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Friday, April 16, 2021

Cassie’s Corner: Squash needs the Aussie Open back on calendar

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Squash must learn lessons from tennis if it’s to get the Australian Open back on the calendar
By CASSIE THOMAS – Squash Mad Columnist

HAVING only been to Wimbledon once, and that was when I was 17 and prepared to sleep on the pavement, I presumed that I would just enjoy watching the Grand Slam tennis on the TV.

So when I moved to Melbourne three years ago I found the Australian Open practically on my doorstep. Thinking it was a similar situation to Wimbledon regarding tickets I continued to enjoy watching it on the TV.

It was only when my parents visited in January 2013 that I looked into the ticket situation as they had never been to a major tennis tournament.

My pessimism was misplaced. A quick click on the website and three tickets later we are there. So for the last two years my parents and I have had a thoroughly enjoyable day at the Australian Open tennis.

It is known as the fan-friendly Grand Slam and I can see why. The tickets are very reasonably priced. For a ground pass, which entitles you to view all the courts except the two main arenas (Rod Laver & Hisense) it is $34.00 which is about 17 English pounds.

The whole Melbourne Park area is very easy to get round with plenty of attractions for the fans besides the tennis.

There are plenty of good value food and drink outlets and lots of water stations. You might think mentioning water stations is a little odd but for the last two years on the days we have attended the temperature has reached 42 and 44 degrees centigrade (107 & 111 Fahrenheit) respectively.

In fact this year, on the day we were there, is when they stopped play due to the extreme heat policy. So those water stations come in very handy!

After spending a day at the tennis you come away envious that squash doesn’t have the same profile. We are all aware of the main reasons for this but wouldn’t it be great if most squash playing countries had their own major open event.

This obviously includes Australia. Unfortunately at the moment the Australian Open is missing from the calendar and for a proud squash nation this is a crying shame.

Having a major tournament with the world’s top players can inspire the next generation and for a country like Australia trying to get back to the top of the squash ladder this can only be a positive step.

We all know it takes a lot to hold a major event and the main thing of course is finding a main sponsor and then getting that sponsor to commit for a minimum of three years to keep the event established.

There are many iconic venues in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Imagine a court in front of the Sydney Opera House or in Federation Square in Melbourne.

This would create huge interest from both squash fans and the general passing public and would turn it into an event as well as a tournament.

These are only suggestions for an ideal world but let’s hope in the future that the Australian Open can be the tournament that this country deep in squash history deserves. 

Nicol David and Ramy Ashour, Australian Open champions in 2012
Nicol David and Ramy Ashour won the 2012 Australian Open at the National Convention Centre in Canberra

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12 Comments

  1. It’s a great dream, Cassie, but the reality holds an abundance of obstacles. The obvious problems with the Australian governing body are a major issue, and have driven most of the talented players away to more helpful bases abroad, mainly to the USA and UK, and this includes some of the best World Class coaches. The closure of so many courts and clubs, in some cases losing every squash facility in a city, will hamper development at any level. But, as mentioned, the fundamental problem is sponsorship, and judging by the glut of $5K events that fill the calendar in Australia, with no Hotel provision, no Billeting, no airport pick-up, a 32 main draw, 32 qualifying draw, in some a pre-qualifying stage, and Top 100 Australian or New Zealand players entering for cheap points and prize money, the level of worthwhile competition from other countries will steadily decrease to ‘club player’ standard. If sponsors, or groups of sponsors, cannot be found, for a few $10K and $15K events, what hope is there for an Australian Open with appropriate prize money ? If Pakistan can do it, why not Australia ?! Perhaps there are two underlying problems, the first being the unquestionable Australian patriotism, in that “if an Australian doesn’t have the wildest chance of winning, why should we invest in an Australian Open?” The answer being International Companies that operate in Australia. Which brings about the second problem, that being the lack of someone with the expertise to approach and acquire sponsorship from these organisations. Good luck with your dream, Cassie, but there is much to do !

