THE BRONSTEIN INTERVIEW:
Richard Graham, the new chief executive of the
Professional Squash Association (PSA), has fearlessly set out his stall: he has
told the PSA board that if he has not created two new tournaments by the end of
this year, he feels he will have failed. This is brave stuff, but this 49-year
old veteran of the sports/marketing/tournament business has had the sort of
experience that could help him deliver on his promises.
The future looks promising for both Graham and
the PSA. Cynically it could be said that Graham would be hard put to do worse
than the Ďproblematicí reign of Gawain Briars, who never seemed to do anything
Back in 1999 when Briars was appointed I was
going to Cardiff to watch the final of the Rugby World Cup. I was told by the
PSA office Ėwhich was 100 yards from my hotel, that Briars would be too busy to
see me. Richard Graham started his job on June 2nd. The next day
he spent an hour on the phone answering my questions Ėeven the hard ones.
Briars spent most of term in office, fighting the press: Graham promises that
sports media coverage will be one of this three main goals.
We must congratulate the PSA board on doing their
homework on this appointment. Martin MacDonnell, a PSA board member, was joined
on the selection board by Ziad al-Turkey, the man behind the Saudi tournament,
and Peter Nicol.
Graham was born in West Africa Ghana, his
father was a soldier, and spent his early years traveling around the world
before going to school in England at the age of13
He started his working life at Englandís Lawn
Tennis Association as finance manager and then in 1987 moved to Florida to work
on the Lipton Tennis tournament. His first big deal was to persuade Thomas J
Lipton company to put up $31 million on a 20 year sponsorship contract at that
time, the biggest in tennis.
He returned to the UK to work on a World Ice
hockey championship in Cardiff. Then spent three years with promoting
Equestrian events, acquiring Toyota as a sponsor and getting coverage on ITV.
This was followed by ten years in South America working in the youth market and
then, in 2006, he returned to England to work as the Chief Operating Officer for
Parallel Media Group which specialized in golf tournaments in Asia. Graham rna
the London and Hong Kong offices.
So the PSA now has a man who has been around the
world, has worked in various sports and knows what it takes to get sponsorship
and what marketing means. He is bright, answered the questions quickly and
didnít duck the difficult ones.
AM I BEING UNFAIR IN SAYING THE BRITISH DONíT
KNOW HOW TO MARKET SPORT?
If you look at the success the English Premier
football league, that has held up pretty well. But you do have a point: one of
the things I remember from my time in the US is that they always approached
every scenario with a fresh pair of eyes with a view to being innovative. We
[Britain] are a great respecter of tradition and this can lead a to a blinkered
view of being radical and challenging.
THERE ARE TWO WAYS OF REGARDING YOUR
APPOINTMENT: THAT YOU ARE SO NEW YOU WILL HAVE TO LEARN MUCH THAT WE IN THE
SPORT TAKE FOR GRANTED, AND TWO, THAT YOU WILL COME IN WITH A FRESH PAIR OF EYES
AND SEE WHERE THE SPORT IS GOING WRONG.
Well I think coming in from the outside I can
have a fairly objective view on what might make a presentable package for new
markets, or for new media audiences. As for background knowledge, the PSA have
been quite prudent and we are taking on a new Chief Operating Officer as well.
[Alex Gough was appointed on June 5]. So I will have as my right hand man
somebody from within the sport. Yes, thereís an awful lot of detail that I have
to get up to speed on and an awful lot of personalities to get to know across
the whole range of stakeholders in the sport so it will be a huge help to me
to have somebody next to me who can steer me right on so many things.
It is now accepted that talents can be
transferable. I come from within sport, worked in agencies and also within
federations. I think it is what I picked up from the agencies, the commercial
implications of managing a sport, that probably gave me the nod through the
WHAT ARE THE PRIORITIES FOR THE PSA?
I told the PSA board I saw three main strands of
attack: First to have a credible tour. We have the foundations, thereís still
deficiencies - the dates of future events are very fluid; itís hard to see
consistency in terms of prize money. At the elite level Ė Super Series and five
star events Ė I would like to see a strengthening of the calendar there. I have
made a commitment to bring in new events quite soon. Iíve told the Board that by
the end of this year I would like to be the position to announce a couple of
news events. But we should try to keep the grouping of events in a logical
geographical fashion: North America in the first three or four months of the
year, Europe the next three or four months and then the Middle East for the
final part of the year. This allows for forward planning and makes sense for
the players. If we can persuade the promoters to keep to within a two week slot,
theoretically we can stick 26 events in a year.
Number two: I am very aware of the fact squash
has not been getting a fair crack in the media. It has to be really thought
through how the sport is packaged. On the media front I have two lines of
attack. I would like to work with the established media such as the
international television channels to get squash a higher profile and more
viewing hours, but also concentrate on the new media that is coming on stream.
There are a lot of new players are now evolving in the media world who are
looking for content and we have a very well established sport with a lot of
We must give a lot of thought to the way squash
is packaged and presented to the viewing audience. We already know we have the
die-hard squash fan who will watch at any time. We are trying to get new people
involved in the sport in general. And to do that I am quite happy to work
alongside WISPA and WSF- we have a common goal.
