‘We need a more positive image to grow squash again’
By BARRY WATKINS – Squash Mad Columnist
There has been a lot of negative posting about squash on social media during the past few weeks and months over clubs closing down, squash not being in the Olympics and the current issue of David Lloyd Clubs removing courts for other activities.
As I have said time and time again, this is due to the lack of participation and retention of players in our country. According to statistics, since 1983 in the UK nearly THREE MILLION people have stopped playing our game.
That is an overwhelming figure. This is due to age, health, natural wastage, and poor retention of new and young people that have been introduced to the game.
We have more qualified coaches in England than ever before, and a fantastic grass roots programme. This programme from what I can see has gotten better each year since 1983, with more schools being involved and great club participation. But clearly all this is to no avail apart from slowing down the decline.
Like all of you out there this saddens me greatly, for we do have a great game. But all I hear is moaning about it and how we need more coaching and grass roots work.
Now I hear that courts with a space invaders game on the front wall will save the day. I ask you, will this really help the retention of players that we need? Or will it just line the pockets of the installers of these courts? We all know the leisure industry has to reinvent its products with the latest fad to keep on making money.
Have any of you asked yourself the question, why so many of our past top players go to the States to coach? Just look at how it’s growing there, look at what are they doing, and most importantly you need to examine and understand their commercial view towards squash.
In America, coaches usually report to a Squash Director who is in overall charge of the business side of the operation. He or she is directly responsible for overseeing the coaches, and making sure that courts are kept busy at all times of day to generate revenues. Bonuses are paid if targets are met. If targets are not met, the courts may well be converted to fitness or dance studios.
How many squash clubs in the UK, many run by volunteer committees, adopt this management strategy? The answer is very few. And, all the while America offers greater financial rewards for the game’s leading coaches, employed both in clubs and colleges, then the brain drain will continue.
I can go on and on, but until the majority of squash lovers realise that society has dramatically changed since our younger days, and, thanks to so-called “reality TV” most kids simply want to be famous more than anything these days (without necessarily having an ounce of talent to achieve this), we have a problem. Or, more accurately, squash has an image problem.
Squash has to become glamorous, with high-end socio-economic groups watching it. Then we will get the big sponsors, the mainstream TV, and then the fame for the players and the retention of the young.
We have fantastic professional tournaments in New York’s Grand Central Station, London’s Canary Wharf, a glass court at the Pyramids, and superb staging of the PSA World Series Finals in Dubai. But the coverage outside of the squash media barely scratches the surface.
There is a lot to do to provide a springboard for such an outlook, and there has to be a unified approach involving top players, clubs and governing bodies. Please don’t tell me this is not the way. Just look at tennis. The rewards are massive.
The Times recently published a feature concerning details of Roger Federer’s multi-million dollar sponsorship details, a phenomenal level of income made possible by the global reach of tennis, and the hours of live TV coverage providing exposure for the top global brands (private jets, watches, cars, clothing ranges, champagne and chocolate) whose logos adorn his shirts.
At the age of 36, his sponsorship deal with Nike ended in March and he signed a new 10-year contract with Japanese brand Uniqlo, whose clothing he wore for the first time at Wimbledon. He continued wearing his Nike tennis shoes, with the RF logo owned by Nike, because Uniqlo do not make footwear. In 2016, Federer earned more than 58 million dollars from appearances and endorsements.
In women’s tennis, Serena Williams earned just 62,000 dollars in prize money between June 2017 and June 2018 after taking a long break from the game because of her pregnancy, but she was still banking 18 million dollars a year from sponsorships and endorsements.
Squash players have also cast envious glances towards the world of badminton, where female Indian star P.V. Sindhu earned 8.5 million dollars last year.
Badminton stars are huge personalities in the Asian market, where Nicol David has opened new doors for squash, but our game lags miles behind in all aspects of promotion and sponsorship.
The collapse of the Women’s World Championship in Kuala Lumpur, where a marketing agency failed to bring in any sponsors, underlined the difficulties that squash faces.
In not quite 140 years squash has gone from a schoolboy pastime to the most exhilarating, exhausting and explosive game in the world.
I will explain in another post how we can start to achieve our objectives, but we all have to be on the same side.
Picture by STEVE LINE (www.squashpics.com)