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  • Freddy Ramirez, Wordguy

IRF/ WRF: World Game Comparison

I commented on the World Racquetball Tour's agreement with the International Racquetball Federation last season. The first event these two organizations cooperate resulted in an IRF World Racquetball Championships with a ton of match video and interviews made available on Youtube via the IRF Youtube page. They also have been uploading tons of classic racquetball videos and are categorizing them on youtube, so the racquetball purest can find solid historical match play and learn a thing or two about historically notable players.

With all the info that was coming out of the Olympics in Rio, some of the talk within our group naturally falls on the wishful thinking of racquetball becoming an IOC recognized event. Hearing these mentions always becomes somewhat of a frustration to me. After becoming very familiar with what the sport of squash has done and continues to do to garner IOC Olympic consideration in the form of money and effort, my thoughts instantly slide into the disfunction racquetball would have to overcome just to get a point where serious talk of inclusion could even be entertained.

Before I may inadvertently minimize the valuable efforts by dedicated individuals and groups, I will point to what can be taken away from some positive engagement I see being generated through the the partnership between the International Racquetball Federation and the World Racquetball Tour. (I noted their partnership in a previous post.) The active and continual posting of video content onto the IRF Youtube page means that for those who were interested, there was (is) at least the ability to watch some match-ups from the 2016 Racquetball World Championships. (I'll admit that I'm still a bit hazy on the Pan Am - World Championships stuff event stuff... and I thank Tim Baghurst for enlightening us with this new helpful link. Note, Tim has been working tirelessly editing and loading these videos for the IRF.) It takes tremendous effort to keep the up with the deliberateness of streaming and then posting the videos on to social platforms.

As of late, the IRF has been uploading archived older videos as well as a cool but a bit long promo video (below). Though interesting, the vintage videos seem random in purpose except to use video content that is on-hand. (I am not knocking it! I like skimming these older vids, seeing how young Jason and Elli looked!) I'm just not sure what the end game for all the work could be and how that translates to furthering the immediate mission of the IRF. That said, I think it's a good thing.

For all the video effort I see, I somehow can't get super excited about it, something I would like to do. I can see full videos yes, but I can't get myself to sit and watch a complete match. I scroll through to see bits and pieces while I'm on my laptop, but I continually get lured away by other interest bombs online. On my smart phone, watching just doesn't happen. I see interviews videos posted, though nice they are nice for those who are closely interested, I will confess to not even clicking on them at all. This is how the IRF World Championships Facebook posts worked on my feeds: A few days into the event, I began seeing some of these posts with frequency yet by the end of the event, they were almost all together non-existent in my first run feeds. (Directly related to how algorithms work today. Fast.) Simply having content and posting, does nothing for engagement unless you can get someone to repeatedly watch and spend a regular minute or so on your posts. Liking and sharing will increase frequency of course. To change this behavior as well as create a chance for interest outside of our racquetball group requires serious video repurposing for just that, something I have discussed in ridiculous amounts in past blog entries and quite frankly, may be a matter of just not being able to understand where value and growth may be found in today's one to one, rapid transition media and interpersonal engagement world. Horse to water type stuff. All this said, I don't believe the type of marketing that can create commercial opportunities for players should be coming from organizations like the IRF, but from the professional tours.

I do see some big potential and I can point to a working model with actionable examples. Two organizations with basically the same purpose in their respective sports; The International Racquetball Federations and the World Squash Federation. Both these organizations in my opinion are mandating themselves to facilitate active participation throughout the world. The WSF has been helped significantly by a growing and unified Professional Squash Association. The efforts brought about by a thriving pro tour substantially helps the WSF efforts, making their mandate easier. Without getting into specifics, I am only pointing the the WSF and saying to the IRF, "This is an example of what you should look like in form and function." Maybe I am oversimplifying things, but structurally a simple visit to the respective websites can instantly spark the conversations about accessible info as well as facilitating engagement and growth.

The good I see in terms of partnership opportunity is in the comparison that happens in my thinking between the deal the World Racquetball Tour has with the IRF and the relationship the World Squash Federation has with the Professional Squash Association. I've talked in the past about how the PSA has over the past few years grown significantly. (i.e. with basic video practices and returns.) The PSA has also underwent a merger between themselves and the Women's Squash Association, (which from here, looked more like an acquisition.) Now that both professional men and women are under one organization, it is easier for the WSF to fold their rankings and processes into their organizational structure. This works well for the WSF, especially in light of recent PSA growth. This is the type of opportunity I recognized when I put together the IRF-WRT Agreement entry. Having internationally based professional racquetball tours tied into its design could serve the International Racquetball Federation well. Now, when I get to this part, I can't help but think about where the International Racquetball Tour and the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour could fit into all of this. There is a need to address this for perspective. But as it stands right now, the World Racquetball Tour may have the foundational tie where growth and money (yes, money) can be seeded.

The IRT could or would be on the outs here if the WRT's relationship with the IRF grew to a place where it became beneficial enough to significantly enhance the tour's bottom line. (Yes, that is possible.) When the IRT had the agreement with USA Racquetball where the professional rankings influenced USA's rankings, that never really made much sense, unless there was a growth strategy by the IRT to have that same tie-in with all the other individual national racquetball organizations in their respective countries. Same with the LPRT. I totally think the WRT has staked a land grab that has been missed by the IRT. And from here, I think if the WRT can get their video return in order, they could offer something that could be valuable to the LPRT, enough to consider some sort of partnership that ties them into what can be gained by the IRF deal. Again, this would be wholly contingent on "if" the WRT can purpose correctly. Because, what the IRF offers, is engagement that can facilitate governmental support for players from Mexico and South America to professional tour stops. What comes out of those stops has to be deliberate enough to enable this to be sustainable. It has to be something that presents immediate fundamental growth potential for the players, something easily watchable and shareable by those with passing interest in sports action that can then be pointed to and offered as part of the "returns" for sponsors. It's right there for the WRT. Something that could (justifiably) increase prize money. If that happened, I'd have to ask, "What would be the difference between the IRT and the WRT besides say, having Kane and Rocky playing in the draw?" Kane is the greatest player ever. Most exciting to watch. But nobody outside of diehard racquetballers knows this. Time is not a friend here. De La Rosa right now is promised by the IRT what Kane now has, if he indeed becomes the number one through attrition. Outside of that, he is accessible to the IRF, something the IRT isn't in the position to fully capitalize on. I say this specifically looking at what the possibilities are for individual players in this climate. Where they come from now has a huge upside thanks to Paola and some of the synergy that can be accessed. When I see the Professional Squash Association's model, I see a potential to take a page from that and tweak it for racquetball. (Micro-market stuff.) On so many little levels, if (big if,) they can be identified and acted upon and properly pitched, things could swing in the way of more money. Money for prize

money. Money for growth. If these combinations where to become manifest, I'm not sure if there could be anything the IRT could do to maintain the best players in the world without striking gold elsewhere.

Ultimately, I'm a fan. This summer I haven't played as much racquetball (outdoor) as I normally do, but I have been playing and I still look at my phone often and work on my laptop. On my devises I see more about what professional squash did last season, is doing next season and highlights of incredible plays for one or two minutes at a clip. The Restrung Social pages are not yet in the habit of sharing squash videos. But it would be if I would see similar videos done consistently for racquetball.

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