By: Aimee Ruiz
I recently had an interview with the CEO of the IRT, Mike Grisz, to get to know the person behind running the tour. Find out why he got involved and what he thinks is in store for the future of the IRT.
How long have you been playing racquetball, and how did you get started? I was on my high school tennis team in 1974, I was a self-taught player, but thought I was good. Then I got my butt kicked by a freshman player from another school, 6-1 6-0, and was put in my place.
A month later. I started playing racquetball at the outdoor courts in Stich Park (Mesa, AZ). A month after that, I won my first tournament, and from there, I was hooked.
You are an investor of the tour and CEO. Why did you want to become an investor in the first place? This will sound hokey, but it’s true. In the last 5-6 years, I have been trying to give back to racquetball in different areas. I was President of the Texas Racquetball Association (TXRA) for two years and currently serve on the Board of Directors as Secretary of the National Masters Racquetball Association (NMRA). I was approached to become an investor of the IRT and thought this was another avenue that I could give back to the sport.
How did the role of CEO come into play? I became Chairman at last year’s US Open. I was already very involved as I was putting together a business plan and budget. When John Scott stepped down in January, I became CEO.
What changes do you have for the tour for 2019-2020 compared to last season? We now have line judges for all matches starting with the quarterfinals. We have a pool of players to choose from that all get paid to line judge. The biggest thing for the players is that they can appeal more calls, such as hinders, where before, you could only appeal short serves. The first three tournaments have been a success with the line judges. The appeal process is quick, and the players seem satisfied.
I also thought it was essential to build a great team. Andy Kulback is now back and serves as Vice President of the IRT. Andy is a wealth of knowledge, and we look to him for the expertise that he brings from serving as Commissioner of the IRT and LPRT in past years.
My wife, Karen, very well known to the racquetball community, is our Secretary and Treasurer, and keeper of the books. The players are paid promptly because of her.
Mark Gibbs has a quiet demeanor but a large presence. He is a Vice President and attends most of the events.
Rod Southwood brings a savvy business background to the Board.
Dean Baer, what can I say, is the Voice of the IRT. Passionate and dedicated.
Pablo Fajre is Director of Streaming and Satellite Events, and is in charge of making sure all of our Tier 1 and Grand Slam events are broadcasted and available for the fans on our Facebook and YouTube Channels. We are thrilled to have Pablo on board, and he brings his experiences from running and broadcasting the WRT.
Lastly, we hired Aimee Ruiz as the Director of Social Media. Aimee not only owns her own social media business but is a racquetball player. A former National Team Member and World Champion, she knows the players, knows the game, and knows social media, so it’s a great fit.
Can you tell us your thoughts on the 2019/2020 Schedule? We are thrilled with our schedule! We have been under new management for less than a year, and we have increased our Tier 1/Grand Slams from 9 to 13, and are returning to Bolivia for a Grand Slam event.
Where do you see from the IRT in 5 years? First and foremost, we want to pay our players more. They deserve more. We would also like to have a maximum of 12-15 events per year. As I mentioned before, we have 13 this season, so we are off to a great start!
Second, we would love to see our streaming #’s go up for two reasons. We want more fans watching these amazing players! This is why we always ask people to share our Livestreams. Second, the more people that watch our broadcast, the more interest we will have in potential sponsors. Nowadays, sponsors are interested in your social media metrics and how many followers you have and how many people are watching the streaming (where sponsors want to broadcast ads). It’s a digital world, and we need to make sure we are a part of it.
Lastly, we would like to become more international and have a broader appeal. We would love to have a Tier 1 Event in Canada or Costa Rica, or anywhere! We have the best players, and we want everyone to have the chance to see them play in person!
What is your biggest challenge since becoming CEO? Becoming SOLVENT. Everyone who was an investor paid additional $ to get the IRT out of debt. We need to gain sponsors to bring money in that is outside of our investor group.
Any closing comments? We have a great group of athletes, and we have a great group of investors and a management team that loves the sport and wants to see the tour succeed. There is no hidden agenda with us. We are just working to figure out the formula for the tour to gain more attention, more exposure, and to bring in sponsors on a national level.
All of us on the Management Team are learning. The first stop of the season, the Men’s Doubles final, did not take place, and we took a ton of heat. We owned our mistake and went from there. At the Valentine Open, the WiFi went down, and we couldn’t stream the finals, and we received even more heat. At the US OPEN, I believe, for the most part, everything went well. There were some snags here and there, but we take a little bit of something from each event and use those mistakes to make the next one even better.