My third aim is to bolster the PSAís central
resources. At the moment we have a limited number of sponsors at the highest
level. We donít have a tour sponsor. We have a lot of flexibility in creating
our own events. So that will be my third objective: to bring in a number of
high level partners for the sport.
Over-riding all of those is the raison díetre for
the PSA: I have to create an environment where this sport can sustain a decent
living for a number of professionals in the world. It does for some, but we have
450 members and my aim is to make it possible for as many as those as possible.
And using the professional cricketers association as a model, I would like to
create a benevolent fund for players who forced out of the game early. For
people who have committed most of their adolescent years and most of their 20ís
to get to the top of the sport and then have it snatched away through an unlucky
injury and struggle at the bottom of the rankings. You must give some thought to
the obligations to those people. I would like the PSA to take a leading role in
the playerís welfare.
YOU HAVE TWO MAIN RESPONSIBILITIES Ė THE PLAYERS
AND ALSO THE PROMOTERS. FOR EXAMPLE THERE WAS SOME CONTROVERSY WHEN THE PSA
RULED THAT TOP TEN PLAYERS MUST PLAY AT LEAST SIX SILVER TOURNAMENTS. THE
PLAYERS OBJECTED BECAUSE THEY FELT THIS DISCOURAGED PROMOTERS FROM MOVING UP TO
GOLD LEVEL WITH MORE PRIZE MONEY. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
The short answer is market forces should dictate
where the top players play. I donít want to see the situation in squash that
there is in golf: If you want Tiger Woods to play your tournament, you pay him
over and above the prize money to have him there. Itís got to the stage where
promoters have to have a million Euros for appearance money. Promoters have to
be realistic Ė there is only a certain level to which a governing body or trade
union can guarantee its members participation at a certain level. But at some
point you have to appeal to a playerís responsibility in having a proprietoral
interest in their own tour. That is a tricky one to answer.
ON THE NEW OUTLETS: THE PSA WENT HEAVILY INTO
WEB-STREAMING. I AM NOT CONVINCED OF ITS BENEFITS.
I have just arranged to meet the web-streaming
people. I have examined the accounts and it does make a small profit, but I
really have to get a better understanding of how it works. It is at a very
modest level at the moment and we have to question whether that is the definite
route we have to follow.
YOU HAVE PROBABLY ALREADY BEEN SUBJECTED TO THE
TIMELESS THEORIES THAT THE ONLY WAY SQUASH WILL GO FORWARD IS THROUGH LIVE
TELEVISION AND GETTING INTO THE OLYMPICS.
There is truth in both. If you want to take
squash to new territories like China and get the people interested in it, they
must be exposed to it. And I see no other way than seeing moving images; you
have to be on television to be noticed. And as for the Olympics, it is a very
important step for the sport. But I donít think it is the be-all and end-all;
I think a lot of sports have survived outside the Olympics but it certainly it
would be a major boost to be in the 2016 Olympics.
IN THE PAST THE SPECTATORS FOR MAJOR TOURNAMENTS
HAVE LARGELY BEEN PEOPLE WHO PLAY SQUASH. WITH DECLINING NUMBERS OF PLAYER AND
COURTS, WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
I was at the ATCO Super Series with my wife and
Zia Al-Turki was there with his wife and Sheila from the PSA was there. I
looked around the audience and they were probably the only three women.
Everybody else was a very knowledge fan-base of men who loved the game. If you
market to people who already love the sport, you are on a road to nowhere. My
priority is to bring in new audiences. Obviously the way the sport is packaged
is important, but I think the players are a very big marketable factor. I am a
red-blooded heterosexual male but even I could recognize that the two French
players who were on the court were good looking boys. And I was surprised that
there was not more of a female following for menís squash the way it has
occurred in other sports. For example Roger Federer has a big female following
and so has Nadal. Now I donít want to go down the route of players wearing
thongs on court, but I think these players are very marketable.
WITH THE PSA, WISPA, AND WSF ALL BASED IN THE UK,
THE REST OF THE WORLD FEELS THAT THEY TEND TO GET NEGLECTED.
I appreciate the need to get around the world and
thatís what I intend to do. I worked for a company that had companies in 104
different countries and I was constantly on the road. Yes, there is a danger
that if you are based in one country and speak one language you can become very
insular and Eurocentric in your viewpoint. But squash has its powerbase outside
of Europe, so it is very much in my plans to go out and meet the people in the
States and the Middle East as well as continental Europe and assimilate what
they have got to tell me. I have an international background: I was born in
Iíve got an English dad, a German mother, a
Columbian wife and a Mexican daughter. Iíve worked in or visited about 50
countries in my life, so while I am happy to be based in England I certainly
hope to bring an international viewpoint to the job. The budget will be there to
allow me to get around the world and do my job.
I wouldnít have taken on this job if I didnít
think squash had a lot of potential. Iíve been in the business for a while and
so my address book is quite good. Iíve already been in touch with potential
sponsors. There is a good basis to build on. I have said that I hope to announce
new tour partners and new media deals by the end of the year and if I donít do
that I will consider myself a failure.