Have you met Grumpy Cat yet? Grumpy Cat is a supped-up version of Garfield and has made its owner millions! And I think Grumpy Cat has some lessons to teach the Professional Squash Association (PSA). In fact its not just Grumpy Cat, most internet business, especially those with a strong social-media platform are all following the same rules… Give it away! This seems to be a golden recipe that many startups are adopting, decide what it is you can give away to hook in the public and then sell them some additional service. For Grumpy Cat this means product, cards, shirts, mugs, you name it. It was exactly the same for Angry Birds, a free addictive game that spawned a merchandising industry worth millions.
I think the PSA should seriously think about the same approach to match footage. No one is denying that the popularity of squash is on the decline. But we are yet to see that one big idea to turn around the slump. I believe that the game of squash is more exciting than ever. The modern glass court is amazing to view, the athletes are sensational, the pace of the game is so much greater than it was 20 years ago. All this makes for a really exciting spectator sport! But I am an avid fan, and I find it difficult to find high-quality footage of professional matches. Sure you can find 10 minute highlights, but these do nothing to capture the atmosphere and tension of a match. Here is my suggestion: make the full, unedited footage openly available to everyone!
So what are the barriers to free-to-air, or streamed live footage? TV rights. Fullstop. Its the same for baseball (ESPN), the Australian Tennis Open (Channel 7 have this locked down tight) and even professional poker. But there is a big difference between these sports and squash – fan-base. Squash is a minority sport that is unable to get enough support to beat 3-aside basketball into the Olympics. Surely, freely available footage will mean a bigger fan-base, wider exposure will mean more interest from sponsors, more sponsors means more prize money and greater reward (incentive) for professional players, which means more competition, which means talented youngsters can aspire to make squash their profession and parents will become avid fans… All this makes for an even more exciting sport!
The biggest tennis nations in the world all have free-to-air tennis. NZ Rugby is starting to change its thoughts on “productionising” the game and returning its attention to the grass roots, local clubs, local matches, local heroes. Give it away! Squash as an industry will make its money in other areas; sponsorship, advertising, membership growth, coaching. But to do this, squash will need a massively disruptive change to the way it is operating. We need a younger more entrepreneurial approach to the game and one that’s prepared to take some risks to grow the sport – not the business.