World Racquetball Tour's Strong 2016 Ending: Steps Towards More Legitimacy
Alex Landa is probably best suited to take advantage of professional racquetball in the state that it is in today. There is an elephant in the room type of environment for those who aren't concerned with taking sides and just prove that they will compete with anyone when there is opportunity. Opportunity is more than just the size of the prize purse yet it is reflected in grabbing that winning check. Landa is that guy who can make an International Racquetball Tour final and show up at a World Racquetball Tour event ready to show he can play through a draw of WRT champions. That is saying something. For all the talk that the best players in the world play on the IRT, the WRT is clearly proving the word professional. Their "proving ground" is rolled into a forward thinking, "let's do what we do" and let our work and our engagement speak for themselves vibe. Right now, that is worth more to players who want to take advantage of their own personal opportunities with marketers today. This is value for Landa.
Winning the Alamo City Open wasn't an easy stroll for Landa. It is more than safe to say, that if Alex played the IRT regularly, he would arguably be in the top 3 or 4, definitely the top 5. Yet, for someone like him, (and a few other players found in this draw,) the opportunity to play the WRT is there because he is not in the top 8 on IRT because he hasn't played with the frequency as players in that listing. Here, he started out in the round of 32's and had to play through two of the last three event winners as well as the year-end champion for this win. I could go on about the depth of this draw and how this is a world-class draw, but for all that talk, it is the players themselves that recognize what this draw could be. And if they don't, in time, they will. (I'm at a loss as to why some of the younger players on the IRT are not seeing the opportunity touring as a professional actually is at this point in time. It's not enough to say you are focused on the IRT if you are outside the top 8, because the upside and the reality of things, is so limited for them in that thinking.)
The WRT delivers a clean product and with it's 4 camera set up including the front mounted camera continues to get better. Camera technology will continue to improve and become increasingly attainable. It promises that in a short time, grabbing video inside solid wall courts from various angles will be very worth the slight hindrances they may cause during play. You most likely will be seeing more highlight type viral videos released from the WRT.
They communicate that they are thinking big, even discussing the drug testing that was happening during the event. Tim Baghurst, who has been spearheading the International Racquetball Federation's video efforts, was commentating along with the WRT's Laura McCormick and they were openly discussing this explaining how their is a drive to build on legitimacy. There was lofty talk of Olympics, but that in no way lessens the importance of what they are doing. It's a legit thing to do, not just for international competition, but for professionalism.
Front camera view from the WRT live stream.
The talk of professionalism didn't just go there. The WRT presented an open vote for annual player awards that acknowledges players through their fan base. The commentators also got real about the need for the players to view everything they do professionally. When you hear commentary regarding the discussion with players about heading to Walmart before you hit the club instead of relying on the food that may be provided during an event, you get the sense that there is real work with the players going on. That is growth gold.
Baghurst has also connected with Squashmad and is taking the time to write articles about racquetball events, opening the door for McCormick's contribution regarding the Alamo event. I know Alan Thatcher is a big proponent the sport of Squash engaging with racquetball, being a advocate for British style racketball within the squash community. Getting Alex Landa's photo and a WRT topic article on a Squashmad tweet and article is the step for the WRT in normalizing regular info about professional racquetball to the Squash set. A great thing for aggregate numbers, fan engagement and the ability for players to point to their own influence to marketers.
There are some great things in store for 2017. Professional racquetball will mature into positive change, one way or another.