There probably are not too many things more painful in life than having the talent and desire to be the best, but due to lack of money not being able to pursue one’s dream to see how good they can really be.
In a sport like racquetball where sponsorship is often confused with charity, one must be a little creative in order to obtain the necessary funds to help a player survive as he or she tries to compete at the professional level. Although I have been around racquetball for 37 years and have been advising professional athletes about their money, endorsement and marketing deals for many years, racquetball is an entirely different sport that unfortunately doesn’t command a lot of money for endorsements, as viewership is very small and we have a very small market.
I recently came back from Canada to watch the 2014 World Championships and as exciting as it was to see some incredible competition from players from all over the world, the majority of the audience is made up from the participants in the tournament. Right now, much of the growth in racquetball is coming from south of the border, and no one has taken more advantage of this than Paola Longoria.
Paola is an exception to the rule and is arguably one of the most successful professional racquetball players of this generation, both on and off the court. Not withstanding her 3 year streak of being undefeated and number one on the LPRT, she has a considerable following on social media with followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and sponsors love this. She has some incredible sponsorship and is a celebrity in her country. Would she have this success if she didn’t become number one in the world? I’m sure she would have some success, but being a multi-year world champion can only help.
So what do you do if you are not Paola and want to make it to tournaments to see how good you can really be? It is a little bit of a catch 22: you could work hard and let your success on the court lead to financial help or do a lot of outside work by having a website, and let keeping up with social media help pave the way. Although the primary focus should be on the court, one needs to spend some time in the other areas to help make this happen. Some of the best athletes in the world do not always get the best endorsements and vice versa.
Here are a couple of basics:
Get a web site. Even if it is just a simple one with some pictures and contact information, that is fine. When people google you, you have to exist. If you don’t have a picture and profile on the LPRT or IRT website, get one up. It took me too long in life to realize that perception is reality.
Use Facebook. I am not an expert in social media, but somehow racquetball players have embraced Facebook more than other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. It is a great way to stay in touch with the racquetball community and let them know what you are up to. Never post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother seeing!
More on a personal level:
1) It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.
You would be surprised how many people do not get this one right, and it is hard to teach. Spend time teaching people on the court and teaching them how to drill, how to hold a racquet, etc. Even hitting with people can pay off. You would be surprised that when you are nice to people, some of them may actually go out of their way to help you financially and in other areas that can help you outside of racquetball. Most importantly, be nice to kids. Help someone’s kid and that parent will love you. That is priceless.
2) Let people know you have a dream.
Don’t assume people know what you are trying to accomplish. If your dream is to go pro or be the best in the world, let them know and tell them the challenges that exist. At this point in time, racquetball is a passion sport and it is very difficult to make a lot of money, so being able to get help making it to tournaments and covering expenses is a big thing. You never know if the person you’re talking to may have an interest in helping you. People become sponsors in sports and are often into race horses, car racing, sailing or even boxing, knowing they will never get any return on their money, why not racquetball if they have a passion for it? Unless they own a racquet or apparel company, it is hard to make money back as a sponsor.
3) Ask and you shall receive
If you are at the club and have (hopefully) been nice to people, you may meet people who have their own businesses and will be able to not only sponsor you, but also may be able to take it as an advertising deduction. It can be a local restaurant, a car repair shop, whatever. Put their name on your shirt, on your website, publicly thank them for their generosity. You don’t have to hit home runs. I saw success when we held a small fundraiser/exhibition and had 25 people donate $100 each. That is more money than most pro racquetball players will ever get from a racquet sponsor.
4) Help those that help you
Go out of your way to help people that help you. There is some upside to being a sponsor besides feeling good though. For example, one sponsor, Ross, owns Super Collision, an auto body and repair shop in West Los Angeles. He helped sponsor a player for a few thousand dollars last year. Not only do I take my own cars to him for everything, but I also let everyone at the club know that he helped sponsor and make sure they go to him (he does great work too). I have probably referred 10 people to him in the last year alone. Make sure you take care of the people that take care of you. He has made that money back several times over but you have to make the effort. No one is going to see his name on the back of a player’s shirt and say, “If I am in LA, I think I’m going to bring my car there.” That will never happen, so you have to make it happen for your sponsors, coaches, trainers, chiropractors, etc. by letting people know how good they are.
5) Thank you notes (a lost art)
When someone gives you a gift, and I don’t care how small, send him or her a personal thank you note. Not an email or a text, but a hand written note. They won’t forget this and if you need more help down the road, they may be more open to help again. A thank you goes a long way.
There are a lot of different ways you can go and find what is comfortable for you but I have found this works for me. There is no right or wrong way, but do what you feel comfortable with. No one wants to be pushy, so do your best to be pully.