from Squash and call it a day. I can watch squash videos for a half hour and get filled with all kinds of action, as opposed to searching for anything racquetball video related, which almost always leaves me with wasted time online when I do. Right now, I'm way more likely to watch a match that was recorded 10 or more years ago than try and find anything that can keep me watching that has been recorded recently. And even with those, I often won't have 40 minutes to mix in with my day to day online activity, especially if it involves random visits to my phone or laptop throughout a regular day. And they definitely aren't showing up in my feeds.
Professional racquetball tours have to get over themselves and do it for themselves. It is not enough to outsource streams or just show up with a camera and equipment, fix the cameras, then pack up until the next stop. Yes, it takes money. So? Consider how hard it is to raise enough money for just one stop. All the calls and the work to get local companies or altruistic deep pockets just to throw one pro stop. (I won't get into tournament directors here.) Trade a few stops for a plan. Sell that. Make the calls for that. A serious plan to provide pro racquetball with a way to engage new money through video. Initially, it isn't hard... a really solid high end video camera or maybe two, and a powerful laptop with some powerful editing software and a willingness and drive to get stuff. Get creative. Make some mistakes. But keep pushing content out. Video content. In-house. THIS SHOULD BE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA EFFORT, instead of just platform posting the same info on each outlet. Streaming is limited unless it is a method you use in tandem with committed post production. Post production is worth way more than real-time or recorded uncut matches. As it is right now, there are only a few people who profit from professional racquetball with absolutely no promise of sustainability or growth for anyone else. Unless something is done to jack up pro racquetball, our sport will keep getting marginalized by pickleball or whatever else is something that racquetball players play or do or spend their time watching online. The aggregate numbers and the money they could represent are owned by social platforms only. Numbers mean squat unless you can grow events. No company on the outside will put up money without a serious feeling that something special is going on at these events. And that serious feeling has to trump their old notions of racquetball and fit with how they spend their ad dollars.
Again, this has to be a deliberate operating choice for a pro tour. It's already way past the "should have been doing this type of thing time", especially when you consider how fast platforms are evolving now. To get an idea how solidly this is heading, look what Facebook is doing with video. Or dig into your pocket and pull out your smart phone. What may be even more relevant to the pro tours is what you can now see on Snapchat with ESPN and content aggregators like news and magazines. Have you spent any time sifting through how people are using Periscope? It's behavioral. It's cultural, just look at how Redbull is involved with handball along with understanding it's all about video. In my opinion, this is a MUST or racquetball will stay in the land of legacy players and homogeny, with relatively no outside (new) money being dropped in professional racquetball whatsoever. (Is racquetball really growing in this hemisphere? HHmmm.) Pro racquetball is still completely limited to within the walls of the actual clubs the events take place, where, if you're talking about true vested emotional engagement and return for sponsors, represent a few hundred people a shot at best. Why do you think it's still so hard to raise money for individual stops? We know what racquetball is. But to the outside, racquetball is still a dated club sport.