Squash Mad

Exclusive Interview – Low Wee Wern on changing the sponsor-athlete-fans ecosystem

Exclusive Interview – Low Wee Wern on changing the sponsor-athlete-fans ecosystem

Wee Wern Gets Entrepreneurial
By Alex Wan – Squash Mad Asian Bureau Editor

In this two part series of interviews where we speak to two top ten players out on injury breaks, Squash Mad catches up with Low Wee Wern, the Malaysia number two who is still out on an injury break, after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus on her left knee in April this year.

The injury couldn’t have come at a worse possible time as Wee Wern was at the top of her game, having just broke into the world’s top five six months prior to that and helped Malaysia to a historic second place at the World Team’s in December, which earned the team the Best Women’s Team title at the Malaysian national sports awards. In the latest PSA rankings this month, Wee Wern dropped out of the top ten for the first time since breaking into it in September 2012.

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Wee Wern with Malaysian shoe couturier Jimmy Choo at a National Day function.

Unknown to many, Wee Wern is one of the very few who had turned down lucrative offers from Ivy League institutions to further her studies, choosing to go pro instead. At that time, it didn’t seem to make much sense to many people back home, she shares with us her rationale and how she got away with it then.

While she has been away from the tour, she has been a pretty busy lady. Apart from hanging out with Jimmy Choo, giving relationship advise and telling guys to stop carrying ladies’ handbags (http://www.mens-health.com.my/sex-women/low-wee-werns-tips-on-love-and-relationships), she’s been on a self-marketing journey, one which brings her fans, sponsors and her closer, which she elaborates further in the interview.

 

You’ve been out since April. That’s six months not on tour. Can you briefly run us through these six months?

Wee Wern with the medical team involved in her surgery

Wee Wern with the medical team involved in her surgery.

It has been nothing short of a challenge. This is by far, the worst injury I have sustained. It is my first and hopefully last surgery ever! It’s been tough, not being able to do what I love doing.

I had the injury on a Thursday. I went to see an orthopedic on a Friday and did an MRI. By evening, the scan was

out and I was told that I fully ruptured my ACL and meniscus. The doctor then asked me to call my mum and my coach, Aaron (Soyza) to come over and discuss the best way forward.

Thinking back, I actually drove myself to the hospital with a torn ACL and in my manual car, thinking it was nothing serious!

I went into surgery the following Monday and was on a wheelchair after that. I had to learn how to move about on crutches, then later walking on my own to running and finally stepping back on court. It’s been a long process to say the least!

When can we expect you back then? Which would be your comeback tournament?

I am hoping to be back for the Malaysian Nationals in early November. That is of course, still pending approvals from my doctors, rehab specialists and physiotherapists. If I do make my comeback then, it will be pretty quick considering that ACL reconstruction surgeries could take up to 14 months to heal before being ready for competition, but I am very determined to be back sooner than that!

As for the PSA Tour, I will be back playing in the Hong Kong Open and World Championships this year. I will have my coach, Aaron (Soyza) with me for all these three events just to make sure everything is ok for me to start competing in full swing again.

You’ve been touring and training since you finished school. This is probably the longest break you’ve had. Tell us some of things that you enjoyed during this time which you never had the chance to do for a long time.

To be honest, I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t a ‘forced’ break. That aside, I don’t think I have been home for six months straight since I started squash. I’ve been home for too long that I’ve ran out of places to go or what to eat!

But it’s nice to be home, spending time with family and friends, celebrating birthdays, watching movies, chilling by the beach and doing what normal people do. Also, I have had more time to do different photo shoots and interviews!

And what are the things you miss most being being away from the tour?

Being on tour, training and competing has been a big part of my life and I miss that. The feeling of getting out there on court, challenging the rest of the players, the sportsmanship, the respect between the players, the support from the crowd. It’s the whole atmosphere and it’s hard to put them all into words.

That aside, I am touched by the number of messages I received from fellow players on the tour since my injury. As much as we are competitors on court, off the court, it is always nice to catch up with the players at breakfast, coffee and seeing a squash player at the corner of every street during a tournament.

