- Freddy Ramirez
A Magic Number
With the first stop on the International Racquetball Tour taking place this past weekend, the complete start of the new professional racquetball season has come. The World Racquetball Tour has had two events in August as did the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour. Yet, now that the 2017-2018 professional season has seen events with all the tours, it feels officially in play.
The IRT under new management had a strong event with some typical expectations come to bare as well as some new energy on display. Kane Waselenchuk, as expected, rolled through the competition proving without a doubt he is still on his own level of professional play. The rest of the men's pro field continues to play for second place. But, that was handled a bit differently by the IRT this event. The tour introduced the 'Futures Division", a "pilot" division as quoted by new IRT president John Scott. Scott and his IRT Network / EnetLive group had gone public with their purchase of the IRT with the help of a group of investors. He has openly shared his thoughts on plans to revive the tour with the help of his group and that together they would bring new life into the tour. The Futures Division, which is a re-think of the Open division, was on display along with the main draw finals on Sunday.
To the IRT's credit, gone was the uncomfortable moments when the WRT was mentioned. John Scott along with commentator Brian Pineda spoke freely about the WRT. It has been no secret that John Scott would like the opportunity to unify the sport under the EnetLive banner and whether or not that is possible, the talk and attention and respect given to the WRT during the broadcast was a breath of fresh air. The Futures Division or whatever it will be called or evolve into, looks like a great answer to the past difficulty the IRT has seen when compared to the WRT. There will always be conversations of how the draws are skewed towards the top 8, with people on both sides, but putting focus on players outside of the 8 is a positive move. Basically a cash injection, there is a deliberate thinking behind it that can only be positive if it can remain sustainable. To me, and this is where my opinion starts to come in, this is a great investment. It is a win-win when paired with transparency and a deliberate attempt to mind the event weekend dates to not conflict with the WRT. There still are some things that remain to be seen or played out, like what will happen when you have players like Andre Parrilla and Bobby Horn continue to play the IRT regularly. Both players made the final of the Futures division and both made the Quarterfinals of the PRO draw. (You can view that match and the commentary on the IRT Facebook Video page.) Eventually, they may slide into the top eight which will make way for other players to take the Futures purse. My question is, (it is a good and positive one,) How will the IRT be able to translate the extra cash given out into accessibility for the host of talent that doesn't have the means to make IRT stops?
Before I go on, I'd like to note some interesting and what may seem random things I noticed. Jake Brendenbeck who made the pro quarters, didn't play in the Futures. He is currently ranked #15 on the IRT and could have competed for the extra cash. The thought of wanting to focus on the main draw or health conservation could have been the thinking. I'll touch on money in a bit. Parrilla and Horn both made $1200 for their pro quarterfinal appearance. As did Brendenbeck. The finals payout for the Futures division was $1000 and $600 for first and second respectively. That translated to a really nice weekend for both Parrilla and Horn. Brendenbeck regardless of why he chose not to participate, had (or felt he had,) the option to not play the Futures. There is empowerment for players who make the quarters. Both literally and figuratively.
My magic number is $1200 here. Just imagine for a minute a finals appearance in the futures could draw a guarantee of $1200 just to show. Bump up the winner to a Pro Semifinal payout or somewhere in-between the PRO semis and quarters payouts. Now you have a situation where there is a real feasibility for serious talent to fight within the IRT. The division feeds right into the tail end of the IRT Top 8, provides some of the world's best racquetball and does what you want it to do, provide a gateway for players outside of the restricting protection of the top 8. There may be a time where a player can be scoring huge cash, but that wouldn't last because of ranking into the Top 8.
Going back to a well worn discussion of two men's tours operating side by side, it's all about sustainability, and money. The WRT can continue it seems with their money model and their player model. The IRT is just getting started. Money is always a factor and still something that will be hard to come by under these conditions. The IRT is benefiting from a vote of confidence by investors that has even helped the Reaching Your Dream Foundation (who subsidizes pro players,) double their output for this past event. I honestly still don't see the IRT and WRT mutually working together in a way that can iron out all the structural differences on the business side. But the IRT who once seemed to need that, now can benefit from just their new position about the tours. If the IRT could set that $1200 milestone, it effectively turns the top 8 into a top 10, with a real level doorway into that elite space of self-sustaining pro tour player. If we are talking simply about players sustaining themselves by touring alone, the rest will take care of itself.