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Jean Delierre – Canadian Squash Videographer

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Delierre
out on a Limb

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about Squash by Ryan Barnett,
Nov 25, 2003  © 2003

 

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JEAN
DELIERRE – A PASSION BECOMES A COMMITMENT TO HIS SPORT

Sometimes a person just has to take a step back and look at things from
a different perspective. The problems facing professional squash are widely
known and have been well documented. The interaction between players and
referees, lack of financial resources, and failure to get squash included
within the Olympic games have all been beaten to death by the media. Yet
what are the results?

How
can a game that is played in 100+ countries around the world not be a
part of the mainstream sports scene? The solution to all these issues
can be summed up using one simple word, television. Having said this who
better to talk with than Canadian squash Producer Jean De Lierre? A veteran
of 20 years viewing squash from the other side of the back wall, De Lierre
has quite literally seen it all.

In this
first of a planned Barnett Interview Series on SquashTalk,
De Lierre bares his soul, tells his story, and blows the lid sky high
on exactly what’s going on in the world of video capture for professional
squash. De Lierre not only acknowledges the problems but has outspoken
views as to possible solutions. A must read for all squash enthusiasts
and for those with a true love of the game

SquashTalk:
Your background. Please explain how it is, how it happened,
how you eventually became one of the best squash producers the sport has
ever seen?

DeLierre:
I appreciate the compliment Ryan, thank you. Married, 5 children, ex police
officer, real estate developer, pilot, diver, author, television producer,
teaching professional, etc, it’s needless to add that I enjoy taking
on challenges of all sorts. I joined in the Squash-TV arena in North America
in the mid eighties out of frustration stemming from what I believed were
poor broadcasts of the sport at the time. Passionate for the game, I was
convinced that squash was destined to a great future in mainstream television,
but I felt that its appearance on the tube needed revamping to reach that
point, so I set out to do my part and attempted to improve the situation.
Using the knowledge acquired from combined professions in the television
industry and as teaching professional, I studied and began implementing
changes in conventional production methods that I thought would best do
the job.

Furthermore
and on the bigger scheme of things TV-wise, a tremendous opportunity was
being created for the sport that would help it grow exponentially in popularity,
hence financially, so I thought it made good business sense to get in
on the action early, I explain. Technological advancements in racquet
construction technology have made the sport of Tennis evolve into a power
sport; balls often struck at sub-human speeds are more often than not
irretrievable. In most instances, at least in the men’s game, rallies
are short and over before they even start. The elements of racquet artistry,
deception and power-touch mix combinations that have contributed in making
tennis the most successful racquet sport on television may now be lost
to it, but they certainly aren’t lost to Squash as they are integral
part of it. Millions of unsuspecting viewers are just one TV channel flip
away from discovering squash through our touring pros. They are just this
close to once again renew with the beauty of strategically well constructed
rallies and mind-over-muscle racquet duals.

MONEY
IN THE GAME …

In 2000, following 12 years of fruitless appeals to the PSA administrative
body that they re-think their approach to the ‘packaging’
of their squash programs for the television media; I personally financed
and produced squash programs which I though may get their attention, and
as well that of the squash community at large. So I teamed up with key
individuals who shared a similar vision for the sport, and beginning in
2000 with the Tournament of Champions, the Super Series Finals and the
Toronto YMG events, we set out to prove to the skeptics that squash could
make great television.

One video
at the time starting 2000 at first, then through the sport’s first
Internet Broadcast in 2001, and now in 2003 with more productions that
squash players around the globe and North American TV Network Executives
are discovering and ‘buying’ into, we hope to have help create
an irreversible momentum that will lead to positive changes for the game.

SquashTalk:
In 1999 I read an article penned by John Nimick discussing squash and
T.V. Nimick’s article talked about chromo key (colored background
used to more easily identify with on screen objects. i.e. a moving squash
ball) He also mentioned different colored balls to allow television viewers
to see the squash ball and thus follow the game. Has a lot changed since
1999? Having filmed squash matches practically all over the world have
there been any other major breakthroughs besides the two mentioned by
Nimick that have allowed squash to become more television friendly?

DeLierre:
Sadly, except for improved court lighting, a few ball experiments and
the handful of productions mentioned earlier, not much has changed in
the last 40 years for squash in respect to its appearance on television.
The players are extraordinary, unprecedented rivalries are at their peak,
the courts get erected in the most exotic locations, but all we can show
for it with any sense of pride are great stills.

SquashTalk:
Not much is known about squash production. Many people think, ‘how hard
can it be to film two people running around in a square box?’ What’s
involved in putting together a top-notch squash production and what are
some of the hidden costs that nobody ever hears about? (How many cameras
are utilized, etc.)

