International Slow Pitch Softball (ISPS) is a Miami-based organization with the mission of growing the sport of Slow Pitch Softball around the globe. It began in 2008 when Florida Adult Softball was established to provide a better way of playing the game to all athletes in Florida while at the same time in memory of fallen hero PFC Marius L. Ferrero who was killed in action in Iraq in Nov 2007.
During the first years, FAS grew throughout the state of Florida and eventually sparking the interest of other regions and states. When Puerto Rico joined the organization, it was decided that it was necessary to make a change to the name and mission. These days, ISPS softball has a global reach.
ISPS hosts worldwide tournaments, with territories in Africa, Asia, Australia, Caribbean, Central America, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America. ISPS puts on not only ISPS events in these territories but a full roster of tournaments including Opens and Championships. Major tournaments include the Hispanic World Championships, Winter World Championships and ISPS World Championships.
Sports Destination Management: As a global organization, how did you weather COVID?
Manuel Ferrero: It was very scary – it was the first time we had to cancel every event on the worldwide scale; like everyone else, we’d had to cancel events once in a while because of bad weather but we’d never had anything like that. There was no way of planning for it and when you live off events, it’s really difficult.
SDM: Are you back to business as usual now?
Ferrero: I’d say we’re back almost all the way. Asia is still completely locked down, but some parts of Europe are opening back up. South America and Central America are back, and in the USA, we’re up to pre-COVID numbers.
One of the things the pandemic did allow us to do was expand. We affiliated with nine new countries in Africa; for example, we traveled to South Africa and showed locals how to play slow pitch. Little by little, we are planning things there. There are still some restrictions and some government hurdles, but they are very receptive. They want to learn to play, and they want to be a part of this sport. It’s very encouraging.
SDM: How many events are you running per month?
Ferrero: I’d say that pre-pandemic, we were doing three to four a month; we’re about at that number now or maybe surpassing it, especially with some of the new regions including those in Central and South America. They began hosting events as soon as they were able.
SDM: The USA has dropped mandatory COVID testing for entry; do you think that helps?
Ferrero: I think it’s about time. It also makes it less expensive to travel because some of those tests could cost a lot, and that was hard, particularly for players who were already spending money to play outside the country.
SDM: Is your demographic mostly male, mostly female – or a mix?
Ferrero: Our demographic is about 80 percent male, but the female game is really increasing, especially in Latin America. Some of these countries might not have developed the sport as much as the teams have in the USA; they just want to go out and have some fun with their friends. But I would say that the most important thing – at least 90 percent – is the enthusiasm people have for the game. People appreciate the opportunity to play in other countries.
SDM: Other than the fact that the sport might not be as well-known or the athletes as skilled, what are some of the differences you encounter in putting on tournaments in different countries?
Ferrero: In the USA, people are used to having more opportunities to play. But in other cities in countries outside the U.S., they don’t have a field in every town, much less many sports complexes. This might be the only tournament of the year they participate in, and they might only have one team or one tournament in that part of the country.
SDM: Is it hard to sell softball to places where it’s not as well known?
Ferrero: It’s definitely different. For example, with soccer, all you need is one ball. You can entertain 22 kids with that one ball. With softball, and baseball too, you need gloves, balls and bats, as well as bases, and that’s just to start out. It’s a more complex field, too. People in other countries just don’t have access to all the things we see in the USA; for example, when we went to Africa, in many of the villages, I saw a lot of kids playing barefoot. They don’t have shoes for this. Back home, we throw away shoes when we feel like they’re getting worn or if there’s a new model out there.
SDM: What do you look for when you go to find a site for a tournament?
Ferrero: Number-one is facilities. Some destinations that have been inquiring about the possibility of building new complexes, by the way. We also look for the support of the CVB or the local organizing committee. When the destination is behind the event, it’s so much better. We’re also looking at the playing demographic and the budget for putting on and supporting an event.
SDM: Do you prefer grass fields or turf?
Ferrero: If it were up to me, we would be using all turf fields; they don’t flood and they are easier to play on right after there is rain. On the other hand, grass is cooler, and I love the smell of it.
SDM: Do you promote things on social media?
Ferrero: Yes – we use Facebook and Instagram.
SDM: What levels of play do you have?
Ferrero: We have men’s bronze, silver and gold-level teams, women’s open, and two co-ed levels: lower and upper. We also have a senior division for those age 40 and up.
SDM: If people want to get in touch, how should they do it?
Ferrero: They can reach out to me at info@ISPSSoftball.com or 1-855-576-8522.