Starts at the Bottom
Martin Bronstein’s recent Global Gallery article for July 2004
titled “8 Man Events ... World Sponsorship Summit Wanted” linked the
shrinkage of PSA draws over the last 15 years and the rise of small
special events with a lament for greater international corporate
support for squash. However, his bold assumption, “If a sponsor put
his money in squash, on a global scale, the recognition would be
huge” is wishful thinking and his reporting of the PSA issue doesn’t
go far enough.
Taking the PSA and sponsorship issues in reverse order; the key
ingredient for long term success in squash is not global corporate
marketing. The key is grass roots communication. We have to start at
In reality, I believe there are only four or five squash tournaments
or programs in the world that are solidly based on commercial
support. In this select basket I would place the Bear Stearns
Tournament of Champions, Brit Insurance Super Series Finals,
Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open, Pace Canadian Classic
and WISPA's relationship with Qatar Airways. On my own
back, I would concede that neither the US Open or the British Open
are yet attracting serious corporate support.
The reason I believe that most of the squash world's tournaments,
Federations and media outlets are still surviving only on internal
squash community support or government funding is that we have not
yet, whether nationally, regionally or globally, been able to
deliver a market of consumers.
Football, motor racing, tennis, basketball, golf, etc. attract vast
amounts of sponsorship because they deliver consumers. The famous
example in the USA is that NASCAR automobile racing fans are so
loyal to the cars and drivers they support that people get into
fights at grocery stores over who uses which sponsor's laundry
Squash is not yet delivering a viable (large enough) consumer market
anywhere in the world to attract the likes of the Fortune 500 giants
Martin lists. While we may have 10 - 15 million players on the
planet, we have not connected them into a marketable constituency.
The response I hear over and over to my sponsorship proposals is,
“That looks like a nice event, but we just don’t sponsor squash.”
And we cannot rely on "television" to do our dirty work. Sure, it
would be heavenly if the global networks woke up one day and saw an
exciting, compelling squash TV product and decided that our
programming was as saleable as action sports, beach volleyball,
rodeo, fishing, indoor windsurfing, big wave surfing and other
"emerging" sports, but that day is not today and, due to our sport's
fundamental challenges of small ball and small space and despite
Jean De Lierre’s best efforts, it may not come for many years.
connectivity is the key:
1. National governing bodies need to focus on growing individual
membership, database marketing and grass roots development programs.
2. Tournament promoters need to assist junior development, engage in
data capture and make the sport “look” as attractive as possible to
potential players and fans.
3. All of these efforts need to be coordinated into focused internal
media communication, whether print, electronic or direct mail.
Last year, I set out to begin this internal connection process in
the USA by launching the US Pro Squash Tour (now to be known as the
US Pro Squash Series to better distinguish it as a subset of
the PSA World Tour) in partnership with Squash Magazine. Our
intertwined goals are to give domestic players a “local” and
accessible tour of high caliber events and results to follow and to
assist Jay Prince and Squash Magazine in reaching a circulation of
25,000 – 50,000.
According to advertising experts, at some point in that range Squash
Magazine can become a viable sport and “lifestyle” magazine and
attract advertising dollars from demographically-appropriate brands
and products. Once BMW or Mercedes takes one ad in Squash Magazine,
the company “does” sponsor squash. At that point, getting the
company (and its hard nosed ad agency) to extend their involvement
in the sport by sponsoring a tournament or a junior circuit or a
national team is a business proposition, not a charity hand-out.
The fact is that squash tournaments don’t deliver large audiences,
whether through attendance or television, and our magazines and
websites don’t yet have critical mass. Our only chance to sell
Microsoft, Coke or Pepsi on squash is to deliver their message right
to the mailbox or computer of hundreds of thousands of squash
players. As an example, and they are by no means alone, the USSRA
has the names and addresses, via membership, of roughly 2.5% of the
purported 350,000 squash players in the USA. It is not enough.
As to the PSA issue, my long term “bottom up” view about squash
counters the Association’s current strategies, as well. The men’s
tour continues to believe that its fortunes as a global professional
circuit will improve if it withholds its top players from the
marketplace. The prevailing ranking system “punishes” players for
playing lower prize money events and so the lead group plays the top
10 – 12 ranking tournaments a year. I think they should play twice
While Gawain Briars may have assurances that the Gerrard Super 8
and the Canary Wharf event may evolve into world ranking
tournaments, why should they? If on the one hand a $30,000 PSA event
offers, say, #10 Gregory Gaultier as a top seed and a $30,000
special event offers Peter Nicol at the top and then backs him up
with John White, David Palmer and Lee Beachill, which would you
attend, follow or invest your resources into?
