US SQUASH is: the national governing body and membership organization for the sport of squash in the United States. Founded in 1904 and headquartered in New York City, it is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization, and also a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
Sports Destination Management: Squash has been campaigning to get into the Olympics, but has not yet met with success. Are you trying again?
Conor O’Malley: We are continuing to lobby for Olympic inclusion. As much as I wished we had gotten in previously, not having done so was a huge rallying call for our sport to get organized. As a result, we have made major innovations in TV technology, shored up our tour and made a lot of improvements that we think will improve our chances in the next round. We have been closely monitoring the changes with the IOC – notably the fact that they lifted the ban on the number of sports in the Olympics – and all that is spelling opportunities for us.
SDM: So the organization is doing well?
O’Malley: It is. We’re experiencing such a boom in the sport that it’s remarkable. Our organization has grown. Whereas we previously had three to four people working in our office, we now have up to 25 employees operating in eight states. Most recently, we received a $2 million gift to endow a coaching position for our national team. We now actually run our US Open, and we’re the first squash organization to have full parity of prize money. This past year, it was $230,000 for the total purse – that means $113,000 on each side. Next year, we expect to be offering nearly $300,000 total. We also have ambitions to be the first million-dollar prize money event in our sport. Also, for the first time, we have had our first American player, Amanda Sobhy, crack the top 10. She’s still in college, so that is very promising. We’ve also launched our EAP, or Elite Athlete Program to capture the talent that has risen organically. It provides direct support and funding for elite athletes.
SDM: Are you seeing more interest in squash in general?
O’Malley: Yes! From about 2007 to 2011, we had about 600,000 players in the United States. We now have upwards of 1.2 million. Something we can track internally is our own website hits. In 2012, we had 220,000 unique visitors. In 2014, we had over 660,000.
SDM: In terms of recreational play and club play, what kind of data do you have on facilities being built or renovated?
O’Malley: We’ve noticed several trends. YMCAs are interested in building courts. Although we could say our concentration of players and facilities is predominantly Northeast, we are now are starting to see squash facilities being built in other states as well. In addition, Lifetime Fitness is adding squash courts. They have grown from 40 squash courts to 120 nationwide, with a commitment to build more. Lifetime also tells us they are generating revenue off of squash; squash players stay at the club longer and spend money while they’re there.
SDM: What kind of facilities are needed to host a sanctioned tournament?
O’Malley: We just hosted the US Junior Open Championships in Connecticut, and that is an event that has grown. To give you an idea, when I started with US SQUASH, we had about 300 players participating. This year, we had over 1,000 players from 31 countries and we needed 40 courts in order to host all the matches. We used the squash facilities at Choate, Trinity College, Wesleyan and Yale University.
SDM: Is there a lot of growth in the youth market?
O’Malley: We are seeing positive trends in all areas. At the junior and senior high school level and at college level, programs are growing. What’s interesting is the kids get into the sport, and the parents follow. It’s been very exciting, and there’s so much enthusiasm.