By Ismail Uddin, republished from isportconnect.
Alex Gough is the CEO of the Professional Squash Association (PSA).
Alex first joined the organisation as Director in 2002 when he was still an active squash professional on the tour. Shortly after his retirement as a player, Alex became the COO of PSA in June 2008, dedicating his time to furthering the growth of the sport that has played such an important role in his life. In February 2009 Alex was appointed CEO of PSA.
As a player, Alex was ranked in the world’s top ten for over 28 months and achieved his highest world ranking of 5 in July 1998. During his career he won a total of 10 World Tour titles and a Bronze Medal in the men’s singles event at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Alex also holds a 1st Class Honours degree in Mathematics from the University of Wales in Cardiff.
What does your role entail at the Professional Squash Association?
My role as Chief Executive of the PSA is to oversee the Tour and all its elements. We sanction 120 events through the year. We look after 500 players on the Tour. It’s effectively managing the office on that Tour, so working out how to get more tournaments onto the Tour and how we manage all of those tournaments so that they’re always improving. The biggest element of everything in the last two or three years has been working on the TV product for squash, trying to maximise the look of the sport and get it onto TV as widely as we can.
As you were a professional squash player, how has that experience helped you as CEO of PSA?
We always had two or three playing members on the Board of Directors, so as well as playing I was on the Board of Directors for about five years, which helped to look into the nuts and bolts of the association – the financials and how the Tour was run. From a player’s point of view, for over 15 years we saw the good, the bad and the ugly of what the tournaments were doing. We have got some fantastic tournaments, some middle tournaments and some not so good, so I’m able to know what’s happening at all of those different levels. As a player you go in and play those smaller tournaments, so I can always look at something from a player’s perspective. That hopefully makes quite a big difference when we’re trying to decide on various aspects of the sport. It’s not just coming in from elsewhere and not really understanding what the players are going through.
You’ve mentioned broadcasting is a big part of PSA’s strategy. You recently agreed a deal with Sky for the PSA World Series Finals. What coverage did you receive from having the broadcast on Sky in the UK as a whole?
It was very good. It’s the second year that we’ve done it live and we had five hours coverage on the Saturday afternoon and then three hours on the Sunday. Our ultimate aim is to get squash on TV live, so with Sky being one of the premier broadcasters it’s a real step forward for us. Eurosport 2 had the coverage live as well, which is another big step for us. Eurosport 2 covers about 46 countries so that’s another big step for us because that’s the first time they have taken it. Broadcasters like Sky won’t take it unless it’s good enough so it feels like we’re going in the right direction.
Is this a major boost to the sport, with all of the coverage that the World Series Final has received?
Yes, totally. Off the back of getting the Finals on [Sky], we’re in discussion of trying to get more tournaments on live TV. Sky would take all of the World Series tournaments, but in a highlights package. We’d give the highlights to them every time there’s an event, which works out at about once a month, but we’d like to go from one live tournament to two, and then three and keep building that way until ultimately they’re all there. We’ve still got a little way to go on that front but at least they’ve given us the confirmation that our Finals are definitely good enough to be there.
PSA also announced last month a partnership with ASB as official court partner. What was the thinking behind that partnership?
We keep coming back to TV, but it’s such a massive part of what we’re trying to do and we’re filming the glass courts that travel around the world, so one of the main reasons for the partnership is so that we’re in conversations with those guys – week in, week out – on how we can make them look better. We are looking into all sorts of developments with them and we just felt that an easier way of doing that is partnering with them. If it’s just an independent company then they are not going to invest in some of those developments because it’s too separate. As a partnership, they’re quite open to having those discussions.
Did the fact that broadcasting has increased for the PSA lead to you getting more partners?
Yes, it’s getting slightly easier. Our next big task is looking for more sponsors and an overall Tour sponsor. That’s the next thing on the hit-list. Off the back of that we can then start to invest further in the tournaments and we’re hoping that this increased TV presence will help us in that project – it’s all about the profile of the sport.
You’ve announced the US Pro Squash Series. What are the main reasons behind that and is promoting squash in the USA a big part of your strategy?
It’s one of those markets where it’s really taking off and US Squash are probably one of the strongest federations in squash. About five or six years ago they really started to get themselves organised and get a really good programme together. They have been concentrating on getting their junior and membership programmes in place and really building a strong team as a federation. They’ve recently taken over the US Open, which is one of our big World Series events. It made sense for us; they really want the professional side of the game to get more profile over there. Partnering up with them is great because they’re on the ground in the US and they’ve got all the contacts. They’re going to start heavily pushing the tournaments over there, the resources they have got is much stronger than ours so it’s a win-win for both of us really.
The World Squash President, Mr Ramachandran, has recently praised your organisation as you’re helping with the 2020 bid for the Olympics. What different types of initiatives have you put in place to help with that bid?
When we went through this process, one of the main things we were lacking was consistency in the TV coverage. There was no archive or clear plan, so I think in the last three years we’ve filmed 900 matches for online and for the TV side of things we’ve filmed about 75 matches. When we went into this before we didn’t have any of that. Within that process and from doing so many, it’s got so much better. We had some really cool coverage from the World Series Finals and from all of the other tournaments that they could tap into and it was what the sport was missing. That’s probably been the biggest.
In terms of changing the sport, the video review was one of the big things that we brought in and it’s really helped on quite a few levels. It’s interesting for TV – it helps the commentators explain to new fans what’s actually happening – and then it’s definitely stopped a lot of the arguing between players and referees. That used to be a big negative for the sport because there was just too much aggravation between them. The third part is that with the benefit of looking at TV replays the decision making is slightly better. That was an initiative we brought in just under two years ago and it’s definitely calmed the whole decision-making process down and definitely improved the sport.
The IOC suggested that Squash wasn’t TV friendly when you previously bid for the Olympics, the initiatives you have done suggest it has become a lot more so. Do you feel like you’ve met the IOC’s requirements on that front?
I think so. There’s still more we can do, some of the stats are on their way and we’re working on some of the virtual things we can do to make it more entertaining, but that just requires a little bit more investment. It’s all ready and waiting and we know what we want to do, we just need a bit more investment to keep pushing it along.
Do endorsements from athletes in different sports help? Recently Victoria Pendleton was seen at your World Series Event. Does that help your bid?
I think so. Whenever we try and invite British people to see squash, especially for the first time, they’re genuinely blown away at how good the athletes are. They’re blown away by how fast the sport is and how athletic everyone is, so to have those endorsements from people who have won Olympic gold is really great for us. I think we’ll continue to try and get a few more people to some of the events and hopefully try and impress them as well.
Do you have any future events coming up that will boost the bid or showcase the sport a bit more?
Our calendar this year is looking very solid, so I think in terms of the IOC bid we just need to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re getting in the press all the time and keeping the tournaments going. In terms of the timeline and things we have to do, nothing really jumps out between now and February, when we find out what sports come out and then in May we do another presentation. That next presentation is in May, we have the British Open in May and that is one of our major events so hopefully that will go well and we can get good press, so we need to make sure that that one goes well.
How would you rate your chances of securing a 2020 spot at the Olympics?
That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? On a positive note, it feels like we have listened to the IOC and we have done pretty much everything that we can do at this stage. I think we have to rely on the judgement of the IOC and what they think is best. There’s a lot of unknown factors that we still don’t know about and one of those being the sport that comes out. Whilst we’re doing pretty well amongst the other sports, that one factor really swings it one way or the other.