A Kind Of Growth
This is where I will start, with a video about how Egyptian players are dominating squash worldwide.
Watch it first.
In my previous post, The Last Of A Kind, I mentioned the term "camp feel". Initially, I had the term in my mind because of the excessive amount of UFC content I've been consuming. Yet, after watching the above video and after taking in last week's Bolivia event, I can't help but swing that thought over to some parallels I see with how Egypt has become so dominant in squash. Bolivians did very well in a home-grown event that brought to light how big racquetball can be in Bolivia. If you watched the video and know how big the event was last week, then similar thoughts should be taking place within your thinking. The ground-swell of popularity that may be, possibly, facilitated by players like Conrrado Moscoso, the Open Bolivia American Iris champion, and other players like Angelica Barrios, a young Bolivian who made it as far as the semifinal on the women's side, could lead to sparked growth for racquetball in Bolivia. This may already be well-underway. The popularity of the sport is already second only to Soccer in that country, from what I've been led to believe. (I have no hard proof of this.)
The above video keeps me from expounding on those similarities, because they seem so obvious to me, but I will note the difference between squash and racquetball here in the US. Squash in the US has seen growth over the last several years, during the rise in dominance of Egyptian players. That is because the sport has long been adopted by the ivy league set. Trinity College over a decade ago began importing overseas talent via scholarships and that trend worked and began spreading among rival schools after Trinity dominating the college rankings for a good run. The short of the long-storied tie-in is that there is plenty of money to be found in the US for top-tiered squash events. These events are increasingly being won by Egyptians. As a matter of fact, huge professional squash events have been dominated by overseas players for a long time here in the US. (I wrote about this 5 years ago.) But, the marketing proficiencies of the PSA aside, more money has been pumped into events in Egypt and cash-rich countries to its east like Qatar and the Arab Emirates, primarily because of the dominance of the Egyptians.
The growth parallels from the video work just as well with Mexico and Central and South America, (i.e., Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador). Mexico may even be further along in this parallel, yet, here in The States, things are quite different. There just isn't a feeder system here and resulting market for racquetball like there is in squash, e.g., The Squash and Education Alliance and a robust affluent market that is activated. Add to that, health and fitness clubs are culling the numbers of racquetball courts in the name of good business. We all know that without clubs, juniors won't have a place to play a sport they will never see for real. USA Racquetball is indeed the entity that we all look at for development of these types of programing or grassroots growth. Sure, they do well with the collegiate high school players they can access. But I have to point this out, USA Racquetball has a diversity problem. I've said this before, years ago. Especially early on in my "writing racquetball" years, having spent a significant amount of time on college campuses, specifically working with diversity issues. Now, let's not get crazy or political, I'm not talking race, I'm talking different perspectives. (Race is elemental.) USA Racquetball is a victim of its own lane of success. When racquetball was thriving, it grew with that growth. That brand of growth is no longer available and what remains is a still pond. There are good people with good intentions in the organization, but it's the same round peg, in the same round hole. There seems to be nothing new for them to work with because of financial constraints and I would add to that a serious case of groupthink that has developed over the years.
As it stands, the pro tours are now directly responsible for the popularity of the sport in the US today. Conversations with manufacturing executives have reflected this line of thinking for some time now. At least in many that I have had. We all know that today's sports climate is far removed from the climate that existed in the 70's and 80's. There are exponentially more casual sporting options for kids and adults to easily access today. USA Racquetball can only work with what they have, and what they have is slipping away with the advent of Pickleball and other alternative racquet type sports. Widespread motivation of the casual racquetball-related reach in the US has to be activated by the pro tours.
Let's look back to the above video again. About 35 seconds into the video it makes the point about Egypt having 10 out of the top 20 players (men and women) in the world. Squash is considerably more "global" than racquetball, so the remaining 10 is well represented worldwide. But I will make a comparison specific to what I believe may represent the best possibility for marketing growth for racquetball here in the US. (It's not a new take whatsoever.) Looking at the current top 20 players in professional racquetball, 9 of them are from Mexico. If you add in South American countries, that makes it 15 out of 20 top players. Now let's consider the fact that with that number being as high as it is, in reality, there are considerably more players from Mexico and South America that easily meet this highest level of play on the pro tours. So, for the tours, which are both US based entities, their largest growth-side assets lies in their strongest performing demographic.
There has been no more important "now" for the pro tours than right now. Building events here in the States is still the major priority, though there has to be a fundamental shift on how that is done. Another side to that is transitioning to facilitate events in relevant latin countries. For the tours, these countries are defined by popularity and pro level talent. This is a bit more of a transitional move for the International Racquetball Tour than it is for the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour, though both tours desperately need to develop direct, workable and sustainable business ties in these countries. For the IRT, it may be a matter of focusing on where their rankings future will lie, if they continue to be the premier professional tour. For the LPRT, that focus has already been in play the last few seasons, though the direct ties are still in their earliest stages of development. Again, I am specifically talking about professional events outside of the US. Because for sure, if the tours don't get a foothold now, they'll lose it to growth where the talent is celebrated enough that it stirs up participation.
In the US, the "now" for the tours represents being able to capitalize on top players in ways that facilitate growth where it is most possible. The connection is culture. It's not rocket science. All politics aside, Hispanics represent a fastest growing economic group in the US. Median Household Income for Hispanics for years 2016 thru 2017 saw a rise of $1,786. in comparison, Asians and African Americans saw a decrease. Whites saw a $1,705 increase. For further perspective, All Races and Ethnicities combined saw a $1,063 increase here in the United States. Hispanics also leads in population growth. They currently represented 18 percent of the population in the US during the same period. Those numbers are drastically higher in "active" racquetball states, examples being California 39%, Arizona 31%, Texas 40%, Florida 26%, etc. Right now, this represents the most promising potential for the tours in the US. If the plan isn't already in the works, it better be soon. By soon I mean up and running by next season. Otherwise, how long can US based pro tours operate without losing influence with their own players to marketers in Mexico and Central and South America? There has to be more to offer these upcoming players who mostly have to travel to the US to compete professionally. Money. Yes. That's important. But what is just as important, especially if money remains on the marginal side, is cultural ties that allow them to earn and to grow themselves through racquetball. The tours have to activate Latin Americans here. USA Racquetball could work with that, provided they can see the forest for the trees.
It is far easier for squash to build events based on reach. For racquetball, event based growth means focusing on what is at hand.
* Population Statistics: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF)
* Income Statistics: Peter G. Peterson Foundation