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En gourd!

Squash moves to another court as lawsuit raises a racket about America’s invisible sport

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / October 29, 2010

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Why in the world is Boston businessman Joe McManus suing local squash promoter John Nimick and the Professional Squash Association over a sport that barely anybody cares about?

Because the Wales-based PSA says its world-ranked players can’t play in McManus’s American Pro Squash Tour, which has a Boston Open and a Connecticut Open scheduled for next month.

McManus complains that the sport’s governing body is taking money out of his pocket and has “singled out our successful and growing American tour’’ for punishment. His lawsuit also alleges that Nimick, the guy who occasionally stages a squash tournament in a glass court at Symphony Hall, “colluded and conspired . . . to restrict competition in the professional squash player market for the United States.’’ Nimick declined to comment.

Wow, talk about a pillow fight at the University Club. For all its efforts to gain a wider audience — perhaps you missed the second episode of New England Sports Network’s gripping new show “Pro Squash Tour,’’ or the PSA’s new squash broadcast on unfindable Bloomberg TV — squash is almost completely under the radar. McManus has jazzed up his US “tour’’ by fiddling with the sport’s Kipling-esque rules, and Nimick recently staged an event with truncated matches because only the wildest fanatics can sit through a tedious, five-set tilt, with rallies that last 50 strokes or more. Borg-McEnroe at Wimbledon it ain’t.

Who cares? was the question I put to PSA board member Richard Bramall, a lawyer in London. They care. “We are well established in other parts of the world, but in many ways America is the most important market for the PSA, because we want to grow in the US, and we are continuing to grow in the US.’’ Bramall plans to contest McManus’s New York lawsuit. “We have members in 65 countries. We don’t believe that court has jurisdiction,’’ he said.

Fox in the henhouse?
Newsrooms are understandably jumpy places these days, and perhaps none is more jittery than the one at New England Cable News, which Comcast bought outright in 2009. Eleven months ago, Comcast imported a high-profile Fox news executive, Stacey Marks Bronner, to run the show, and this summer she hired a former Fox colleague, Debra Juarez, to run the newsroom.

In her 12 years at Fox in Chicago, Bronner was no stranger to controversy, serving as the occasional chew toy for the bumptious Windy City media. “Turmoil Greets Whiz Kid Wooed by Fox to Channel 32’’ was a particularly juicy Chicago Tribune headline, documenting a station boycott by Jesse Jackson’s PUSH organization, and “extraordinary’’ high turnover on Bronner’s watch.

To be fair, her reign at the still-dowdy purveyor of round-the-clock New England News has been more tranquil. A popular, non-sycophantic evening anchor, Beth Shelburne, left the station to go work in her native Alabama. Stories are shorter, as they are everywhere in TV, and if there is a commitment to headache-inducing, ADHD-fueled, Fox production values, I haven’t seen them. “There’s no Fox-ification going on here,’’ she said, adding that she does want to bring “a sense of urgency’’ to NECN’s newsgathering.

I’ve been told that Comcast executives don’t want to make major changes at NECN and elsewhere until the company’s pending merger with NBC-Universal goes through. That wasn’t a subject NECN wanted to discuss.

So what about the ratings? Executive vice president Bill Bridgen told me they have risen 33 percent under the new ownership. In fact, according to the most recent Nielsen data, audience has declined in several key time slots, and has risen in others. “Whatever the case,’’ Bridgen said, “we need to get those ratings up across the board.’’

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is beam@globe.com.