Event Engine President
John Nimick looks at Squash Sponsorship, Promotion, Draw Sizes, the Ranking system, and concludes that it's time for some changes ...

Squash Success
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 the bottom.

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 detergent product.

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.

Communication and
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.

PSA Draws:
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 as many.

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 best”.

If the PSA is in it for the long haul, I propose these first three steps:

1. Change the ranking system to a “best 10” or “best 12”, which will:

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 preferences;

c) get the “shop window” out into the marketplace more often under PSA auspices to stimulate tournament activity and competitive prize money growth.

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

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 events:

  • Tournament of Champions

  • US Open

  • Canadian Classic

  • British Open



Beachill & White:
"Best-of" rankings would allow
them to  play smaller events



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:
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.

           THE PRACTICE:
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 now.

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.

           THE RESULTS:
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.