Thursday, October 2, 2014

Improving Pro Squash From The Viewers Perspective

Today I'm going to talk about some ideas on how the PSA and WSA could improve watching and branding squash. This post topic is inspired after watching the final of the Netsuite Open in San Francisco. The outdoor glass court looked awesome and the setting couldn't have been any better...but. But the match was one sided and quite short. We always hope that the top names in squash put on an epic 4 or 5 game thriller. The same has happened in tennis for a long time with Nadal and Federer and over the last few years Djokovic and Murray. So how can we better market our sport for the viewers? For squash playing and non-playing viewers? Because that's the main things other sports have. Most people that watch the NFL on Sundays never played a game of football in their lives. So how do they end up sitting through 12 hours of football each week and still have time to watch the pre game and post game shows?

Squash is never going to be a mainstream sport. And I'm okay with that. That means people play because they love it. We watch it because we appreciate the high skill and athletic level required to play at the top of the game. I remember back when I was doing my masters project I emailed Roger Flynn from Scottish Squash and had some questions for him about my project. Roger wrote an interesting article about decision making training titled Tactics and Strategy In Squash. You can google it and find it online. He lists all the things that go into make a shot selection and ways to train anticipation and the importance of learning the tactics of the game. We discussed some of the challenged of decision making training in squash and in one email he brought up the idea of using a power bar when viewing professional squash. Like in the video games, you can see how much power or life someone has left. I thought it was a clever and neat idea, but he admitted that the players would never buy into it. Still it left thinking what else could be changed and improved.

A power bar may not be a realistic addition to watching live squash. But perhaps some of the players physiological data could be displayed. I know again, the players wouldn't like this. But as a viewer I appreciate how hard they consistently train and work in match to match. This would also make the non-squash player comprehend just how tough of a sport squash is. We could list the players heart rates and we could see how high they get after long points and how quickly they recover. I know it's important to disguise your fatigue and to make it look like you're not working all that hard. This can be quite mentally taxing on your opponent, but I think an idea like this should be taken into consideration for the benefit of growing the sport.

Okay, so the players don't want to wear a heart rate monitor. What about something simple like a step counter or total distance travelled? This may help the viewer understand who is controlling the match and the tempo, even if the scoreline is close. Another option that I always thought we be cool is the shot displacement like they do in tennis. Maybe squash doesn't have the funds to do this yet, but when they do I think it makes the game more intriguing. What shots are each of the players hitting from each part of the court? Is there a strategy or pattern that we are not seeing from out here? This could also be used to see where players are hitting the front wall for their drives or for how frequently each of them volley. Because whoever volleys and spends more time around the middle has a better chance of winning. And it would be cool to see how and if the players make these adjustments from game to game and match to match. If anything, it would only make all the players better along the way. I'm sure they would all love to have this information, but they wouldn't like their opponents having this access as well.

I don't even see the basics listed between games anymore; the winner to unforced error ratio that is. I know there is a lot more to squash and it's how the point is set up that matters. But even with a shoestring budget this is something that should be displayed.

Another way they can improve the viewing for professional squash tournaments is by doing a more comprehensive background and portfolio on each player. There are so many things behind the scenes that we would all like to know. Who are they training with, how often? How did they do in certain physical tests? Are they working with a sports psychiatrist? Show some clips and interviews from the last time the 2 players met. Even things like their yearly and career earnings. In tennis they go over the top doing some of these mini documentaries trying to create emotion and hype about an individual or a specific rivalry. We don't need to go in as much depth as they do in tennis, but it would be a good method for helping the viewers get to know the players better and this will create more interest for us, even if we don't have any Canadians in the event!

I know that they've used radar guns to measure how hard someone can hit the ball. But why not have them installed just above the tin near the front wall? This way we can look up and see just how hard someone struck that last straight kill or nick. People are amazed by a 100mph fastball just because it's rare and triple digits. Squash could create some buzz like this by including a measurement tool on the courts.

