|Team Ektelon||Team E-Force||Team Gearbox|
|Team Head||Team Tour Gear (Pro Kennex)||Wilson Elite Staff|
A sponsorship from a major racquetball manufacturer is a direct ticket toward promoting the great sport of racquetball, albeit promotion of the manufacturer becomes synonymous with promotion of the sport. However, sponsorship usually becomes what YOU make it:
From a player's point of view, sponsorship means free or discounted equipment usually on a yearly basis, a feeling of authority and resourcefulness toward information concerning the sponsor, the capability of being a role model to others in the sport, particularly newcomers and juniors...but most of all, the feeling that comes from being part of something...a team. And being part of a "team" gives people (players) a comfortable feeling which can translate into better play and high self-esteem. All major manufacturer's have managers of their sponsored players who is basically their "boss" and direct supervisor. These managers often call "player meetings" to gather round the local sponsored players. The "player's meetings" are often directed toward promoting new products or programs, special events, but it actually gives the sponsored players of an area a chance to get together with the "team" on local and national levels.
From a manufacturers point of view, having active sponsored players means giving their company good exposure and ultimalety may influence the decisions of players, new and old. Ultimately, all manufacturers of racquetball products are interested in the bottom line...sales! Advertising a manufacturer's products by using an army of sponsored players is simply cheap advertising at the grassroots level because the industry is too big enough to justify TV/magazine advertising and too big to survive with product brouchures and trade magazine advertising.
The manufacturers all want sponsored players who can sell their product, either directly as club pros/racquetball directors or indirectly by running teaching or demo clinics where they will be able to expose the attendees to their products and potentially influence a purchase. For example, if you're a new player and taking a lesson or clinic from a sponsored player who appears knowledgeable, helpful and enthusiastic about your getting better at racquetball and enjoying yourself...that "newcomer" will have at the least a positive impression of the sponsored player on a personal level AND of the manufacturer who's insignia and equipment s/he wears and uses. On the other hand, if the sponsored player is a jerk, the newcomer will likely not attend a follow-up lesson/clinic, have a poor impression of any company who would sponsor such as person, and may even leave the sport all together.
Other important factors which benefit a company is the high brand name visibility which comes from sponsoring highly ranked tournament players and players in high profile positions such as tournament directors, state association members. Of course, manufacturers are concerned with players having a positive impression on the sport itself. The more people who become involved in the sport of racquetball directly translates toward greater profits even if the market share remains the same. In effect, there are many different factors which can help a manufacturer sell it's product, no one is all things and different manufacturers often weigh certain factors more than others in deciding who to sponsor.
Below are the major manufacturer's in the racquetball industry and some specific factors considered important as reported by Tom Slear in an article entitled, "The Sponsorship Game" in the May-June, 1997 issue of Racquetball Magazine:
Ektelon runs a decentralized sponsorship program which is run by regional distribution and sales representatives. To find the sales rep covering you're area call Melissa Cain, (619) 623-4040. Ektelon operates a point system for sponsorship accountability...1 point for playing in a local tounament, 5 points for giving a demo clinic, 10 points for being a certified referee, and so on. Points can then be traded-in for equipment and clothing.
Ektelon looks for individuals who are leaders in the industry (club pros/racquetball directors, state association members), very visible in national/regional/local tounament players and directors and club league play and influential (teaching/coaching instructors) who should also show have a high regard for the sport itself in terms of growth, development and promotion.
E-Force is mainly interested in players who are influential at their respective clubs...but not necessarily club pros/racquetball directors but high profile club players who do well in in house leagues as well as local tournaments. However, this varies regionally and in the Midwest your chances of receiving an E-Force sponsorship are significantly enhanced if your a highly state ranked player and potential state champion.
Much like Wilson, Ektelon, ProKennex, and E-Force, a Head entry level sponsorship begins with the purchase of equipment and clothing at an apporximately 50% discount...that is perhaps $200-300 for a couple racquets, eyewear, gloves, shirts, equipment bag, etc. Furthermore, the likeliness of getting a sponsorship from a manufacturer which already has 2-3 sponsored players at a certain club are nominal. Also like the top manufacturers, Head looks for players who are highly visible and influential at the club, local, state and regional or national levels.
"Team Tour Gear utilizes a staff of players throughout the country to advance the sport of racquetball through positive exposure and teaching of the sport in the court clubs. The goal of the program is to have a Team Tour Gear player in every club in the country promoting not only ProKennex technology but also the virtues of the sport. Any player who is an ambassador of the sport, exhibiting positive promotional enthusiasm is a candidate."
As mentioned above, Team Tour Gear players are expected to purchase an equipment package priced between $200-300 as well as be a good sportsman, give several clinics per year and actively promote the Pro Kennex product line is a highly visible and accountable manner at club events and tournamnets. Successful tournament performance and an influential reputation are also valuable assets toward sponsorship.
"The philosophy of our player program is Pride and Accountability. We look for players who will represent Wilson in a professional manner at all times. Good sports, good ambassadors for the game. People who are willing to let players demo their racquets and who will hold periodic demo's in their area. Basically we look for players who are willing to promote the product, not just people who "play".
The entry level contract is the Key Player contract which players purchase for $199, and receive about $800 worth of equipment. This is the contract we give most players the first year they are with Wilson. Our other levels are based on "promotional performance" and the influence players have over product sales. If players are associated with a pro shop, teach lessons, or run racquetball programs we are usually interested. However, we try not to put too many sponsored players in one club."
Sponsoring some of the greatest athletes of all time in various sports such as Michael Jordan, Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, Gary Maddux, Walter Payton, and others, Wilson is now proud to add the greatest racquetball player of all time, Cliff Swain, to it's sponsored team.
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