Apart from your rehabilitation, we hear you have been busy with some something rather new and exciting? Tell us more about it.

Wee Wern doing her bit supporting World Squash Day.

Wee Wern doing her bit supporting World Squash Day.

Yes, I am building a website that aims to solve a problem of disconnect between my fans and sponsors. On top of that I want to challenge and change the current sports endorsements legacy system. This website is for me to lead by example and educate sponsors of what my value is worth to them and why they should endorse me.

The typical events appearance, face on billboards and print ads, they always seem to be lacking some substance because I could never justify my value to them. With this website, I could show them why it is worthwhile endorsing me and mainly help them justify their returns on investments in me.

As I grow my fan base, imagine the potential value I could create to my sponsors! And for my fans, there’s a reward system that gives them back for every share or post they make, something I could never do before.

There’s also an extension of an online shop where my fans can purchase items that I endorse at a special rate using the points they earn. This is a proven return on investment and a win-win situation between sponsors and fans. How cool is that?

It’s my first step toward entrepreneurship and I’m learning through trial and error.

Check out Wee Wern’s Indiegogo campaign here : http://igg.me/at/weewernlow/x/11913314

Watch Wee Wern’s video to her fans here : https://youtu.be/k3UTAUluAMA

 

There seems to be quite a disconnect between you professional players and the fans, and I’m speaking from experience. There are actually many who adore you people out there. In line with what you are doing, do you feel squash players are not selling themselves enough?

I think squash in general does not have enough publicity, the global recognition it deserves to begin with.

Because of that, we squash players do underestimate our own value as a world class athlete in comparison to tennis players, golfers and so on.

Due to financial constraints, we are not able to hire our own manager, PR team and so on. Thus I think we tend to lose out when it comes to securing endorsements, speaking to sponsors, getting a bigger fan base and knowing how to get connected to the fans, supporters and the community. We don’t have the resources and the experts to plan this out for us in detail. We are just trying to do everything on our own.

 

Speaking of connecting with fans, tell us a memorable fan moment you cherish and one that you wish didn’t happen.

The next day after losing in the quarter-finals of the World Champs in Penang despite having three match balls in the fourth, a young fan together with his siblings came up to me with flowers. They said that I fought very hard and (told me) to keep going strong. I was touched and support like these, it really just encourages me to do better! I do cherish my fans and have yet to come across one I wish didn’t happen.

Wee Wern's ad campaign for shoe and apparel sponsor Mizuno.

Wee Wern’s ad campaign for shoe and apparel sponsor Mizuno.

I understand you lost some sponsors because of your injury. Was that something that came as a surprise? Tell us who your current sponsors are.

Yes, I have indeed lost a couple of sponsors due to my injury and also due to the current economic situation here in Malaysia. I am not entirely surprised, mainly because most contracts are for a year and I have been out of action for half the year.

But I am extremely grateful to my current sponsors Harrow, Herbalife, Mizuno, IJM Land and Tatonka who stayed on despite my injury. A special mention to Nusmetro and PBA (local Penang water authority), my two sponsors who doubled up on my contract value this year. Thank you all for keeping faith in me and trusting on my comeback. It means a lot to me.

The women’s tin has now dropped two inches to 17, just like the men’s. What do you think this change is going to have an impact on? Both for the game in general and for you personally?

Honestly I have not tried it, so I can’t really comment on it just yet. I haven’t had the chance to really have a hit on the 17 inch tin, but I am looking forward to getting there.

As for the game in general, I think the recent results have showed that matches are more competitive, with less predictable results and it is an interesting mix to the game.

I am still unsure how I will feel about the change, but I will let you know in due time!

You are probably one of the very few (at least in Malaysia) who had actually turned down offers from Ivy League universities. Was it hard saying no to places like Harvard, Princeton and Trinity?

Of course it was! I was at a crossroad at the age of 16, deciding if I should get a degree or turn pro. These scholarships from such renowned universities, they don’t come every day. I remember Wendy Bartlett from Trinity calling me every week since I was 15 to check on me and asking when am I ready to go over.

