November -
December 1997
Vol. 8, No. 6

by Luke St. Onge

This has truly been another great year for our sport. I say that with the full knowledge that there are still many who prefer to criticize and impose their negative influence on the ongoing development of the sport. In spite of that, I will continue to share what we see through our “rose-colored glasses.” We can’t let unfounded pessimism cause us to lose sight of the goals which will lead us to the systematic, intelligent growth of our sport. That being said, let’s look at what has happened this past year.

Partnering for Growth
Both the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association [SGMA] and the National Sporting Goods Association [NSGA] have released studies which indicate that 600,000 new players entered the sport in 1996. In the competitive arena, overall participation figures for USRA regional and national events reflected a 10% increase across the board ... The Racquetball Industry Initiative, designed to encourage growth and development, continues to generate successful grassroots promotional programs ... The relationship between the club owner’s association, IHRSA, and the USRA continues to grow closer and more positive ... The professional (IRT and WIRT) end of the sport continues to grow with more prize money, more pro stops, and more excitement.

Sponsorship & Marketing
New sponsors from outside the sport continue to express interest in racquetball programs and marketing opportunities ... RACQUETBALL magazine, the flagship publication of the sport, continues to improve each year, gaining support in the form of greater circulation numbers and long-term commitments from its industry partners ... New energy and enthusiasm was generated in the sport through the new, oversized racquet lines.

Promotions & Programs
For the first time, a major chain — Sports Authority, in its 250 stores — is running an independent program designed to “re-cycle” used racquetball racquets by directing them to junior and inner city programs ... Ektelon, USOC, USRA, and The Police Athletic League have teamed up to promote one-wall racquetball in the PAL programs through out the United States ... The U.S. Open continues to grow in prestige and prize money ... AmPRO is certifying the clinicians, instructors, and programmers to influence and retain the current and new players coming into the sport ... We’re getting the word out . . . $70,000 net profit can be realized yearly off of one racquetball court ...

Ten key IRF personnel now serve on National Olympic Committees or the International Olympic Committee, thus demonstrating racquetball leadership capabilities on the international sport scene ... USRA personnel have been appointed to key USOC and PASO committees, thus ensuring the future of racquetball within the USOC family ... The European Racquetball Federation is under new leadership, generating enthusiasm and moving forward on promoting racquetball in Europe ... The first ever Asian Championships took place.

With national and international coverage of racquetball quadrupling over the past year, and a major television package eminent, we realize that this is just the beginning of the major growth spurt for the sport. But there are so many things still left to be done. So just for a little change of pace, let’s look at the bright side of our sport ... and when the doomsayers come around again, you can reply with confidence: “wait a minute — did you know ... ?”

Late-Breaking Contract News ...
Ashaway Racket Strings recently agreed to extend their contract relationship with the USRA as the “Official String of the USRA” through the year 2000. Ashaway has held this official USRA product designation since 1995. • E-Force also renewed its support for the U.S. National Intercollegiate Championships through the year 2000. The intercollegiate program has undergone a complete restructuring to ease qualifying restrictions, which is expected to generate a 30% increase in participation over past years. E-Force has been the title sponsor of the Intercollegiates since 1996. • Wilson Racquetball was recently named title sponsor of the U.S. National High School Championships through the year 2000, as well as becoming a Gold Sponsor of the World Senior Racquetball Championships held yearly in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The U.S. National High School Championships are held annually in March, feature 50 high schools, and over 250 players. The High Schools will be held in St. Louis, Missouri in 1998, and in Portland, Oregon in 1999. Wilson is also the “Official Glove of the USRA.”

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