PST Commissioner Joe McManus published recently in the Daily Squash Report what appeared to be some really encouraging facts about squash player participation in the U.S. according to a recent market research study done. I have seen this report and it is really a remarkable wealth of statistics. The simple minded will extrapolate numbers from the report and really mislead others into believing our sport is thriving and in great shape going forward. They will brush off legitimate concerns about the future of our great game as just another doomsayer voice....history is full of those types who somehow manage to live and breathe with their heads in the sands.
What that SGMA market research report shows is a lot of figures and statistics. What is most striking in the report is that at least 1.1 million people of all ages have tried that sport at least one time last year. Sounds impressive, but wait one time a year?. Let's look at the breakdown a little further. If you then go to the next group in the report: "Casual" players (one to 7 times a year), you find that those along with the one time per year players add up to 725,000 players out of the 1.1 million. Staggering to say the least. That means out of the 1.1. million squash participants last year about 75% played up to only 7 times or less in the year. 50% of those are in that so called magical 25-34 year old range. That participation averages out to be slightly over 25 minutes per month for each participant. By the way another interesting figure is 55% of those make over 100,000 per year.
Let's look at some more figures. The so called "regular players " who play 8 to 14 times a year or a little over 45 minutes per month account for another 100,000 players which brings the total so far to 830,000 roughly out of the original 1.1 million. To those of us who play regularly, regularly means 4 times a week or about at least 16 times a month. The "real" regulars play 6 times a week, okay, I admit often I play twice a day, but that makes me along with a number of others "frequent" players. In the study, "frequent" players are those who played a little over at least 1 time a month. That figure is around 290,000.
I love statistics and I love numbers, they never ever lie if the research is good and scientific. I don't have my head in the sand nor am I a doomsayer or ever have believed the sky is falling except the one time I had 11 martinis and I thought the ground was falling as well. But what do these numbers really say? That is where it becomes a bit subjective. I for one believe everyone on the planet should be playing squash, whether it be one or 500 times a year for 50 years. If I could be assured that there is squash in heaven, I would never ever err from the straight and narrow path.
What these numbers tell me is that a lot of people try squash but the majority of them try it once or maybe a couple of times and then drop it. That is the figure that is most troublesome to me and that is the issue that is most important to growing our sport. If you can get 800,000 to at least try our sport once, how many of those can we get to come back over and over again and make squash part of their personal lifestyle and to those demographics that are out of college and into their 30's before no doubt demands of careers, families and other pressures curtail their squash playing, how do we keep those players on court past their 30's into their middle years.
And of course what are the other reasons for the drop off? Is the game too expensive for a majority of those who try the sport. If you make 100,000 to 200,000 and have a family in NYC can you really afford to play squash 5 times a week, to have your wife play, your children? Very doubtful, court time, equipment, coaching, etc. makes this sport extremely expensive and a real luxury.
What about that huge segment of the squash participation group that makes under 100,000 in salary how do we get them playing more and longer? What about that huge segment of society out there that doesn't even know our sport exists? That's where this report is like an oracle. The cross over sports: badminton, racquetball, tennis, running, bowling -- look at the numbers and percentages of those players from those sports who try squash, how do you get them hooked?
Again, I don't pretend to know the answers, but often times the question is just as valuable as the answer, and the answer always starts with a question. To those who insist on the robust health of our sport's participation in the U.S. don't ignore the other symptoms, address them and ensure a much healthier future for our game.