  2. Don’t give up on the Australian Open Squash yet. The interest generated by the championships from 2010 to 2012 as a major world class event has continued to build momentum. I am having talks with a new major sponsor this week… And there is very little doubt that if the Australian Open model used for the Canberra event was translated to a larger squash playing city like Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, it would break even or start to make a profit. The real problem is finding someone to underwrite the initial investment and the risk – something that neither Squash Australia nor the State and Territory associations are in a financial position to do.

    Perhaps we should ask Tennis Australia to help out their little brother or sister sport for few years…

  3. There is an old proverb – “A friend in need is a pain in the butt”!, so don’t expect much more than excuses from ‘big brother’ Tennis, or from other Australian associations or local authorities. Commercial sponsorship, spread over up to six or eight sponsors, is the more logical answer.it then becomes far easier to acquire the prize money pot and other costs. It also reduces the problem of sponsors pulling out, as it’s easier to replace one or two smaller contributors than one that would be crucial. In times of recession, InternationalBanks and Accountants do very nicely, as do Food Chains like McDonalds. Energy drinks are big business and hugely profitable, Red Bull for example. As I mentioned in my post, someone with the expertise to approach and acquire sponsorship from these companies is essential, otherwise it simply won’t happen. Hosting a successful, and cost-effective, Australian Open, will make future sponsorship that much easier to obtain, everybody likes a winner ! I feel that the degree of existing negative thinking and action within Australian Squash is the first major obstacle to overcome.

  4. Eric I agree with most of your comments regarding squash in Aust, however, having worked on the Aust Open Squash I can tell you it was not through lack of effort or lack of having a professional sponsorship package that we were not able to secure the sponsorship that was needed. I would be more than happy to share with you the sponsorship prospectus for the Aust Open Squash which was a very professional document that was sent to the companies that you mentioned with covering letters to the relevant people in sponsorship management in electronic format & hard copy followed up with phone calls and face to face meetings.The problem is that squash collectively does not have a product or the profile at this point in time to sell to these major companies. Simple there is no real marketing plan for our sport. There is very little media coverage and promotion of the international Oz players as we see in other sports so sponsors will put their $ into a sport & its players without a media profile. Very few people know who Kasey Brown is in this country even though she is currently ranked # 11 in the world but tennis Sam Stosur is ranked # 17 and everyone know who she is simply because of the risk and effort tennis aust has put into the promotion of the Aust Open Tennis and the tournament surrounding the event in Australia. These companies know the Federers, the Nadals ect but they have no idea who Nicol David, Laura Massaro, Nick Mathew or Ramy Ashour are so they will not invest. So I agree that that the negativity is an issue to overcome but what is really need is expertise in marketing that will attract sponsorship.

    • Sam, has summed this up perfectly. I’m from NZ and this is exactly the same problem we have over here.Marina Erakovic has a top 60 Tennis ranking and most of our country has heard of her. Joelle King is #5 in the world at squash and most wouldn’t know who she is, though did get a brief profile after 2010 commonwealth games. Marketing is the key. Melbourne, Victoria do a wonderful job with the Tennis. Great watch on TV! I’m afraid our great sport is a tough watch on TV (World men’s teams last year was the best production I’ve seen, but even that was hard), so we will struggle to market it to Tv companies (i.e Cricket, Tennis, rugby,netball etc.). We are a participation sport (one of the best in my opinion) and need to sell Squash on that.

  5. The USA is not exactly a front-runner in Squash, but they still manage to host some of the best events on the Pro circuit. Positive thinking, and excellent Sales and Marketing skills make them happen. The Sport has grown quite dramatically in the USA in recent years, thanks mainly to the College and University involvement. Yale University now has 24 courts. Scholarships have created opportunities for players and coaches, and the Street Squash initiative appears to be flourishing in the cities. They are not too concerned about TV, but the ToC finals will now be shown as a result of the brilliant spectacle that took place. They had vision, and it has been rewarded. Some years ago, the Los Angeles Olympic Games was the first to introduce real show biz, and almost certainly the first to make a profit. It is not a sin to copy, better that than throwing the towel in with excuses. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that without the right people in place squash will not progress in most countries. The USA has not escaped the recession, so that cannot be used an excuse.