There’s no question that ranking points improve the competitive on
court product, but squash is still a diluted marketplace where the
very best players in the world are on offer for three different pay
scales: special events and exhibitions at the top and Leagues and
PSA tournaments fighting it out for third place. There is no clarity
in the squash marketplace, as there is in almost every major sport,
about the competitive structure in which you will see the “world’s
RINGING THE CHANGES:
If the PSA is in it for the long haul, I propose these first three
1. Change the ranking system to a “best 10” or “best 12”,
a) remove the ranking penalty and reward a player’s “best”
performances over the course of a 52-week cycle;
b) result in players deciding what lower prize money events to play
based on possible earnings, national support or individual
c) get the “shop window” out into the marketplace more often under
PSA auspices to stimulate tournament activity and competitive prize
2. Contract with members to expressly prevent participation
in special events at the expense of sanctioned ranking tournaments
like the Gerrard Super 8/Hungarian Open conflict, which as a
customer of PSA (I buy their product) is damaging proof that the
association doesn’t yet “own” what it sells.
3. Improve the “value” of PSA and its core of fulltime
playing professionals by curtailing membership. In the July rankings
43 members were ranked at #276, bringing to 318 the number of PSA
“professionals”. Turn the Challenger-level events over to the WSF as
a regional development program, start PSA world ranking sanctioning
at $10,000 and rank only “Full” members. The loss in overall members
and dues can be made up by equally charging more from events and
members. Make PSA membership a privilege earned by talent and
dedication and not the ability to use a credit card.
Perhaps these thoughts will be of value as each of us in our own way
strives to improve and grow the game.
Bottoms up, everybody.
John Nimick, July 2004
John Nimick was PSA Executive Director before the present incumbent
Gawain Briars, and as President of his Event Engine promotion
company is the driving force behind many of the world's top squash
Tournament of Champions
Beachill & White:
"Best-of" rankings would allow
them to play smaller events
TIME TO USE
Rather than the current
"average of all events played"
system, John advocates changing to a system where only a players' best 10
or 12 results count.
The thinking on the
"Best of" system is that the top 10-12 PSA events offer so
many points that John White's (or any top ten player) average
is going to be comprised mostly from his results in those
events, as it is now.
However, if he plays and wins a 2 Star event, earning 350
points, and loses (shockingly) in the first round of a Super
Series Silver event (within a 52 week period), earning only
93.75 points, the computer will automatically pick the higher
number, bolstering his ranking and making the SSS loss either
"hurt" less or become irrelevant.
If John loses in the
first round of the 2 Star, earning only 50 points, the
computer will still pick the Super Series loss as a "better"
or "best" result. The system allows John to count on playing
all the big events AND motivates him to play (lots) more
smaller events in the hopes that one or more results might
"offset" a bad performance in a major. Even better, any result
from a lesser event won't hurt his ranking the way it does
One criticism of the system is that there is no ranking
penalty for John White to "tank" in the first round of the 2
Star. However, it is certainly not a financial incentive for
him to do so as that pay check would be quite small. It would
also be a lost opportunity to support his ranking with the
best possible slate of available points from which the
computer will pick his "best" 12 results. Even John cannot
predict the future (injury, travel delays, illness, cancelled
tournaments), so it's a real risk to purposely put a small
number on the record.
I don't think the competitive integrity question is a major
hurdle at this stage.
I think we need to get John White to some 2 and 3 Star events
so they have a marquee player to hang their promotion and
ticket sales on and so those organizers and spectators can see
why having more of the better professional players is a good
thing. The top group are our ambassadors. The PSA Tour is
keeping them on ice, while the BSPA, European leagues and
special events use them everyday.
I think each and every 2 and 3 and 4 Star PSA event ought to
have 1, 2 or 3 top eight players respectively.
This is what never (rarely) happens in squash. The top group
is usually all in or all out. But it regularly happens in
tennis and makes sense for a truly integrated Tour.