But there were a couple of reasons why I decided to go on this path and turn down those scholarships. Firstly, winning the British Open Under-19 (in 2009) gave me hope, knowing I have a shot at making it on the professional circuit. No Malaysian has won that since Nicol (David in 2000).

The many years of Wee Wern's journey with coach Aaron Soyza.

The many years of Wee Wern’s journey with coach Aaron Soyza.

My coach, Aaron Soyza, who has been coaching me since I was 12, believed that I could be someone and he was willing to take that chance and work with me. No other local Malaysian coach has ever coached a professional up to this level.

Then there was my mom (of course!). I made a deal with her to let me play pro for a year and if I do not hit the top 50 by the time I reached 18, I’ll be good and go back to school.

Then, when I got to 18, I hit my target and I had to make another deal, this time to top 40 when I was 19, which I did. At 20, my deal was the top 30, but I got to 13 a few months after my 20th birthday.

So any more deals with mom now?

Haha! I think she has given up on asking me to go back to school. Though she did say to me, after I tore my ACL, that if I decide to not go back to playing, she is more than ok with it and that I have achieved enough.

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Low Wee Nee (left) recently graduated from Trinity.

And how was it when your sister, Wee Nee took up the Trinity scholarship?

Well she did make some noise when Wee Nee went to the Trinity. So I enrolled in KDU, a local college in Penang, to do Business Marketing.

I do the course at my own time, I don’t attend any classes. I just hand in my assignments and sit for the exams without attending classes.

 

So technically, you’re still a student?

Yes and I have a 3.5 GPA too! There are many who have asked me to play in the World University Games next year (which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia).

Let’s just say you did take up the scholarship. What do you think you would’ve studied to become?

I think it would be somewhere between the lines of business, marketing or economics. I did study economics at O levels and I quite enjoyed it. I was a pretty good student academically.

Malaysia won the bid to host the next three Women’s World Championships. Where would you really like to see an all-glass court erected?

It’s great that Malaysia won the bid to host it for the next three years. The home support we get here is amazing and I would love to be able to play in front of the home crowd again.

The first World Champs is already in Kuala Lumpur. The other two, I would really like to see the glass court up in Sabah, Borneo (East Malaysia) for a change at a nice resort and also in Penang, my hometown, again (where the delayed 2013 World Champs was held).

Share with us what’s in your squash bag.

Wee Wern strings her own rackets and uses only white grips!

Wee Wern strings her own rackets and uses only white grips!

Pretty basic stuff I reckon. My customised Harrow rackets, Mizuno squash shoes, flip flops, foam roller, lacrosse ball (for pressure point massage), squash balls, wristbands, white grips, and I only use white, rocktape and an ice bag. I don’t carry strings because I string my own rackets in Penang before I leave for tournaments.

 

 

Finally, what are your goals for the remainder of the year?

Initially my target at the beginning of the year was to stay in the top 5 of the world rankings. But now that I have been out for more than half the year, I just want to able to compete at the highest level again. I want to go back to at least where I was before the injury, to be able to challenge the top girls and play competitively without having to worry about my knee.

Besides that, I have high hopes of kick starting my website once my Indiegogo campaign ends in November. It’s 20% funded within the first 2 weeks since it was launched, so I’m really excited and feeling extremely positive about this. At this moment, my target is to get 5 new sponsors to join me on my new website before the end of the year.

So if there are any brands looking at this piece of article now, you can drop me a line at [email protected]

Thank you for the lengthy interview and being so accommodating with us, Wee Wern. We certainly wish you all the best in your comeback and your marketing campaign, and most of all, we look forward to seeing some action from you soon.

Wee Wern will return to the PSA tour with a pegged world ranking of 13 in her first 4 events.

Pictures courtesy of Low Wee Wern

 

Posted on October 7, 2015

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About The Author

Alex Wan

Alex Wan is an avid squash lover who writes, photographs, plays and coaches when he is not making a living with his Finance degree.

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