Friday, August 13, 2010

How We Can Save Volleyball

So, this post is going to have little to nothing to do with our facility, but I feel since we're heavily involved in the same sport I would share some thoughts on the AVP, it's failures and how I think it can come back. 

First of all, it definitely stinks to see the backbone of the sport in the US over the last 25 years or so going under due to such utter mismanagement over the past decade.  How does a business like that operate at a loss for 11 years straight and not make wholesale changes before doomsday comes and the entire tour goes under?  Seems pretty dumb to me.  Seems to me like they should know by now, pretty accurately, how much they're going to have to spend to put on the events each year, how much money they're making from sponsorships and at least a decent idea of what they will make on ticket and merchandise sales.  It's not a hard concept to budget to that amount of money and not promise ridiculous amounts more prize money to your players than you have and won't have unless you manage to convince some poor soul to invest into your dying business. 

That being said, I don't feel like this is the end of anything for beach volleyball in this country.  I see the passion there is for this sport everywhere I go and play and as long as that exists in so many people, the sport is going nowhere.  It just needs to be run the right way, by the right people.  With that, I'll go over my ideas of how I think the sport could work the best. 

One question I have to start with is, why is the sport of professional beach volleyball run differently than every other professional sport in the entire world?  The AVP is utterly dependant on corporate sponsors buying into what boils down to advertising packages in order to run their events and pay their players.  In fact, as anyone who has ever played a weekend tournament or in a qualifier, the vast majority of players are paying a LOT more money into the sport than they are making out of it just to be able to say "I played with the best players in the world" or just to go out and have a good time playing with your partner and friends.  Beach Volleyball is very much a lifestyle.  It's incomparable to almost any sport, with the possible exception of golf, in that people love playing it literally, their entire lives.  Most of us play multiple times per week and pay plenty of money to do so (for equipment, travel to the beach, renting courts some places, etc), but none of us mind doing it because it is an addiction more than anything.  You don't see people playing baseball, basketball or football deep into their 50's anywhere near as often as you do with volleyball.  There must be better ways to capitalize on the passion that people have for the sport. 

I've heard a lot of people say that the beginning of the AVP's downfall was when they started trying to charge their fans to watch the matches on Clearwater Beach in the late 80's or early 90's (I forget exactly when it started).  How could that possibly be where the sport turned?  Are volleyball enthusiasts really that spoiled that they, unlike every other sports fan in the world, won't pay to watch the best in the world compete?  You can't even go watch a major swim meet anymore without paying for tickets to see Phelps swim.  Are Phil and Todd or Jen and April any different?  We have the absolute best in the world competing on our beaches every week and we're not willing to shell out a couple bucks to watch them play all weekend.  I don't know about you, but I pay that much money just to get a cab to the beach to train 3 times a week. 

Anyway, back to my point.  If the AVP were in my hands right now I would strip it down to nothing.  We don't need anything from the way things have been other than the net, the lines and the players.  Having played on both the big court and the small court, I honestly don't think it makes a difference.  The good players are going to beat the bad players.  Some people are going to like it one way, some will like the other.  It really won't matter.  I think the sport needs to follow the example of some of the more successful major sports in this country.  Major league baseball has gone out of their way for the last half century to alienate each and every one of their fans and yet, the sport is doing fine.  The NFL actually keeps up with the times and look how immensly popular it is.  The AVP has actually done a pretty good job of keeping the sport up with technology, but if the sport is set up wrong from the beginning, it doesn't really matter.  The sport I feel that beach volleyball needs to copy closest is actually NASCAR (mixed with European-style soccer).  NASCAR is a very sponsor based sport, but it's not actually NASCAR itself that relies on these sponsors, it's the teams.  What if beach volleyball did something similar to this? 

