Professional Racquetball: Mid-season Streaming Follow-up
Heading into December, the pro racquetball tours have been relatively active with stops since The United Healthcare US Open. The International Racquetball Tour has had two T1 events. The Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour has had 2 T1's, a Grand Slam in Mexico and one last one in December. The World Racquetball Tour has had two stops with one last one in December. So, if you are into watching live streaming of top racquetball, there was opportunity.
The IRT continues to see Kane Waselenchuk with 102 tour stop wins and counting, dominating on the court untouched. As long as this continues to be the case, all other players are playing for a chance to get on the court with him come the finals. Though the draws are far from deep, they have tended to be tough and interesting because there are a top set of players that see it worth their time and resources to make the draws. As a result, the IRT still reflects the highest level of play.
The WRT has been experiencing having new stop champions each time since September, with Mexican prodigy Rodrigo Montoya taking a win as well as Jamie Martell winning his first event after seasons of effort after the US Open.
The LPRT continues to see Mexican star Paola Longoria run through the tour gaining here 77th tour stop win. There is some resettling at the top of the ranks as Frederique Lambert taking over the #2 spot as she makes 4 of the last five finals. But what is most notable is that the tour has not tripped after being abruptly dropped by their commissioner, yet successfully continued to get through their scheduled events.
Photo: IRT's Kane Waselechuk (above) and LPRT's Paola Longoria
Business As Usual:
Following pro racquetball continues to feel like a deliberate endeavor. Actually watching the streams is a matter of having available time during the broadcasting and whether or not the streams can keep interest. As things work out, the IRT Network still feels familiar and it engages my time. This is largely due to the depth of knowledge regarding players and the general backstory of everything coming through the stream. Naturally, some match-ups draw my interest more than others, and that directly reflects how long I remain tuned in.
As this is being written, there is a strong feeling to state things that have been mentioned before numerous times in previous posts. The WRT and the LPRT have similar production endeavors as the IRT. They all situate cameras on a particular court during tour stops for live streaming. They each offer up commentary for the most part. They are different in that both the WRT and LPRT offer the stream for free. The IRT offers free streaming on occasion, when a sponsor covers a particular time. The basic stream model is what it is. The value there is tangible, but just hasn't produced the growth the tours have needed. That need for building value feels tangible too.
During the IRT Network's (EnetLive.tv) broadcast of the Winter Rollout IRT tour stop in St. Louis, the network's John Scott stated that they had 20,000 viewers at one point during the live stream. He was also going live on Facebook at the same time. Looking at the views of that particular live, currently at 4.4k+ views, makes me think those are relatively good numbers. Engagement with numbers like that should be actionable enough to generate revenue for the IRT if those numbers were sustainable for conversion throughout the weeks between stops.
What I'm pointing to is content development between stops. Fact: That is where the return will be for sponsor marketing. Tournament directors have to do a ton of work ahead of time. Likewise, set up for streaming requires a ton of work before and during events. The problem lies in the active work it takes to sustain the ability to continually create the return value that would allow potential sponsors to consider incorporating the tour into their already developed marketing endeavors. Think Kane.
Right now, Waselenchuk's (actually, most of the tours themselves,) ability to acquiring large numbers on the fan engagement end of things lies in the live stream. That is the only time the "what he does/who he is" is effectively available to large numbers. (I won't go into content strategy.) There is no work being pumped out, molded and "active" that could enable him to build solid relationships with large sponsors that have networks and media outputs all their own. The content is extremely limited. Conversely, if you just glance at Paola, her whole play works opposite to this because she has worked so her social posting now have influential reach. The streams and the info blurbs coming from the LPRT (like her ability to point to her continued winning,) now work solely to reinforce where her real value to marketers exists. She fits with what they are already or might be doing.
The tours should see themselves as producers with strategic content strategy based on acquisition and conversion and be able to work individually with players to help them produce content also. That would enable players to work in similar fashion to Paola's model. Note, Paola was wildly aggressive a few years ago cold-calling media outlets to let them know who and what she does. Now, that media coverage is her content. Since players do not have that type of influence, having real content representative of who they are and what they do would facilitate opportunity. More importantly for the tours, the "data" of racquetball mean something of value to marketers because it would be continuous. This would allow the tours the opportunity to learn how to creating specific value for targeting potential tour sponsors. The tours need to move away from relying on tournament directors to raise prize money, so they can just work on hosting. (This is important to state because for most TD's, raising prize money mostly works like soliciting for donations.)
Return on marketing investment is a real thing. Today, it is continuously active or your marketing message is quickly forgotten amid the continuous forced flow of information. The WRT has created a strong return for their primary sponsor Gearbox, yet the WRT has yet to transcend operating as a marketer of content that works for other sponsors. (They may have another model in the works.) The IRT can measure their return for their investors based on how their sponsors are willing to invest more money or less money, which ever that may be. John Scott mentioned on a live stream two events ago that unless things change, this would be the last season the IRT Network would be streaming IRT Tour stops.
For Kane, the stream is the only value anyone can point to when it comes to him. Yes, his record play is phenomenal, but if it doesn't fit with bigger marketers and their own media efforts, him being the best racquetball player on the planet is still just a sports story at best. There is absolutely nothing being done to communicate story, his talent or his personality that is generating real growth money for him or the tour. I'm not making this a story about Kane, more about the value that needs to be tapped, created, molded and fit into this media economy. That Facebook live made money for Facebook, and there was nothing in the follow up.
A Few More Things To Add:
Streaming is good. Right now, streaming is showing real growth. If I can use Squash as a model again, their efforts are almost all generated from their streaming base. Their continued content generation (short viral engagement videos), acquisition and conversion all start there. With 14 or so licensing agreements with streaming services worldwide, you can see the growth on just the streaming side of things.
On the tech side of things, Amazon is making a push to stream sports, reflective of their view in the value of streaming. AT&Twill be offering DirectTV, which unlike Netflix and Hulu, will be offering streaming channels, which means soon, the number of sports streaming services that will bundled into the services like DirectTV will be growing. Also, Instagram will be offering live video streaming like Facebook. Instagram can be more readily integrated in marketing plans to build engagement with live streams and even better for developing engagement for players. The outlet will incorporate temporary one-time view photos that can work with streaming engagement and already have "Stories" that can work that way. And lastly consider YouTube. If you are going to free stream, loading live on that platform can reap solid numbers. I've stated this before many times. YouTube will actively "push" your streams to possible viewers on the fringe of your groups based on their social streams and habits, as opposed to you having to point to where your stream can be found to your shrinking social reach.
And lastly, players... where are your active websites? Yes, they still are important. I've been pointing to the tours doing more for the players but I don't see players working outside of just posting on Facebook and Instagram. How will marketers know who you are? How will they know what you do on the tour? Where do you own your own content? Hint: it's not on Facebook or Instagram. Right now, all those posting are only mostly just making them money.
The money is all in the continued follow-up and continuous engagement. Then the match-ups will become more meaningful to a growing number of followers.