ISDA Tour Reorganizes, Seeks Sponsorship  
By Rob Dinerman

Dateline Feb 15, 2006
--- In a turn of events that will likely have major ramifications for the present and future of North American professional doubles, Gary Waite, the President of the International Squash Doubles Association (ISDA), announced in a February 9th email to the Board of Directors that the ISDA in its current organizational and administrative form will be ceasing operations in order for its leadership, consisting of himself and Executive Director James Hewitt, to concentrate their efforts on securing significant corporate sponsorship to reinvigorate a tour whose growth has reached a plateau during the past 18 months after several prior years of consistent expansion.

Waite's statement, coming as it does right in the midst of the 2005-2006 Tour cycle, will affect both an increasingly fractious player group and the March through May tour sites (including planned events in Vancouver, Long Island, Manhattan, San Francisco and St. Louis), though Waite made it clear that he planned to contact those sites and offer to assist in any way to ensure their success. He also expressed the hope that by working with these venues in a more informal atmosphere, he and Hewitt would be better able to learn more about what the tournament directors would like to see and arrive at more creative ways to market the game.

Waite's email to the Board referenced several additional aspects of the new direction he envisages for the Association that he and Hewitt formed in the late 1990's, such as a reconfiguration as a non-profit organization and an attempt to involve sites below the $20,000 level that at present constitutes the minimum for an event to be sanctioned for ranking purposes. But clearly the most significant phenomenon driving his and Hewitt's decision is the need to attract the type of corporate backing that will elevate the tour beyond the state where it is dependent on the beneficence of the current crop of private-club patrons. The latter group, understandably after a half-dozen years of financial support, has become visibly fatigued by the burden of multiple fundraising efforts, especially in the New York metropolitan area, where four or five pro doubles events now take place every year.

The current situation has been building for some time and seemed to have been affected at least in part by an unhappy player reaction that resulted this past week when the number of main-draw teams in an upcoming event was reduced at the host club's request from 16 to 12 after the draw had already been disseminated as a 16. Especially starting with the early-season events this past fall, the ISDA's effort to grow has hit something of a plateau, as has the good-will of its players (very few of whom had any hesitation about playing in several autumn '05 sites that ignored the ISDA, did their own player invitations and even matched up playing partners), resulting in a loss of leverage with the sites, many of whom were feeling the effects of the considerable expenditures of time and money that running an ISDA tournament exacts.

The fact that Waite himself, along with playing partner Damien Mudge, have been such a dominant team throughout the ISDA's existence, including going undefeated wire-to-wire last season before finally stumbling a few times this season, has itself become somewhat problematic by giving an unwanted preordained feel to the competitive scenario. Even when Mark Talbott was enjoying such similar success on the WPSA hardball singles tour that had such a remarkable run in the 1980's and early 1990's, he was often winning by narrow enough margins to make most WPSA tourneys have much more of an anyone-can-win feel to them than has been the case with the ISDA.

The ISDA may simply be going through the kind of difficult but ultimately productive growing pains that frequently attend the successful launching of a professional sports association once harsh marketing and environmental realities make their presence felt after the initial rush of adrenaline that fueled the first few years has worn off. Waite's statement, far from raising a white flag, was rather a purposeful declaration of a need for a brief retrenchment preceding a forceful and targeted redirection of the Association's manpower, with an eye towards creating the strongest and most successful North American doubles organization that has ever existed.

There is no question that the exposure and quality of the ISDA tour has immensely enhanced amateur and club doubles activity (the recent spate of new doubles court construction, notwithstanding the large expense of doing so, providing tangible proof of the foregoing) and Waite's report to the ISDA Board last week emphatically reflected his determination to further the sport's growth at all levels, even as he signaled what amounts to a time-out to give himself and his colleague a chance to prepare themselves to undertake the formidable task that lies ahead of them.

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