One of the most decorated players on the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour, 10-time season ending #1-ranked player Kane Waselenchuk, tends to let his play speak for itself when asked about the business side of his game.
“Really all my career I haven’t really pursued sponsorships and stuff like that,” Waselenchuk said. “The business side of it is go to the tournaments and win.”
Instead, opportunities have come to him. “When I came aboard with [racquetball manufacturer] ProKennex, I was at zero, ProKennex USA was at zero,” Waselenchuk said of the hurdles both had to overcome. ProKennex filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and Waselenchuk was suspended from the sport for two seasons before the partnership began.
“I met him right before his suspension,” Michael Martinez, President of ProKennex USA, said. “The season before he got suspended we were having negotiations to sign him to ProKennex. I kept the relationship alive and we said, ‘we can develop a racquet under your specs, your colors and when you are ready to hit the Tour again we will launch this line of racquets with your name and the Krowning Moment logo.’”
“When we first got things going, I think he was happy that he was going to be working with a brand that was going to build products around him,” Martinez said about the initial racquet. “We never thought it was going to keep developing. He told me when I first signed him that his goal was to win 10 #1’s.”
For the first couple of years of the sponsorship, Waselenchuk didn’t have a written contract and everything was agreed upon with a handshake. He received a percentage of the sales from that first Krowning Moment racquet and from there his role with ProKennex quickly evolved to include more of the product side of the brand.
“It was his desire to be more involved with the company,” Martinez said. “Not being treated just as a pro, a hitman that was paid to go play.”
Waselenchuk was able to incorporate his interest in fashion and clothing by designing apparel for his Krowning Moment line of gear produced by ProKennex in addition to working on racquets. He developed Krowning Moment, his athletic clothing brand, with his good friend Mike Gutierrez s/c prior to his sponsorship with ProKennex and sold apparel at tournaments.
“It became really easy in terms of the relationship how we worked together between the R&D [research and development], the cosmetics, the graphic artists at our factories, myself and Kane,” Martinez said. “Everybody kind of got an understanding of the timing and how it worked and the look that we were trying to achieve with Kane.”
Martinez and Waselenchuk both have similar tastes, which made the product development easy and ensured they were on the same wavelength for the clean, classy look ProKennex wanted to present.
“We both agreed that ProKennex was going to be the company in the future that you want to be with,” Waselenchuk said. “If you are with us you are doing something or you have done something in the sport of racquetball. We wanted to have that prestige feel and that comes with designing good equipment.”
Waselenchuk has also provided ProKennex input on multiple IRT events including the Krowning Moment Pro Invitational and Bobcat Open and Krowning Moment Pro Invitational Internacional during the 2014-2015 IRT season. He said he had a limited role in both tournaments and quickly deflected the success to credit multiple people behind the scenes, like JoAnna Reyes, Director of Player Operations for ProKennex, who served as a tournament director at both tournaments and his wife, Kim Russell-Waselenchuk.
“It ended up turning out to be even better because we had two of them (tournaments),” Waselenchuk said. “I could give back and Krowning Moment can help out and bring the pros to Texas where they haven’t been for a long time. I am just thankful and glad that people want to do it again [this season].”
Martinez said that the final piece of Waselenchuk’s sponsorship is his role on the commercials ProKennex utilizes to market the brand on Tennis Channel, YouTube, IRT Network and with their partners Racquetball Warehouse and Racquet World. ProKennex also takes advantage of Waselenchuk’s success on the court with commercials and marketing during finals of tournaments.
Waselenchuk has enjoyed other sponsorship opportunities, too, including Onnit, an Austin, TX based supplement company founded in 2010. Waselenchuk joined after he was recommended by a connection to founder and CEO, Aubrey Marcus. As a member of Onnit’s pro team, Waselenchuk joins a fraternity of athletes that include three-time Stanley Cup Champion Duncan Keith, current UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw, Olympic Gold Medalists Bode Miller (Alpine skiing) and Cat Osterman (softball) along with UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
“It’s still an honor to be in that class and be recognized with that kind of high performance athletes,” Waselenchuk said.
Besides receiving top of the line supplements like Alpha Brain and Shroom Tech Sport, Waselenchuk benefits from another perk of the sponsorship. “I’m really, really fortunate to be able to say that I have my own court at Onnit,” he said. “They made this really nice little shadow box of Kane Waselenchuk #1 player in the world.”
As the relationship between Martinez and Waselenchuk has blossomed, ProKennex has doubled their business.
“We have a bond in a business relationship and a friendship,” Waselenchuk said. “I would like to think that no one has a relationship like Martinez and I.”
“I think that is probably one of the most professional and at the same time personal relationships in the sport and that’s why it has been successful,” Martinez said.
By Eric Mueller
Eric Mueller started working with the IRT after joining the 2014 UnitedHealthcare US OPEN Racquetball Championships Media Team, where he garnered coverage for top racquetball pros and amateurs in their hometown media while also helping to provide updates to the racquetball community during the tournament. With a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota, Mueller also brings experience in sports reporting and news writing for newspapers like the Pioneer Press in St. Paul as well as the Southwest Journal and the Downtown Journal in Minneapolis. He has also worked in marketing for the St. Paul Saints professional baseball team and for Gopher Athletics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Mueller currently works as a Public Relations Intern for the 2015 Cowles Cup Champion Chicago Bandits professional softball team.