Here's what I envision:  The tour starts out with, let's say, 6 "teams". (for the sake of argument, I'll just discuss men's teams, but it could easily work for women's too).  Each team is based out of a particular region of the country and is owned by an individual, a group or a business (similar to every other pro sports league that has ever been created).  At the beginning of next year, there is a random draw to determine the order and then we have a draft.  Each team owner drafts a pair of players, say Phil and Todd with the first pick, John and Sean with the second, etc.  The draft goes until the top 30 or so teams in the country are picked and belong to a team.  Team owners are responsible for paying salaries of the players, so essentially, you are buying players like European soccer teams do.  Players are no longer relying solely on their finish from weekend to weekend to be able to pay the bills.  The better players are going to make more money obviously, because they get more attention and publicity and obviously have more followers.  It's the same thing that happens with every other major sport; hire agent, get drafted, negotiate contract, play for team.  In my mind this eliminates at least 3 of the HUGE problems the sport has right now. 

Number one, each region of the country now has a "team" to root for.  Put the players in jerseys, board shorts, bikinis, tatoos, etc with the team name on it and the logos of your regional corporate sponsors.  No longer is Southern Cali and a little bit of Florida the only regions of the country represented by the pro athletes in our sport.  We now have teams to root for.  It doesn't really matter that all of these players are going to live and train in Southern California and Florida.  It's the same way in every sport.  When they're on the field playing for "our" team, it makes no difference where they live in the offseason.  I for one know I would love to have a team to root for week in and week out.  I'd wear their same board shorts, I'd even use the products who are sponsoring my team.  All of a sudden, the sport has what Leonard Armatto so desperately wanted: a following throughout the entire country. 

Which takes us to the second problem we've addressed: the sport now has something they can sell other than just the Wilson AVP ball and some ugly sun-visors.  The AVP can work out a deal with each team in which they share in the profit of every shred of clothing sold that has the AVP logo and the team logo on it, like the NFL does, MLB does, NHL does, etc. 

The third problem we address actually has a few parts.  First, the AVP is no longer paying out $250,000 extra dollars every weekend to players based on how they finish in the tournament.  Could you imagine Alex Rodriguez getting paid based on how he did each game.  "Sorry A-Rod, you went 0-4 today, no paycheck."  It would never stand in any other sport.  Obviously this saves the tour itself a pretty huge amount of money.  Players now are able to have travel expenses covered by their team owner and sponsors.  Sponsors are now advertising through merchandise, as well as the 10 players on their team, so theoretically, they are easier to get to come on board.  We now have money coming in from fans all over the country, sponsors all over the country and ticket sales to events to watch YOUR team, not just one guy who happens to be your buddy that you knew in high school. 

Players will be able to interchange partners still, but it's minimalized.  I think it takes away from the sport when one guy (or girl) you really like watching has a bad finish one weekend with his partner, who you also like, so the next weekend they split up and now he's all of a sudden playing with the guy you most like rooting against.  Do you root for them or against them?  If it's kept in the same team, you're still rooting for your team.  If a guy no longer wants to play with anyone on his team and it can't be worked out, the owner trades him to another team.  Now you've got someone your whole fan base can root against (see: Brett Favre) and every time he plays against anyone on any team, he has his new fans watching and rooting for him and every fan from the team he left rooting against him.  Makes things more interesting, I think. 

For a couple reasons, this also helps every grass roots tour there is in this country.  Instantly every EEVB tournament or DTB tournament or EVP tournament becomes like a minor league baseball game (which also has a much larger fan base currently than the AVP).  If you perform well in the smaller tours for half a season, you could get the call up to the big leagues.  More and more and more people start playing these tournaments as soon as they see that one of their friends got the call up after Guy A left Team Northeast.  We all now have an opportunity to be a professional athlete just by competing each weekend in local tournaments.  Who knows, maybe I will play well in my next 4 tournaments and get the call up to play on the same team with Phil and Todd (not necessarily with them, but on their team).  Absolute dream come true for just about everyone who plays the sport. 

Our country needs a well run professional beach volleyball league. I have no idea why the sport decided that the way it was doing things was somehow better than every other pro sport in the country, but I think we've proven now that it was not.  I know it'll be tough to make this happen, and certainly not cheap, but at least I think there is a pretty huge potential for where this sport could go with a setup like this.  There are enough rich volleyball enthusiasts out there or companies who would love the idea of advertising in this way to make this work.  I know I'll do it when my company gets going.  It'll take a lot of work on the part of each individual team, but if it can work for a bunch of fat dudes driving a car in circles, why can't it work for the sexiest sport in the world??

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff b-rod hope to work with you soon buddy when your running the AVP!