Interview with Gearbox Sports Owner Rafael Filippini About Sports Performance and Professionalism

Interview with Gearbox Sports Owner Rafael Filippini About Sports Performance and Professionalism


Hi Everybody. Welcome to GOAT Sports Performance. Dr. Tim Baghurst and I have a special guest with me today, Rafael Filippini from Gearbox Sports. Rafa, thanks so much for joining me. You and I met about 10 years ago when you were actually starting Gearbox Sports. That is
correct. We were in Houston. Yeah. If I remember. Tell me a little bit about how you
started your company and how you’ve seen things change in racquetball over the
last decade. Well, I started Gearbox with the idea of growing racquetball. That’s
our primary mission: grow racquetball and with the goal of making racquetball a
mainstream sport. I felt that racquetball, in general, is in
a good path. It was better, obviously, in the 80s and then it sort of tapered
down in the 90s. But what I feel is good, is we have infrastructure. Most
people that you meet, they’ve run across, they’ve either played, their dad
played; somebody they know has played. So the word about racquetball is already
out. So you have facilities, you have players, but what we don’t have is
organization. So the idea is how do we connect the community? There are several ways: you can do it at the pro level and sort of push
down; you can come in and promote fitness and health and mind. So we go out there and hit the road, and we are doing it from both ends; from the grassroots level and then the pro
level. And now, thankfully, after 10 years we have social media. And the
way we can reach audiences it’s so much better if you don’t have the budget
for TV. So now we have a lot of new tools available to us. And, you know, I
think it’s helping to spread the word about racquetball in general.
You’ve seen a lot of racquetball, not only as a player, but now as an owner of
a company. What do you think about professionalism in racquetball? We’ve
talked about this a little bit before, but just kind of share your thoughts
on that and how racquetball players can be professional not only on the
court but off the court. Yes, so being a professional I think it goes further
than just having the title. You earn money to play the sport, so you have to
be professional in the way you behave, the way you market yourself, the way you
promote, because at the end, I feel that the individual or the athlete is also
its own corporation, its own business. It’s its own entity. So you have to treat it just like any other business. You have several
departments: you have your finance, the marketing, promotions, and
your production and customer relations, and everything else. So you have to
understand each one of those components. And just like in any business they all
have to have a balance, and as an athlete, you have to view yourself that
way. So view yourself as a business is what you’re saying? Absolutely! I feel
you have to do that. Now if I’m the number five, the number four player in the world, now what I’m looking at is, “Okay, what’s my revenue like?” So if my income is from a sponsor, let’s say a racket company or an outside of the industry sponsor, well,
okay, it’s fine to wear a logo or to talk about it on TV, but there’s, in
today’s world, there’s so many more avenues that the individual can do to
promote the companies that are paying them. So social media being out there, making sure that when their match is over they know somebody’s
gonna come and do an interview, put on the hat. Make sure you maybe take
a little time out. You just played a two-hour match, you’re sweaty. Clean up, change the shirt, put on the proper apparel, maybe put on additional logos of
the individuals you represent. We see that in other sports: car racing,
wrestling, or boxing. Those are the people that are paying the individual to
to get out there, so the individual should also be conscious and understand
that that’s where their income comes from. So take a little bit of time and
pay them back, or give them the promotion that they’re looking for. And it’s a
win-win because if they are seeing traffic because of what you do, then the
next time you go to negotiate it’s gonna be much easier and perhaps you can negotiate to have a little increase or a pay raise in this case. You’ve said before that somebody ranked lower than someone
else on a tour can sometimes be more successful, and it’s it’s based not
necessarily on their prize money, and how they’re doing in a tournament, and
they’re always coming in a final or a semifinal, but more about the visibility
that they have to be able to go to potential partners or sponsors and
say, “This is who I am. This is the brand that I bring,” rather than just
“Well, I’m a good player.” Yes, and the way to look at that is to say, “Okay, well I’m
number four in the world and people see me.” The problem
with racquetball I think is at one of our largest stages we can bring in a
thousand maybe fifteen hundred viewers. There’s some special circumstances where maybe we can get a few more viewers in there, but still that’s a very limited
audience. So what do you do to, as an athlete say, build your own
following right? So you can build it through social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and all the new medias that are constantly changing. Make sure you
stay on every one. And then also you build a customer base through either
an email list or phone contacts and that way you stay in touch with them. Let them know what you’re doing. Connect with them. So you don’t
have to be the number one individual. I mean, generally what does number
one mean? it doesn’t mean that, yes, you’re the best, but actually you’re just getting more TV time. So you’re in the finals, you’re in the semis, and
you’ve get those extra matches online. So when you’re not the number one person constantly in the semis, in the final, well then you’ve got to get visible in other
ways. So you create this following, so when you do change… let’s
say, a new brand offers you a contract because you are number three; when you
sit down and negotiate your contract you say, “Well, okay I’m number three on this tour. However, I built my social media where
I’m also bringing you a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand followers that will
constantly see the brands that you promote.” So that’s where I feel the value is. So you don’t need to be the number one player to build such a following. And that’s where the value is. I know we looked at an individual, I don’t recall his name, but he was a hockey
player and he built millions of followers on social media. And he
actually has like a webcast, and then he does commercials, and he does things and he puts him out. So he makes money from just the videos that he
posts. He gets paid and the guy makes more, millions I think, just
from those promotions and advertisers. And that has nothing
to do with his actual field hockey playing. So, we’re trying, with our athletes and say, “Look guys, get out there. Engage with
the people that are at the tournament, and engage with the individuals everywhere
you go, and let them know what you do. Create a following.” But I think in our world, for racquetball, where many of the pro athletes are a
little bit shy about it, they don’t go and say, “Well I am a professional
racquetball player.” Sometimes when we do say that, the first reaction is, “Oh, there’s professional racquetball?” “Does that mean you play for money?” and it’s “Yes, you can actually. You don’t make a tremendous living, but people can survive playing
racquetball, and a limited few.” But I think that can grow if the individuals
go out there and they work, but it’s a difficult balance because a lot of
times they are just trying to survive and try and improve ranking versus
understanding, “Let me build my brand. Let me build myself.” And that’s a difficult concept for a lot of our athletes. We try to guide them through and tell them, and then they get
some rejection. But it’s just like anything. I mean, if you go in at you’re
soliciting for advertising, you’re gonna get rejected twenty times and you may
land the one. But a lot of times they get pressured, “Well, I’ve already asked
all my friends,” or, “I’ve asked, and I’m not getting a response.” Well, you don’t quit. You’ve got to keep going right? It’s just like when you started
your racquetball career. You didn’t go in there and start winning every tournament.
You had to pay your dues. It’s the same thing. But once you build and you create
a following, then what I’ve seen is people now look for you because they see
that you’re kind of a good investment because you got a lot of
people. You have a lot of eyes on you. So that’s what companies want. So if somebody’s kind of hot, and they’re constantly on TV, they’re getting
interviews, and doing this and that, and going everywhere, well yeah I
want my right brand on that individual right? Well, if you’re looking for Gearbox Sports you can find them at www.gearboxsports.com and also on Instagram
Facebook and many of the other social media outlets. But for now, Rafa, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your experiences over the last ten
years. It’s been great knowing you, and of course, I wish you and your company the
best in future. Thank you Tim, and also good luck to you with GOAT Sports, and
thank you guys for watching. I hope you continue to follow racquetball. Check
out all the pro tours, get engaged with your community, and let’s build
racquetball together. Thanks


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