The NYC Squash Renaissance: Reasons for optimism
By CLEVE MILLER – Squash Mad Correspondent
I have read with interest the article by Eduardo Alvarez in Squash Mad and the response by Guy Cipriano published yesterday in the Daily Squash Report. I’d like to comment on Mr. Cipriano’s post. (Shame he didn’t post here. Ed).
Mr Cipriano has been a passionate voice of the NYC squash community for many years and has a specific understanding of local squash history and culture. That said, there are factual errors in his response that paint an overly negative picture of squash in NYC today.
To be sure, Mr Cipriano’s main point is 100% correct: in NYC, squash today is nowhere near where it was in the 1980s hardball period.
But a look at the facts shows that there are many reasons to be optimistic about a NYC squash renaissance. Here are five:
Reason for optimism #1: tournament participation is growing
Mr Cipriano states: “Today it would be a challenge to get a draw of 16 for a weekend tournament in Manhattan.”
Fact: adult draws in all five NYC weekend tournaments are routinely 32 players. Tournament entries are higher than they have been in the last 10 years and have increased by 78% since 2015. Even the smaller tournaments, such as the Big Apple, have shown similar results:
Reason for optimism #2: NY Squash leagues are rock solid
Mr Cipriano claims: “Today the leagues are on life support, and there are only three players per team.”
Fact: In 2005 there were 344 players in the league. In 2018 there were 754. In 2019 there were 852, when two new public clubs and a condo added teams to the league. Four players per team, not three.
Reason for optimism #3: the NYC squash community is innovating
Mr Cipriano states: “I wouldn’t invest capital in a declining industry any more than I’d invest in a buggy whip factory.” The implication is obsolescence.
Fact: there is a tremendous dynamism in NYC squash today:
● As mentioned, NY Squash has a “Condo Courts” project that delivers introductory programming to residents of condos with squash courts.
● The Hyder Trophy now has a PSA Men’s $10K.
● The Rothenberg tournament, led by Corey Modeste, is producing spectacular women’s
draws by calling on top juniors and college players throughout the northeast.
● NY Squash reintroduced the self-scheduling Individual Championship in 2018, with 101
players, and in 2019 drew 151 players.
● Also in 2018, NY Squash launched a new Pro League for local PSA players, starting
small but with the long term goal of something approaching UK and European leagues.
● The Public Squash group put in a public outdoor court in Hamilton Fish Park (although it is currently out of commission), a second (steel!) outdoor court is now up, and there is a third project in stealth mode for two more outdoor courts that has approval from NYC Parks and Recreation. In short, there is a lot going on.
Reason for optimism #4: The NYC/Boston/Philadelphia squash axis is reconnecting
Mr Cipriano states: From 1923 until 1993 the Tri-City Lockett-Ketcham Cup was contested by NY, Boston, and Philadelphia….When an initiative was put forth in 2015 to re-start the event, Boston and Philadelphia expressed zero interest.
Fact: NY Squash and Mass Squash restarted this for 2020. Paul Assiante had graciously arranged for us to use the Trinity courts for the event, which was postponed due to COVID-19. Philadelphia will join shortly. Small steps, but we’ll get there.
Reason for optimism #5: there are new economic models for squash in NYC
Mr Cipriano writes: “Today those clubs are all gone…. The space became far more valuable to landlords for office and other uses so the courts were demolished. Those economics are not going to change.”
Fact: Mr Cipriani is correct that sky high Manhattan rents make building a traditional squash business difficult. But two new public squash centers opened in Manhattan in 2019, and both have different economic models that are proving successful.
Brian Mathias’ SquashRx opened their second facility on 160 Broadway with a pay-to-pay model. The beautifully designed space is minimal and about 75% of the real estate footprint is taken up by the two courts themselves.
He uses a pass key system to reduce staffing costs – courts are booked online and a key code is generated to allow entry. $50 for 45 minutes on court, no membership fees whatsoever. Simple, sleek, minimalist, pure squash – and it works.
Also opened in 2019, the non-profit Manhattan Community Squash Center starts with a community squash model and then makes it operationally self-sustaining rather than donor-based (full disclosure: I’m a board member and the general manager).
Five new ASB courts, a fitness area, lockers and laundry service, a pro shop, and a cafe bar – this is a full-service facility.
With the mission of making squash accessible to all, the model is that high end memberships and lessons subsidize the low cost memberships and economic discounts – thus bringing the membership demographic closer to the diversity of the overall NYC community.
Some 23% of Manhattan Squash members pay discounted dues – as low as $42 per month – and the urban squash program gains efficiencies by partnering with the Hudson Guild, which provides the educational component.
In summary: the facts show that there is every reason to be optimistic about squash in New York City. There is tremendous energy and creativity: new clubs, player growth, outdoor courts, condos in league. Is squash where it was back in the 1980’s? Of course not. But the facts indicate that it may be on its way.
And the reason it is on its way is that squash in NYC is powered by a dedicated, passionate, hard-working volunteer community.
To anyone who is worried about the future of the sport: please, be part of the solution.
Volunteer to help in a tournament. Push your club to field another league team. Buy a ticket to a NY Pro League event. Offer to tutor at StreetSquash or CitySquash.
Squash in NYC is powered by optimism, and so the future of squash is ours to create.