By Kevin Klipstein
Hearing some people talk about U.S. SQUASH, you’d think we fashioned ourselves after 19th century robber barons, rigging the system to extract maximum revenue to pad our accounts, as if we had equity in the Association. Based on my extensive research (read: Wikipedia), the term robber baron originates from German lords who charged a toll to use the Rhine, and added no value.
The squash rationale tends to go something like this: “By increasing fees, U.S. SQUASH is enriching itself on the backs of junior squash parents, and as a result, making squash more of an elite sport than it is already perceived to be, impeding efforts to expand the reach of squash to those less able to afford it.” From my perspective, we do the exact opposite.
Unlike sports such as tennis or golf, which are far larger, and have major television revenue associated with their events, and other squash national governing bodies which all receive extensive governmental support with the resulting bureaucracy, we exist on a model based on charging fees to cover costs for programs that are in demand by our constituents.
These fees are a result of surveys, feedback from members, careful deliberation, and ongoing consultation, with our volunteer Board, and our Teaching Pro Advisory Council with whom we discuss a variety of issues on a monthly basis. Good examples of this at work are the $10 junior membership fee increase we implemented last fall, which will help fund a new program in officiating, and a $10 per entry fee to fund our increased level of involvement and support for sanctioned tournaments which have be- come larger and more challenging to manage. We have hired someone who will start in July to drive the officiating program and plan to hire one additional person for the tournament support we are offering. Surveys of junior players/parents revealed that the majority indicated that these programs were needed/wanted, and that there was a willingness to pay for them.
Fundamentally we believe that the long term health of the sport in the US requires it to be self-funding, meaning our programs and activities must support themselves by generating enough operating revenue, from programs that add value, to cover our costs, and to not rely on fundraising activity. Time will tell whether the modest increases mentioned above will in fact improve programs and services, lead- ing to increased satisfaction and boosting participation, or whether they will pose financial barriers too high for people to participate in the sport. Past evidence, and our own experience, has suggested that these investments in programs will increase participation, not decrease it.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association has indicated that participation in squash has basically doubled in the last four years. Had there been no additional sanction fee for junior tournaments implemented a decade ago, a junior development director would not have been hired, and we would be far behind where we are now in developing junior programs nationally. The risk of not providing these services is that players and their families have a negative, or repeated negative experiences with the sport, and stop participating.
If we really want to face facts, the vast majority of the cost of participating in the sport has to do with club membership, lesson fees, and, when a player achieves levels worthy of regional or national com- petition, the travel costs associated with attending tournaments, not the entry fee itself. Flights, gas, tolls, hotel, etc all add up quickly, especially for families with multiple children participating.
These are inherent costs of participating in squash at the national level and we are acutely aware of them. Because the sport is quite small in comparison to other sports, and there are fewer players competing overall, combined with the country’s large geographic size, this issue is a particular challenge for squash players in the US. We also know that the costs are similar to those associated with participating in other individual sports at the national level. The solution to all of this of course, is to grow the sport regionally as quickly as we can, which we know for a fact our programs are doing.
Increasing participation in a small sport without major outside revenue sources requires a slow building process, an incremental approach, and investment by those involved in the sport, where services are paid for by participants. Thoughtful, strategic programming drives growth over time, which eventually helps drive down the cost of participation for everyone. U.S. SQUASH’s vision is for all people to have the opportunity to enhance their health and well being through the sport of squash and t here is nothing we’d like to do more than to reduce entry fees across the board, and make membership dues $10 total. This philosophy is on full display in our U.S. Open ticket pricing, where you can enjoy 3 days of world-class squash over a holiday weekend for $25.
Does it all add up? Beyond the measures of increased participation, we also look at member satisfaction to see how we’re doing, and by our last measure, satisfaction is at an all time high of 70%, up from 55% in 2009. So, we are not 19th century lords, we are not even a faceless corporation with employees who seek to enrich ourselves, rather we are a Board led not-for-profit with squash-playing staff members, working with hundreds of volunteers, striving to meet the needs of the community while expanding it at the same time. Members are our partners and our share-holders, and increasing their satisfaction with the Association and enhancing their experience with the sport is the return.