—If you missed the U.S.
Open Squash Championship
in Philadelphia last
month on “Squash TV,”
the Professional Squash
global real-time, paid,
you could see it on ESPN3.com
you’re an authenticated ESPN subscriber.
If you knew where to look, you could
also see parts of it on U.S. Open Squash’s
website and some early tournament matches
live and free via YouTube, which also archived
reruns for on-demand viewing.
One World Sports, which distributes live
events via linear satellite and cable channels,
also carried the Open as part of its
subscription package. Semifinal and final
matches were telecast worldwide, often on
ad-supported channels, via a satellite feed
coordinated by Total Sports Asia, which up-linked
from Philadelphia. The two weeks
of squash matches were played on courts
at Drexel University.
That’s at least five platforms and three
pricing structures to see the fast-paced
events in both men’s and women’s tourneys,
all fed from a single video production
team run by British-based Perform Group.
Although none of the organizers or distributors
has yet revealed the viewership
or financial results of the two-week tournament,
their tactics may offer a model for future
distribution of esoteric content aimed
at high-value audiences.
Kevin Klipstein, CEO of U.S. Squash, the
sport’s governing body in the United States
and organizer of October’s tournament, acknowledges
that the audience may be limited,
but the demographics are top notch. He
estimates that there are about 1.2 million
squash players in the United States, with an
average annual income of $350,000 and average
net worth of $1.5 million.
|Kevin D. Klipstein
That’s the target market for the digital
distribution, and it’s the sales pitch program
suppliers have been using as they
seek sponsorships for the elite sport and
its major events, such as the U.S. Open
Squash Championships. Hence, no surprise;
the primary sponsors are upscale
The multiplatform approach represents
an expansion strategy that could
be duplicated in other categories beyond
“Up to now we’ve been content with
streaming,” Klipstein said. “Now we’re going
after broadcast distribution deals for
the next few years and build sponsorship
London-based PSA has contracted with
OWS, a relatively young U.S. network that
streams all PSA world series events in its Racquet Sports package. OWS currently
has distribution deals in the United States
with Dish, Cablevision’s Optimum TV and
some MediaCom cable systems.
The company acknowledges that it
has faced challenges with cable operators
about where to place OWS. Operators favor
putting it on an international tier or in multicultural bundles because of its focus
on global content, while OWS wants to be
in the sports tier.
One compromise, as evidenced in the
U.S. Squash tournament: Cablevision’s Optimum
TV service offers OWS as a standalone á là carte channel for $2.95 per month, a
fee that included the squash matches.
ESPN3, the online-only streaming video
channel for authenticated ESPN subscribers,
also carried the tournament. It is part of the
TV Everywhere initiative, even though the
squash matches never made it to ESPN’s primary
linear channels, apparently not even to
the “Sports Center” highlights segment.
Squash TV, PSA’s official live and video-on-demand website, streamed the matches
to its own subscribers and to affiliates,
primarily local and regional squash organizations
that operate their own websites.
Squash TV charges the local equivalent of
$13.99 per month (or $120 for an annual
pass) to receive all its sanctioned events.
Its online affiliates get a revenue share for
members they bring to the video stream.
PSA has distribution partners worldwide
(such as Fox Sports Australia) that carry the
matches on major TV networks in regions
where the sport is more popular than it is
in the United States.
PRODUCTION: ONE FEED,
Perform Group, a London-based sports
production company, handled all video
capture, editing and transmission for the
Philadelphia matches, including distribution
to the multiple delivery platforms, under
Marc Bousfield, a Perform producer/director,
led a production team of seven people
(two camera operators plus graphics,
editing and other crew members) who handled
every squash match from Philadelphia.
Two manned cameras covered the Center
Court games, which were played in
a Plexiglas cage, equipped with remote-controlled
cameras, including aerial and
floor-level angles to capture the speed
of the games. Grandstands surrounded
the glassed-in court on all sides. (Similar
glassed-in courts were set up in New
York’s Grand Central Station and other venues
for previous U.S. Squash events.)
|Production at the U.S. Open Squash Championship
Earlier rounds were played on conventional
courts at Drexel. The Perform team
included slow-motion operators for replays
that were available as part of the Center
“We use the same crew for the global
squash tour,” Bousfield said.
The group includes commentators who
can provide verbal coverage of the matches,
although he pointed out that the free
YouTube coverage was presented as single-camera
video with no commentary.
He and Klipstein agree that the YouTube
“test” was intended for real fans who want
to see every match or follow specific players
and would be satisfied with the static
“Squash carries the reputation of not being
good on television,” Klipstein said. “It’s
intense. I think we’re climbing
our way into broadcasting.
We’ve spent the last 24 months
working to enhance the streaming
and broadcast products.
We’ve consulted with major national
broadcasters on how to
Klipstein cites advice, such as
creating better floor lighting to
improve the visual experience.
As for business factors, the
squash tournament’s options
of limited free access, subscription
viewing and (in some locales)
ad-supported broadcast delivery will
provide valuable case studies in how audiences
respond to the multiple options of
The options—from linear big-screen to
wireless mobile viewing—will also provide
guidance on how to proceed in squash
television and other content. Thanks to
the metrics capture that streaming media
enables, PSA and its online colleagues will
get an efficient gauge of who watches what
Squash promoters hope they have a
smash on their hands.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications
LLC, a media/telecom research
firm. He can be reached at GaryArlen@columnist.com.