  6. It is great to see the comments and opinions regarding the Australian Squash Open. Trying to be positive I hope it does get back on the calendar as a major event but totally agree with the comments about the marketing and raising the profile. Even if it starts just locally you want the game in the papers, on radio and tv etc. This then gets the public talking about the game and then you can build from there. Since living in Melbourne I have noticed there is hardly any newspaper coverage on the game both locally and nationally. I know in England the newspapers are pretty good especially the local ones in keeping people up to date in what is happening in their local squash scene and with their local players.
    Definitely lots of work to do but let’s stay positive and keep those comments coming in.

  7. John, thanks for the question. Nadal is known to be a pretty fair player so I think it was a genuine time out. It was more frustrating for his opponent who was on a bit of a roll and you could see that by the way he was talking to the umpire. Wawrinka did well to get back to playing his game and eventually winning. Just a shame it happened in the final.

  8. Cassie, I agree. And in the final of a major, you don’t want to close the show early and disappoint the paying customers. But I’m sure you could relate to Wawrinka’s frustration. Conditioning is part of the game, and while I agree Nadal was blameless, it made me wonder how long the tournament directors would have let him recover before calling it.

  9. The National Press in the UK virtually ignores Squash, despite having a World Champion and other Top 10 players. At local level the picture is even more disappointing, due entirely to the lack of effort from coaches and clubs. Every local newspaper should have a photo library of star players, a connection with the Sports News Desk, and a regular feed of club news and players achievements. IT’S FREE PUBLICITY, IT CREATES INTEREST IN THE SPORT, AND NOTHING MOTIVATES PLAYERS MORE THAN SEEING THEIR NAME AND PHOTO IN THE PAPER ! “If I’m not getting paid to do it, why should I bother” seems to be the attitude, how negative is THAT ? Newspapers share stories of interest, and some make the National Press. Sponsors also like to be mentioned, part of the reason why they invest. Surely it makes sense to have printed evidence when approaching potential sponsors, rather than begging for funding with a load of hot air and promises. Side-tracking to Tennis, we have Andy Murray. Now tell me the names of British Tennis players ranked 2, 3, 4, and 5 on the national rankings, and what are their World Rankings ? A joke in my opinion ! But, Tennis makes news regardless of that, something that 100 years of Squash has not achieved. Is it any wonder when so few can be bothered ? The Sport is at a quite magical stage, with some of the most exciting players ever on the circuit, TV coverage is brilliant, kit and racket manufacturers have worked on image, so what is the missing link ?

  10. I’ve always been very interested in the topic when it comes to comparing squash with tennis. It’s also interesting to me why we are never (or very rarely) compared to badminton. In fact, I am in the process of writing a piece comparing the three.

    It surprises any outsider why there isn’t an Australian Open or even why just a few years ago, even the British Open had trouble getting sponsors, when the best players traditionally came from these countries.

    The point on “patriotism”, that if there’s no Australian having a chance to win, then what’s the point of investing… I was involved in the organising of the Kuala Lumpur Open for a couple of years in the early-mid 2000s. The tournament was pretty much scaled to our local players’ rankings. It was “engineered” so that Nicol and Azlan/Beng Hee would have a fair chance to win it. As the years went by and as their rankings moved up, the prize money grew. This way, not only is it easier to justify the point of “patriotism”, but the earlier years also allowed sponsors to “test the waters”. It’s much easier getting 20k initially than to go out straight for 100k. Maybe Aussie Open could look into adopting a similar approach?

    It’s the same with the press. 15 years ago, we’d be lucky to even get results published in the newspapers. As squash became more popular, the local press became more interested with their local players and eventually, today, we have lots of squash news in national newspapers, sometimes, even live telecast of tournaments on TV. I believe with some push to the media, Australia could head the right direction too. Only over 2 years ago, I had provided a photo for a piece on Pilley (http://www.pbase.com/alexwan/image/136955588).

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