Commentary

Why They Play Pro Squash In A Glass Cube In Grand Central Terminal

Here’s something even jaded New Yorkers don’t see every day: A squash court enclosed by a huge glass cube in Vanderbilt Hall inside Grand Central Terminal.

It was installed last week and will remain there for the duration of the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions (TOC) squash competition, a major stop on the Professional Squash Association’s World Series tour, attracting top players from the U.S. and worldwide.

Although seating around the court is for several hundred people, estimates are that several hundred thousand people have seen part of the TOC since it began on Jan. 18, given its location in one of the busiest transportation hubs in the world, at 42nd and Park in Manhattan.

With the TOC men’s and women’s quarter-finals, semi-finals and championships this week (Jan. 23-24-25, respectively,) the audience and media attention will rise.

That’s good news for long-time title sponsor J.P. Morgan and event marketing partners including Lexington Partners, Hospital For Special Surgery, SL Green Reality Corp., Dunlop and Great Northern Food Hall (also in Grand Central Terminal).

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The first TOC in GST was held in 1995, the brainchild of John Nimick, a businessman, former top-ranked pro squash player and founder of sports marketing firm Squash Engine, Boston. 

“I made my pitch in the fall of 1994 to Metro North Railroad (which leases the property), and it probably was the oddest thing they ever heard,” said Nimick. “Our first event (June 1995) was so hot we had to pipe in air conditioning. But we made Sports Illustrated’s ‘Year in Pictures,’ which gave the event a power-launch.

“The fact that people can see a world-class sports event in Grand Central Terminal, host a guest, host clients and then take the train home, is an asset that is unique to the Tournament of Champions,” said Nimick. 

Squash Engine oversees other squash tournaments held in glass cubes in such public locations as the Justin Herman Plaza South Lawn, San Francisco; Symphony Hall, Boston; and BCE Place, Toronto. It’s all part of a master plan to get the sport to the masses and marketers.

Squash, first played in England more than 140 years ago, is popular in 185 countries, with nearly 50,000 squash courts and more than 16 million squash players worldwide, including 1.5 million in the U.S.

There also is a push to include squash in the Olympics.

“It is on the radar of the International Olympic Committee,” said Nimick. “About 12 years ago the IOC listed squash among the new sports being considered, but then decided not to add any new sports. It was close again when baseball and softball were re-admitted (in 2016 for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo). There is no squash in Japan to speak of, so it was not a surprise we didn’t get in.”

This year, the sport’s two major global overseeing bodies, World Squash Federation and PSA, have joined forces to seek inclusion for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. Weber Shandwick has been appointed as communications campaign partner. A decision on new sports for 2024 and the 2028 Games in Los Angeles is expected during the Tokyo Games.

Nimick, a man who knows that people who live in glass houses, or play squash inside glass cubes, shouldn’t be too critical of others, has a plan.

“With Grand Central Terminal and other squash events we oversee that are in energetic, iconic, community-oriented and economically vital places, that is the strength of the message we are sending,” said Nimick. “If there is squash in the Paris Games, we can build a glass cube court under the Eiffel Tower. That would be an ‘Aha!’ moment for squash and the world.”

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