Another easy tool that could be included is having social media chats displayed below as the match is going. We get people watching from all over the world and we could tally up just how many are watching from each country. I believe this would create more of a community. They could use this to calculate polls about who things who is going to win and by what score. Everyone has an opinion and wants to have their say. Using Twitter, or something like that would be an effective way to do this.

Okay, so there are a few ways I think they can improve pro squash from a viewers perspective. I know some of it would cost some money that SquashTV probably doesn't have. But if they did, what would you like to see included? Do you have another idea that would improve spectating? Lowering the tin, using 4 wall glass courts at some incredible locations, and implementing a challenge system were all impressive and have helped facilitate the growth of the game and improve viewership. But what's next? We all want to promote the game we love to a larger audience...to our coworkers, friends, family, and to the youth. I believe the way to do this is by thinking outside the box. And last but not least, squash must continue evolving if we ever want to make it into the Olympic Games.

6 comments:

  1. Great blog in general, have you considered submitting the above to PSA Squash TV?

    Keep up the good work

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  2. Thanks Mainser. I had SquashTV linked when I tweeted this blog post. If anyone read it it's up to them. I'm sure they get lots of advice and feedback. It's likely a matter or what is practical with their budget at the moment. We'll see where they are and if they make any changes in a year or two.

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  3. 360 degree cameras of the court for matrix replays

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  4. I’m fairly new to squash and have been watching matches on SquashTV for just a few months. So I’m not very experienced, but I might be representative of the type of viewer we want to attract. After watching about two dozen matches at the Netsuite Open and US Open, four points come to mind:

    1) Quality of the stream is great. The matches can be clearly seen in HD and look good even at full screen on a 30-inch monitor. The court microphone and multiple cameras help make this really very compelling for squash fans. This is the most important thing and it’s done very well.

    2) I agree with your ideas Chris about the possibilities of technology to measure and compare game performances. Speed guns and position trackers would be great, and I could see player positions throughout the match being displayed as a “heat map” to show who controlled the T. Counting shot types and placement is also a good idea and I would imagine that SquashTV could get qualified and experienced volunteers from local clubs who would be delighted to help do this, thus reducing costs.

    3) I know we can’t compare televised squash to other sports that have hundred billion-dollar industries built around them, but I think the announcers need to up their game. We need more serious discussion and analysis of the game and the players, and a bit less of the jokes about the players clothing choices and the extended humorous banter. Not saying make it dry, just a better balance. The way to do this is through better preparation and support by the broadcasting team, with more info on player styles, player history, recent match performance, strategy and tactics, etc. so that the commentators have this info at hand and can incorporate this into their spontaneous in-match comments that come from their experience and knowledge. We need viewers to see squash as the serious sport that it is, and the level of commentary just doesn’t support this yet.

    4) Many players at my club disagree with me here, but I think the complaining to the official is out of hand and detracts from the game and the sport. I found the incessant whining, pouting, and court theatrics of some of the men players to be incredibly annoying and don’t understand the reasoning for why it’s OK…the call is not going to be reversed, so the only motivation is to gain the benefit of the doubt for future calls, and then there is an arms war in that the other player may feel the need to also complain so as not to be disadvantaged – it becomes a vicious circle. There should be a zero tolerance rule and any issues should be dealt with at break, if at all. Complaints are warned, then the next is docked a point, full stop, somewhat like a technical foul in basketball. We’re trying to show the world that professional squash belongs at the top level of worldwide sporting endeavor, and instead it looks amateurish and arbitrary (end of rant! ;-)

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  5. Thanks for you feedback Cleve! Welcome to squash and glad you're enjoying it so much. Your 4th point was truly evident at the US Open. I thought there were numerous occasions of players misbehaving and degrading the refs. I would like to see an end to this. I know Jonathan Power added entertainment value when he did this and helped him to vent his frustration, but it's up to the refs to keep the players in check. I want to see some emotion and the players express themselves, but I'm not a fan of whining about let decisions. The decision is out of your control, accept it and move on and let your squash do the talking. I think the video review is a good method for overturning bad calls, but clearly it doesn't mean the players all behave appropriately. There is a to of blocking and minimal interference that needs to be weeded out of squash.

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