DeLierre:
The same can be said of many 15 & 30 second TV commercials or 2 to
3 minute music videos, but most cost hundreds of thousands of dollars
to create. Taking a rapid cost overview here; equipment, travels, hotels,
meals, insurance, lead commentator, tape stock, technical crew, pre-production
planning, interviews/stories and scripts ++ will normally use up to 50-70
% of a given production budget, the rest will be spent in editing services.
For example, each hour of captured material from 5 cameras at any given
event will require at least 5 days of digital editing, so do the math.
In a nutshell, all comes down to the attention paid to details, speeding
through and cutting corners at any stage of a production will have disastrous
effect on the final TV product of an event. Do the job right and you’ll
eventually reap the benefits.

SquashTalk:
It’s
no secret that one of the major issues/challenges with regards to squash
is lack of financial resources. A promoter’s biggest challenge is
securing sponsor dollars to ensure a first class event. How hard is it
for your company to turn a profit from filming squash and have you had
any thoughts about diversifying to other sports as a result?

DeLierre:
The money we spent in squash productions over the years were well over
our allotted budgets… when we had one that is. We understood from very
early on that we wouldn’t recover our investment through the sale
of videos or DVD, so we had to diversify in other projects and productions.

In my
opinion, once the tour leaders turn their focus on their primary marketing
tool (i.e. quality programming), squash will hit mainstream TV. Once this
happens, it will be the end of our video distribution business, but it
will also be the end of the sport’s economic difficulties.

To address
the issue of the sport’s financial challenges raised in your question,
and how this problem can be solved permanently… Squash is only a
few short moves away from tapping into the immense financial resources
of major corporations, but the sports’ decision makers must first
begin seeing this sponsorship issue from their own perspective.

The willingness
of sponsors at large to invest in our sport is directly related to the
quality of our programs and on their market reach. Indeed, if the television
production of an event isn’t reflective of their company’s
image (i.e. one of quality), they will avoid it. Many of our sponsors
currently invest in our sport because they are squash lovers and philanthropists;
the decisions of all other ‘less involved’ corporate executives
to join in squash will be based on value and return on investment.>

Furthermore
and in clear terms, the day we can prove to the largest corporations through
our programs’ TV ratings that squash is watched by millions, then
that will be the day they will readily join us. All is nothing less than
a good business proposition; the higher the number of ‘eyeballs’/TV
viewers squash can offer their corporations, then the more advertising
dollars they will invest in squash in return.

SquashTalk:
In a direct way what you do promotes the sport. Television coverage, video
& DVD’s provide lasting memories of an event. Having said this,
how involved or better yet, how interested are the major squash associations
in what you do?

DeLierre:
I have received tremendous moral support from the executive
members of the WSF over the years and from WISPA in recent times, and
I am most thankful to them for this. We haven’t yet been able to
convert and make something concrete happen as a result, but it may only
be a matter of time since our objectives to promote the sport are so similar.

SquashTalk:
If you could make any changes to squash to make the sport better or stronger
as a whole what would they be?

DeLierre:
These changes would be multi-facets but inter-linked.

At the
business level:
• Increase the awareness among professionals that they must combine
the dual functions of athletes and business people. The entertainment
they provide audiences around the world has a great market value, so they
must make certain that their representative/agent will not undersell them,
but rather capitalize on it on their behalf.
• To facilitate recruitment of new sponsors and to sign current
ones on from year to year, promoters of all majors must insist from the
PSA that better programs be created from their events.

At the
political level:
• The charter or work agreement between the players’ representative
committee and the tour’s executive director should include the following
clause: major decisions concerning the tour should be made jointly and
in the interest of the sport and all tour players. Contract signed unilaterally
without the other party’s consent should be considered null and
void.
• Corporate favoritism should be avoided at all cost and all contracts
should be awarded on the basis of pre-determined criterions.
• The professional tour should free itself from any TV company or
individuals that are likely to hold it hostage and in a state of vulnerability
distribution-wise. To accomplish this, the Tour’s Executive Director
should establish his own personal rapport with all Network Executives
currently broadcasting its programs. Furthermore, he should explore all
other avenues of distribution possible for these programs in order to
draw the maximum revenues from them, even if it is with competing Networks.

At the
TV production level:
• Ensure evenly diffused court lighting.
• Use best camera crew & positions.
• Only seek the services of the best commentators.
• Use of statistics, animated graphics and sound effect, etc..
• Educate and entertain all at once players and non-players alike.

• Apply lessons learned from other successful sport TV broadcast

At the
physical level:
• Close attention should be paid to insure that floor, walls and
also court line colors contrast well with the ball. Light pastel floor
colors, such as turquoise for example, are totally unacceptable as the
white ball literally disappears when traveling over the surface.
• The 15% larger ball would surely help visibility if players would
agree to use it

At the
ruling/refereeing level:
• Universal scoring system for all – best of 5 games of 11
points / PAR (point a rally) / 10-10 tie-breaker set one or three.
• The tour’s players should select 2 or 3 referees, and their
services retained for a fee for all majors.

SquashTalk:
Do you feel that squash will ever make it as an Olympic sport? Are you
a believer in the debate that squash must first be made more aware to
the general sports public through television and that once this occurs
the Olympic thing will take care of itself? Your thoughts.

