- Freddy Ramirez
Racquetball Will Seek Its Level
What can I say other than it's been a truly interesting first half of the season for men's professional racquetball. With the transition to new ownership, the International Racquetball Tour has proactively started to build on it's foundations for the vision of the "new" tour. I feel I can use the word "new" now, after the start and the first half of the season. Initially, it didn't seem like changes would come immediately, but after their first event of 2018, you can see transitions in how the sport has looked like over the past few years. From here, the men's side has had a set dynamic over the last few years and it looked like this. The IRT was the set tour that had a couple of players that where head and shoulders above everyone else. The World Racquetball Tour was the new tour that was put together to give new opportunities to promising players who didn't have much access to serious competition. That had grown with the level of sophistication of their live streaming. Judging from what has happened this season, there is a shift happening, or just beginning, that will speed up the eventual settling of professional racquetball.
With time, all things change and it's clear where the change is coming from. The Futures Division. The change from 5 games to 3 games per match. The stated openness to allowing top rung players to play anywhere they like. (This will most likely come with a compromise in the form of a choice to be exclusive and retain full prize money or an option to give up a percentage of it for the freedom to play on the WRT and elsewhere.) While the WRT has made interesting forays with the International Racquetball Federation, it may be difficult for the IRF to remain exclusive with the WRT if they truly want to service international racquetball effectively when it comes to formalization of rankings.
Alex Landa (above photo), Rodrigo Montoya (picture here).
I ended up thinking this way after Alex Landa won his very first IRT tour stop at the Lewis Drug stop in South Dakota, while Rodrigo Montoya, a player the WRT has invested much in, was super busy with matches at this event. I'll note, that a ton of names associated with the WRT (in my mind,) are starting to find their way to the IRT. It's a good thing the WRT has been open to this from the get, because with the Futures Division, the IRT is providing opportunity for players to make back some expense money. More over, it's providing valuable experience at pro stops that may not materialize in the main draw simply because of the top rung players and the set ups. A little over a year ago, I mentioned Landa as most suited to take advantage of pro racquetball as things where with the two men's tours. And as he now slides into the top of the IRT ranks, if the tour is serious about an option to play WRT events, Landa could do very nicely. And again, Rodrigo makes me ask how he is working to play the IRT? Undoubtedly, the Reaching Your Dream Foundation is making things way more accessible. In addition to RYDF assistance, is he working out his own logistics to attend IRT events? Indeed some of the other players in this group may be. But, I don't know. I can only speculate. The WRT has worked into their model getting some players to their stops. If more of these players are then spending their own resources to get to events, and begin choosing the IRT, what would that say about their driving interests? Of course these are just thoughts, questions and speculations. Whatever the case, they all bode well for the IRT.
I heard John Scott, the new owner of the IRT talking about the WRT on the new Racquetball Show podcast. (Nicely done Dylan!) He sounded positive and promising. His statements indicate he is willing to start discussions with WRT, though mentioning some things may have been a good way to express his sentiments towards difficulty of things, it still may have better suited the cause to just state he remained open and interested. Doing anything more than that publicly boxes the WRT into whatever position they may hold. But it's clear; moving forward.
In the past, I've written consolidation of racquetball could be a good thing. I still believe under the right modeling, it would be tremendously good for the sport. (My thoughts are the odds lean towards attrition rather than consolidation right now.) The IRT has taken some progressive steps within their influence to answer the problems created over the past few years by dueling tours. Both tours are working on progressive things. But a shift in perception may be coming. I'm noticing more notable players actively making their own way to IRT tour stops this season. That to me, is a key factor above everything else.