The British Open:
... will it survive as a "Major" ...
Greatest Squash Event In Uncertain Ground ©
The British Open is without a doubt the most famous and historic squash tournament in the world of squash. It is important for the heritage, public consciousness and continuity of squash around the world. It's the event where Hashim Khan burst into prominence and gave an identity to a new nation, Pakistan. It was the stage for epic battles between Hashim and Roshan, Hunt and Barrington, Jahangir and Hunt, Jahangir and Jansher.
But, perhaps as a danger sign for the British Open, the epic battles between Jonathon Power and Peter Nicol (and they've met 43 times in PSA play) have all happened in other events --- in Qatar, at the TOC in New York, in Toronto, even in St. Louis.
Sands and the Importance of Money
The prize money and promotion has been problematical, and as a consequence the top players have appeared at the British Open, more as a courtesy than out of driving ambition or conviction. This year the men's prize money at the British Open is an almost embarassing $40,000. That means there are ELEVEN other PSA events in 2005 with more prize money than the British Open. The women's prize money is $31,000. There are SEVEN women's tournaments in 2005 with more prize money than the British Open is offering.
History suggests that a tournament of this nature, no matter how steeped in tradition, must maintain prize money prominence to survive as a major. The US Pro Tennis Tournament, formerly one of the most important Tennis Tournaments in the world, is a good object lesson. It's organizers were unable to keep the prize money at world-standard levels, and the event rapidly diminished in importance despite having been the site of some of the most famous historic battles. The tennis organizers of Wimbledon and the US Open understand this well, as do the organizers of Golf events such as the Masters.
It will be nice this year to win the British Open, and place one's name up alongside Hashim and Jahangir or Susan Devoy and Heather McKay. But in the final analysis it won't be critical in the calculation of the year's #1 rankings. The battle between Rachael Grinham, Vanessa Atkinson, and Nicol David for women's world #1 will more be decided in Hong Kong and Qatar than in Manchester this year.
Discount" May be Wearing Thin
The US players are absent as well. After World #4 Natalie Grainger, who is going and is seeded fifth, perennial participants Latasha and Shabana Khan are both skipping the event.
And the real problems run deeper. Going back certainly longer than to 1999, the SRA, who "own" the British Open, has failed to understand that what they have is largely a marketing problem. The SRA has failed to make the necessary commitment to getting a real, world class sports marketing person involved in the British Open and in major squash events in general. What we have instead is a line of shoe-string promotional companies, each of which must take a very short-term outlook in order to survive financially and none of which has the financial resources or marketing professionalism to do the work to develop the British Open, squash, and pro squash as a valuable brand and therefore in a broader marketing context.
Now with iSquash in the mix, with a professional marketing man at the helm, things may just be on the upswing.