- Freddy Ramirez
Model Growth / What Can Racquetball Do Now?
A few times during my conversations over the past two weeks, I either heard or read something that I've known for some time now, that there were subsidies available for club owners to convert racquetball courts to squash. To me, this made sense as a growth practice employed by US Squash. But this factoid came up as proof of a deliberate war against racquetball. I suppose you can look at it that way, seeing as how the subsidies specifically target existing racquetball courts.
My questions, as I think about this, would be ones directed towards club owners who could actually see this as something worth considering. "Are your courts being used and why do you think you could build more traffic and programing with squash?" "Is squash becoming more popular in your area of operation?" "Who are you hoping to attract with the change?" "Does racquetball feel old, or flat or unremarkable?"
Much of what I've been writing relates to that last question. It's not a far stretch to know that a healthy professional element and the ability to feel the action it provides through emotion stirring engagement can lead to people wanting to play more and see themselves as racquetball players too. From what I see from here, US Squash understands this too. The organization has been in partnership with the Professional Squash Association to run the US Pro Squash Series. To quote their own words, "The primary goal of the series is to serve as a marketing umbrella for US professional tournaments and to increase the awareness of squash through the professional game." Together they boast having exceeded $500,000 in prize money in the last three seasons. Though I'm not pointing to their success here, (I did notice that this season has significantly less events on the calendar than last year,) I do believe that the idea of connecting with growth with a visible, thriving professional environment.
I'll quickly note, this arrangement between US Squash and the PSA looks to have come into play just about the time the now defunct Pro Squash Tour (PST) stopped operating. The PST was an independent pro squash tour that was operating inside the US initially. (I had written about them before in the first version of Restrungmag.) They were at odds with the PSA and I believe had been forced to change their name to the PST from US Pro Squash early on in their existence, if my memory serves me correctly here.
US Open @ Drexel University
US Squash took some progressive moves towards grabbing professional engagement to spark growth. They took back the running of the US Open from John Nimick, who runs two of the largest squash events in the world, the Tournament of Champions (Toc), that is held in New York's Grand Central Terminal and the NetSuite held in San Francisco. US Squash has vowed to make the US Open the sport's first million-dollar tournament. Squash has a global reach, but more PSA sponsored events happen in the States than any other country in the world. US Squash viewed it as a major way to promote the sport as well as provide a pathway for emerging players to make their way to the top of the world rankings. Outside of Harvard's Amanda Sobhy, it hasn't yet panned out for US players, but the numbers of people playing has grown drastically in the past few years. When I first started following racquetball comprehensively about 5 years ago, the numbers of people playing squash here in the United States hovered around 250,000. Today, squash boasts 1.4 million players of squash in the states.
What I want to highlight here is the comprehensive assistance the US Pro Squash Series offers to promoters. (Tournament Directors.) They offer assistance with a range of aspects connected to creating returns that allow for successful events. The prize money for individual tournaments in the series ranges from $5000 - $70,000 and they offer services that can make promoting easier. (There are larger events here in the US run by the PSA, such as the ToC, where the prize money is $150,000.) These services offered by US Squash range from help with marketing materials, using their website as a landing page for your event and logistical support of all kinds. But what really pops out to me here are the high-end possibilities. They point to options for glass court rentals and point to the PSA's expertise with streaming. It seems they've found a way to capitalize on some strengths that the partnership can access from the other. US Squash uses the traction the PSA has gained over the last few years and facilitates financial development of these events.
Just looking at the US Pro Squash Series' Promoters page can immediately give racquetball tours an idea of what comprehensive return development to tournament directors could look like for an independent tour. This is not new. They know this stuff. It has to be re-developed in-house and again, first things first, get the engagement on the right track first. Then, these offerings can look real and attractive. Learning how to do this can open the door to easily actionable opportunities to pass off the very engagement videos you learn how to create. A perfect example is squash making ESPN2's Sports Center Top Ten this past week.
Last month, I posted "IRF/WRF: World Game Comparison", where I pointed to aspects of video and engagement and things that could be gained by a developmental relationship between an organization and a professional tour. In this case, the obvious comparison would be the International Racquetball Tour and USA Racquetball. Though, I am in no way advocating they get together to actively create professional tour stops. I believe the take away here is the idea that there has to be a realistic take on what the pro tours truly look like from the outside. (I've been told that my posts have become increasingly negative. To that, I say, there is a pressing need for a realistic take.)
Look at those club owners who are considering taking advantage of the subsidies offered by US Squash to convert their racquetball courts into squash courts. If you did, you would have to wonder how they view professional racquetball. Ask them how professional racquetball can help them put players on their courts.