After more than two years off the calendar, the J.P. Morgan Tournament of Champions is back in New York’s Grand Central Station for its 24th edition in the iconic location.
“This is the most convenient location in the world,” John Nimick, the president of Squash Engine and the tournament producer, told Sportico. “We use this tournament to promote the sport. Being able to show squash to 20,000 people a day is a remarkable opportunity.” Those eyeballs are needed to secure sponsorships, but they’re also an important part in the sport’s attempt to court the International Olympic Committee.
“We qualify under the Olympic principles,” Nimick said, “We qualify in every characteristic of the guidelines for Los Angeles 2028. And we satisfy them, like gender parity, relevance, cost-effectiveness, lots of things. But I think the negative for squash is that the IOC officials and the broadcast officials don’t think they’re going to drive the incremental viewership they need to make that impact.”
In that sense, the Grand Central matches, which take place inside a glass cube that costs $1.5 million to install and remove, may not close the deal. The matches take place in one of the most public spaces in New York, but there are only 500 assigned seats, and the business is built 25% on sponsorship, 25% on VIP hospitality packages and 50%ticket sales. A box for the final cost $2,800 for four people. “We do very well with private equity firms, venture capital firms, securities firms, banks,” Nimick said.
However, financiers who live in New York have never been IOC’s target market. The sport is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) but has never been included in the Olympic Games. The effort to join the 2024 Games were unsuccessful, but there is still hope for 2028. “If we make it, it would have a material impact on the sport globally,” Nimick said.
The J.P. Morgan Tournament is not the only tournament to bring attention to the sport. Squash is played in 185 countries by more than 10 million players. In the U.S., Squash Engine produces the Oracle Netsuite Open in San Francisco’s Embarcadero Plaza, and on top of these two prestige tournaments, over 200 tournaments take place a year. However, the most famous squash tournament takes place thousands of miles away from New York, in another iconic location, in New Cairo, near the pyramids. “That’s the granddaddy of them all,” Nimick said. “That tournament was started by the former President Hosni Mubarak, who played squash.”
Mobarak is not the only Egyptian interested in the sport. The world’s top players are Egyptian, including this year’s favorites Ali Farag and Nouran Gohar, and so is the father of this year’s favorite, Amanda Sobhy. If Sobhy wins, she could be the first American to win the tournament. “The country with the biggest impact in the sport in Egypt,” Nimick said.
The Egyptian dominance will be tested on Saturday, and the $1.5 million glass box will be dismantled and stored until next year.