Wednesday 4 April 2007

Squash and the City

How (or should?) squash attract City money?Squash has an ambivalent relationship with the suited and booted. On one hand it tries to shake off "image problems" that perceive it as an elitist pursuit for public school toffs and City boys; on the other it courts the fat wallets by plonking itself in the middle of Broadgate or Canary Wharf.

Opening the recent 2007 International Edition (Issue 2) of Squash Player magazine I was pleased to see the annual London Super Series Finals, previously cancelled due to the withdrawal of a sponsor, may now be staged after all.

What particularly drew attention was a specific reference to the pertinence of the event's Broadgate Arena location:

"The Super Series Finals is a non-ranking event and as such provides exhibition-style squash for a niche audience in the City. Importantly, this is a showcase for the sport in the eyes of the world's financial community".

Having attended the event for a number of years I've seen some attempts to court (sic) the City workers who attend the Finals, usually through amateur tournaments throughout the week's competition, with a prize of competing on the glass court or a training session with one of the pros.

Spectators gather in the bars around Broadgate ArenaI don't doubt the sincerity and hard work of the organisers in offering these spin-off events to enthusiastic spectators. But does this constitute a serious attempt to "showcase the sport in the eyes of the world's financial community"? I doubt it - the profile is too small and investment minimal.

If the Super Series Finals at Broadgate are an explicit attempt to attract investment from City firms then they need to make a bigger statement. The venue (basically a marquee tent with limited tiered seating) does not allow for hospitality or entertainment away from the court – important side-shows when impressing corporate partners used to such things.

A couple of months ago I noted the irony in an initiative to attract City money to Olympic sports in preparation for the London 2012 Games. While large firms were being invited to "sponsor" an individual sport (supplementing increased state funding - some of which may even be diverted from squash), the chosen pastime of thousands of their employees wouldn't receive a penny due to squash's non-appearance at the Games.

Sponsorship v Partnerships

This shouldn't be the case. On a subsequent page of the Squash Player mag was an encouraging interview with Christian Leighton, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the World Squash Federation (WSF). His subject was sponsorships and partnerships: the former being centred on short-term mutual gain, the latter a strategic relationship that becomes "effective years after association".

Anthony Ricketts and Lee Beechill in the 2006 Super Series finalWhile admitting that the WSF is "certainly no expert" in this area, Leighton says that his organisation is willing to take risks in pitching for partnerships longer than the usual one- or two-year deals "even if it will deter many sponsors". This is a brave but necessary step, and is evidence of an ambition that the sport all too often seems to lack.

Given squash's links with business, why shouldn't these longer partnerships be possible? Finding where City companies splurge the charitable funds that could, under different circumstances, befall squash isn't difficult. A click on the website of the investment bank JP Morgan, for instance, sees proud boasts of partnerships that have created (and continue to support) sporting and cultural events.

With big-money announcements in the Middle East increasingly locating the region as the epicentre of world squash, the traditional influence of Britain as the sport's "home" is also under threat. This may not be a bad thing, though without innovative investment Britain may lose some of its famous tournaments in the near future.

So what exactly can be done to woo the investment banks, insurers and equity groups? Which partnerships would provide the most mutual benefit?

Why target a “niche”?

Is this man a member of a 'niche'?Perhaps this is not the right question to ask at this stage. The most ambiguous phrase in the above Squash Player extract is "niche audience": niches are by definition small, and do not attract large amounts of money. Squash is a mass-participation sport and needs to appeal than more to a niche audience.

The governing bodies of squash need firstly to address the incongruity posed at the start of this article and agree on which side of the bed they lie. Christian Leighton mentions in his article that "in order to find companies or brands with similar objectives or needs, we must first understand our own" - a welcome admission that a sport's image is crucial to its survival in the modern era.

World Squash Federation

Squash Player magazine


  1. Thousands of city people play squash- there are loads of clubs. Why can't they get something together themselves?

  2. They do it more for the exercise. don't know how many go to see professional tournaments (or would want to)


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