A pro known for his unusual serve, lively banter, and extraordinary drive, Jason Mannino retired from playing as he accepted the men’s professional International Racquetball Tour (IRT) leadership role during the 2009-2010 IRT season. Since then, the number of professional events has tripled, earnings continue to go up, endorsements are on the increase, and win streaks and rivalries make the game exciting for players and spectators alike.
“From a then-versus-now perspective, we’ve gone from 4-5 confirmed Tier 1 events and 20-25 total events annually to 12-15 Tier 1 tournaments and up to 85-100 total events expected this season,” Mannino explains. The growth of the sport, not only in quantity of tournaments, but also in awareness and outreach, has risen exponentially over the past five years. “One of our main goals was to increase the number and professionalism of events; another was to increase the number of people we reach.”
Reaching almost 35,000 people directly through the IRT database, interacting with 11,000 “fans” through social media, and updating the IRT website so that it becomes a portal for all things racquetball represent the primary ways the sport is becoming more mainstream. “Nothing is plateauing yet,” says Mannino. “We still see potential for growth and fine-tuning for each method we use to reach club players and fans.”
The sport is growing by increasing the number of players and fans, while current players are sharing their excitement with their friends. People who used to play are being re-introduced to the fun, excitement, and challenge of playing a fast-paced, aerobic, get-in-shape-and-have-fun-doing-it sport.
Mannino is quick to share the credit for the growth with the team around him. “There are really three layers to the IRT’s leadership. The Executive Team, made up of people who work on a day-to-day basis for the IRT such as Adam Karp, Chris Conrad, Jen Johnson, Shari Coplen, and Mark Vinciguerra. Partners make up another layer. Our Major Partners are IRT Network, Pro Penn HD, and Racquetball Warehouse. The IRT Network is the key reason we are bringing our sport into the homes of racquetball fans worldwide. ProPenn HD makes the IRT high quality balls needed for the highest level of competition. Racquetball Warehouse is our retail partner, offering a wide array of racquetball products. Additional IRT Partners include E-Force, Ektelon, Head, Pro Kennex, OneShot, Tecnifibre, and Rollout Marketing. Then we have Event Directors who do a ton of work year-round, promoting the sport of racquetball–above and beyond what they do for their own IRT events. Without these relationships, we would not have been able to grow at this pace, and we truly appreciate their support.”
Continued growth for the IRT and racquetball make up Mannino’s goals for the 2014-2015 IRT Season and beyond. “We’re looking to do larger events and some big venues in New York and Miami’s South Beach, in addition to adding some international events in South America,” he says. In addition, he plans to strengthen the relationships with other organizations that are invested in the sport of racquetball, such as USA Racquetball, the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour, and World Outdoor Racquetball.
On the technological side, new advances include streaming IRT matches in high definition and the introduction of an Android app for racquetball that will let fans and players manage their racquetball world with one click: social media, buying gear, stats, and updates will all be available–some as soon as the 2014-15 season.
Rarely does a professional player who has been a #1-ranked World Champion, two-time US Open winner, and winner of more than 20 professional tournaments retire to become the president for the professional association of his sport. But Jason Mannino thrives on doing things in uncommon ways. Mannino’s ultimate goal is to bring racquetball to the same awareness, branding, and professionalism of other mainstream sport leagues. Given the advances he’s lead thus far, it’s definitely a reachable goal.
If you would like more information about how the IRT can bring excitement, a stronger sense of community, and more players to your event, please contact Adam Karp, VP of Event Development at email@example.com