By Doug Woodburn
PSA chief executive Alex Gough today characterised a “major” investment in squash by billionaire philanthropist Mark Walter as a “game changer” for the sport.
According to the two parties, the move will lead to more tournaments and better player compensation, and will boost the game’s global growth.
Squash has endured a mixed few years, with Covid only accelerating a worrying trend of court closures and waning grassroots participation seen in some of the sport’s traditional heartlands (including England and Australia – see here and here).
Could this be the shot in the arm the sport needs to broaden its appeal and boost prize money?
Who better to ask than the pros who slog all year round on the PSA World and Challenger Tours?
‘Just what we were hoping for’
Having previously called for squash to take a leaf from padel’s book and work on elevating its status, France’s world number 18 Gregoire Marche, told Squash Site that the deal is potentially “huge for the sport”.
“This is just what we were hoping for,” he told us.
“Let’s see how it goes, and how we can maybe bring this sport to the Olympics and to a bigger [stage].”
Echoing Walter’s own remarks on the growth potential of squash, Marche said the sport already ticks key boxes in terms of equal prize money for men and women and its popularity across all six habitable continents.
“I’m just really happy that someone believes in the sport,” he said.
‘A good day for professional squash’
Marche’s countryman, world number 8 Victor Crouin, echoed this, stressing that rumours of a deal of this nature had been in the offing for “more than a year”.
“To see this deal become a reality is exciting,” Crouin told Squash Site.
“I hope it will bring the PSA Tour to new heights and we will continue to improve showcasing our sport and players the best way possible.
“One way to do it is to have more media marketing and advertising, and streamed events. But overall, we need better playing opportunities to bring players from Challenger to World Tour events. In any case, it’s a good day for professional squash and I am looking forward to seeing the improvements next season!”
‘Mark Walter has made his mark in professional sport’
Known to English football fans for investing in Chelsea last year, Walter heads up financial services outfit Guggenheim Partners and is estimated to be worth $5.2bn by Forbes. His other sporting interests include Major League Baseball franchise the Los Angeles Dodgers and Women’s NBA side the Los Angeles Sparks.
This context was not lost on India’s world number 37 Ramit Tandon, who felt that squash can only benefit from Walter’s expertise in other sports.
“Mark Walter is obviously well known for his investment firm but with ownership of Chelsea and a LA baseball team he has definitely made a mark in global sport,” Tandon told Squash Site.
“This is a big step for the PSA to have someone with his expertise and resources on board and it’s something I personally believe that the tour needs. With this I see a lot more merger opportunities, sponsors and investors coming to the table.”
“With this, I hope squash has a more sustainable future’
Walter stressed that he is eager to work with the PSA to “make [squash] a broader and more inclusive sport”, a point that was welcomed by Malaysia’s former world number 5, Low Wee Wern.
“All in all it is great news to have sponsors invested in the sport. In many countries, squash is not considered a major sport and it’s tough for players to attract sponsors to fund their career, let alone make a living out of professional squash,” she told Squash Site.
“Especially with squash not being in the Olympics, we do not get the same level of exposure in comparison to other racket sports. With this, I do hope that squash will have a bigger presence worldwide and a more sustainable future.”
‘The future looks bright’
Despite Walter himself putting up a $1m purse for the World Championships four years ago, prize money in pro squash tapers off quickly, with many players struggling to even break even at smaller events. The lack of opportunity to move up the rankings has also been flagged up as a major issue by some players.
The Walter deal will “increase the playing opportunities and earnings potential for our athletes, as well as helping them rise up the PSA World Rankings”, according to the PSA’s Gough.
World number 48 Charlie Lee, who spoke honestly about the reality of life on the Challenger Tour with Squash IQ earlier this year, was inclined to agree, hailing the deal as a potential breakthrough for players across all ranking brackets.
“It’s fantastic news for the game and us as players; the future looks bright,” Lee told Squash Site.
“I’m excited to see how it plays out. It’s pleasing to hear there will be more tournaments to support the very strong standard all the way down the tour. Hopefully it will be the boost the game needs to receive the coverage and recognition it deserves.”
World number 88 Tom Walsh, who has also opened up about the rigours of being a globe-trotting squash pro, dubbed it “very exciting times for the sport”, meanwhile.