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  • Freddy Ramirez

Pivots, Perspectives And Cutting Bait.

In my last blog post I wrote, "With my "racquetball-sport' energies significantly focused on the LPRT, I believe the fruit will come with a combination of execution and player buy in, as the LPRT works next season for a "real" growth. If we can transcend this operating model somehow, then all the shit talking I've written in the past few years may seem appropriate. If not, it's more like a fade away scene, like many of the issues and people I've written about in racquetball these past years." That last sentence now seems more like a prophesy than it does a disclaimer.

The past two months have not been what I would have predicted at all. I made a decision to end my involvement with the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour. Considering the countless hours of work, investment, research and soul-pouring, I feel pretty ok with a move that one would think leave me feeling disheartened. The "why" is for me, (at this point,) a matter of an inability to see a road of personal sustainability. I still believe what I believe in terms of what pro racquetball tours need to be doing for growth, yet, I have a personal need to know when I can fish and when to cut bait. Sometimes, collectively, you just can't get to the prime spots.

Don't get me wrong here when it comes to the LPRT. Over the last two seasons, the tour has made great strides in securing a solid base for growth. I like to believe my efforts have sparked much of that, in concert with the dedicated efforts of the LPRT's leadership team. When I stepped in with the tour two seasons ago, they had nine events on the schedule and a ton of instability across the board. Compare that to how the tour has entered the 2019/20 season... Sixteen events on the schedule. A noticeable increase in young professionals aspiring to play on the tour. A positive growth in sentiment by fans, tournament directors, followers and players. An operational Board of Directors. All that leaves the tour with a clear ability to continue positively and work towards growing the organization. And I'm proud of that and wish the LPRT huge success moving forward.

What that means for me in the immediate, is finding a re-direct for my video and photo efforts in racquet sports. Racquetball for me is reflective of what is happening to racquetball fans in the States. I still have diehard interest, but it is diluted with the wide-variety of racquet-type sports that come across my view and personal involvement. In the linked video, I elude to the endeavors I wanted to focus on and naturally, that has had to shift somewhat and will be reflected in my next video.

As I remove myself from all formal involvement with professional racquetball, I see a sport that has tremendous upside somewhere. It's no secret that the sport is poised for significant growth in Mexico and Central and South America. The climate leaves the tours, which are both U.S. based, operating on models that still heavily rely on local tournament directors to raise money just to be able to show up. The LPRT just had its first tour stop of the season in Mexico. The namesake Paola Longoria Experience. This event, put together by Paola Longoria, is an example of what has been developing in Mexico, the ability to access sponsors and interest locally. With Paola being what she is, having the LPRT there to quantify achievement seems necessary and hence an LPRT sanctioned event. Yet this event is also reflective of where the real money ends up. As more Mexican and South American players garner media attention themselves, and other growing organizations, e.g., RKT, gaining traction, it will be harder for the tours to exclusively feature top performing players, because they will be finding money and notoriety closer to home. More stops in the US means there are more opportunities for these players to compete and have something to talk about, or have their home-countries media report on. And that media reflection, means more opportunity where it speaks, in the home-countries of these players. So, in my opinion, the tours will have to think critically about what will be required to access the potential in a way that isn't beholden to event developers simply asking the question, will this event be an "IRT" event or and "LPRT" event. Because, ultimately, it will be the players who will be in demand. Realistically, they will just show up where the money is. The upside will only materialize if the tours find ways to draw sustainable money into to operations of the tours themselves, and not just raise prize money, or have it raised for them. The upside is there, but there may not be an urgency to truly identify what the tours actually are. Or to better clarify, what the tours need to be.

I'm not quite sure if I will be looking to racquetball moving forward in terms of talking about the sport on this blog or in future videos. But as the name reflects, I'll be looking in the general reflection of racquet sports, both in personal involvement and as a fan. And I am a fan, despite my temporary need to cull my intake of the sport at this point. As the mentioned video clearly eludes to, I think the women that play on the LPRT are remarkable athletes and as long as that is the case, I'll take notice and appreciate.

I think the main thing I can take away after almost 10 years of formal involvement with racquetball, is that I took notice and appreciated the sport. I'm giving a nod to things staying the same, the more they change.

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