Inside a giant glass cube in the Vanderbilt Hall of Grand Central Station, two world-ranked squash players are running, swatting, lunging and turning on a dime as fans and travelers look on. Behind the scenes in the VIP room, sponsors are sharing drinks and talking business.
Ziad Al-Turki is the chairman of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and a self-described Squash Junkie.
“We all laugh that we’re not squash players we’re squash users,” Al-Turki said.
The New York Tournament of Champions, held Jan. 12-19 and sponsored by J.P. Morgan, is one of a series held around the world in iconic settings. Al-Turki calls the setup a tournament in a box.
“It’s probably one of the advantages it has over any sport,” Al-Turki said, “Because it’s a cube and you can just drop it anywhere you want.”
The PSA hosts tournaments in extravagant locations like the Pyramids in Cairo and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Sir Hugh Robertson is with Falcon and Associates, which represents Dubai’s business interests.
“One of the reasons that this tournament is so attractive to Dubai, as the Middle East’s financial center, is the ability to form a much closer alliance with New York, which clearly operates as the primary financial hub here in the United States,” Robertson said.
Dubai has sponsored squash tournaments in the past. Robertson said the ongoing relationship gives Dubai access, not just to the major financial institutions, but also to young talent in prestigious U.S. schools where squash is a traditionally popular sport.
“The links that it gives Dubai to universities such as Yale, such as Harvard, the traditional Ivy League colleges,” Robertson said.
Chairman Al-Turki said despite all of the grand production – there are scores of cameras, projection screens, led displays and music — the intimate nature of the game allows sponsors unprecedented access to a niche clientele.
“You’ve got a few hundred captive audience that are exactly your target customers,” Al-Turki said. “You can reach out to them, you can touch them and you can introduce them to the product.”
A “product” that might be an investment bank, a new car, or a new place to do business on the other side of the world.