DeLierre:
The sport can aspire to become an Olympic sport, but it must first focus
on the quality of each program it creates for the television media. Each
and every frame of video that makes its way on air is the sport’s
business card. There’s hardly any point bragging to anyone that
our sport is the greatest there is unless we can back the statement up
with images and sounds that will reflect just that.

The players
are delivering the merchandize, they are giving us all they have, and
it’s now up to the PSA, WISPA and the WSF executives to do their
part and step up to the plate. They must agree to a common vision for
the sport and demand of their producer that they create it. Consistently,
one frame and one sound bite at the time; these producers must do what
is requested of them (i.e. capturing and assembling the most entertaining
TV packages in the business). In no time, the sport can then expect that
TV audiences everywhere in the world, including IOC Olympic committee
members, will fall head over heals in love with our game, then the rest
isn’t too difficult to imagine.

SquashTalk:
I understand that the PSA has given the production rights to their events
to another company for the next 3 years without even allowing you to make
a bid. I’m also told that this decision was made without a vote
by the PSA membership. Most players love the quality of your work and
regard it as the best in the sport. This decision by the PSA does not
seem fair. Can you comment on what appears to be collusion at the very
top of the PSA?

DeLierre:
It would be inappropriate of me to speak on behalf of the players and
demand answers on why it is that they weren’t consulted on this
major decision, so it’s best if we let them sort that one out.

As for
PSA/ Mr. Briars awarding the control of the tour’s television to
Pro-Active TV and its producer Mr. Morton, I can understand part of the
decision but I must speculate on the rest as no explanation were given
for it. Here’s a brief overview of the situation that may help shed
some light on the issue:

Mr. Morton
has had the responsibility to package the tour’s TV programs over
the last six years for 3-5 thousand pound fees per event. He also had
the responsibility to distribute those programs through his company’s
own channels. Under this new 3 year TV contract, his company, Pro-Active
agreed to wave the usual packaging fees, but in exchange the company demanded
and obtained full production control and International distribution rights
for all PSA Super-Series event programs.

In an
important perk in the deal for Pro-Active TV, the PSA ‘strongly
encourages’ all promoters of its majors to retain Mr. Morton’s
production services. With the full support of PSA leadership, Pro-Active
TV forces independent producers to create programs of equal standard to
its own.

Pro-Active
TV may have failed to grow the economic value of the Men’s tour
over the last 6 years, but that did not weight in PSA’s decision
to extend their arrangements with that company until 2006. The reason
for it is that Mr. Morton is the only distributor in town, and the only
one maintaining relations with Network Executives, without him the men’s
tour programs would have no takers at this point in time.

Current
PSA programs may reach in excess of 100 millions homes, but their ratings
were too low to be taken advantage of by the tour, so rather than taking
the bull by the horn and get to the source of the issue, Mr. Briars elected
to give the tour away.

Questions
readers could ponder from the story I’ve just explained:

– What
did PSA administrators gain by signing this new long term agreement with
Pro-Active TV at this time?

– Were
Mr. Morton and his PSA associates being threatened by the competition
upon hearing that other parties had managed to help the sport make leaping
progress on TV in America?

– All
aspects of PSA TV now being under the control of an independent company,
do players, promoters or the WSF realize they can no longer demand changes
and improvements in term of its television, they can only ask and hope
for the best?

– Having
personally made an offer to Mr. Briars in the summer of 2000 to explore
new channels of distribution for the tour through ESPN International and
its 300 million homes reach, which offer he refused to even consider,
could things have been different if all would have worked out with the
Network?

– Indeed,
since that offer was made with the clear understanding that the PSA would
assume full control of that distribution channel, is it possible that
the tour’s bargaining position with Pro-Active TV, or with any other
company for that matter including my own, would have significantly improved?

– If
I was to make an offer to deliver one billion homes reach and the highest
ratings to the sport within a short period of time, whom should I present
it to and negotiate with?

SquashTalk:
Have you approached the WSF and alerted them to how this decision by the
PSA has the potential to have a detrimental effect on world squash?

DeLierre:
The WSF may or may not be aware of the situation, but it would inappropriate
of me to make any representation on their behalf.

This
political arena is no different than any other; individuals must often
hold their tongue by fear of reprisals, and to leave doors of communication
open. The status quo is often the best position to adopt to keep harm
at safe distance unfortunately for this great game, this PSA-TV case is
no exception.

SquashTalk:
As a result of this will you continue producing squash or has this been
the final nail in the… as they say?

DeLierre:
I’m quite unsure at this point; it could depend on the tour players
and management and on my commitment to other TV projects, we’ll
see.

I must
thank you Ryan for the opportunity you provided me to bring these issues
out in the open. Political considerations aside, if progress is made as
a result that can ultimately lead to seeing high quality squash programs
on mainstream TV, then all these years of efforts would have finally paid
off, and that is quite a satisfying thought.


Peter Nicol Squash CD Interactive Coaching

 

Toronto Adult Weekend Clinic

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