Beach volleyball hitting another ebb in USA?

Beijing beach volleyball venue
Hey, Beijing! Karch Kiraly cares not for your temporary "beach." (Photo taken at 2008 Games on my "eight venues in a day" tour.)

The AVP Tour never has it easy. Beach volleyball still draws snickers over the revealing attire (as if track and field athletes wear three-piece suits). Alien vs. Predator stole its initials. And it’s a sponsor-driven sport subject to the whims of the economy.

This summer, the AVP is hitting another difficult stretch, just as it did in the late ’90s. Two weeks ago, players were told the rest of the season wasn’t guaranteed. The tour is trying to nail down a deal with new investors, but it hasn’t come through just yet. Next weekend’s scheduled stop in San Francisco has been pushed back to September.

And in a development longtime soccer fans will find all too familiar, the tour has some sort of competition in the Corona Light Wide Open. Be warned if you click that link — you’ll need to go through a clumsy sign-in screen to assert that you’re at least 21.

Beach legend Karch Kiraly is involved with the Corona event, and he doesn’t mince words about what the AVP and the FIVB, which organizes the international tour and Olympic play, are doing wrong. He must not be interested in TV, touting sideout scoring (points awarded only when you’re serving) over rally scoring (every point counts). That’s a sure way to make matches last eons, wrecking any semblance of a schedule and thereby irritating would-be broadcasters. His blog says the action in Chicago will have a women’s final that “should go off about 3 p.m. Sunday, with the men’s final after that.”

He’s also upset that the game is played on a smaller court than it was in his day, and most curiously, he scoffs at the idea of playing away from natural beaches. (Frankly, from my vast experience diving into sand for truly awesome digs in my early 20s, I prefer doing so without scraping the hell out of my arms on seashells, but maybe that’s just me. You have to level the sand and groom it, anyway, so what’s the difference?)

But before dismissing Kiraly as some beefier version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man, it’s worth checking out one point he raises: The AVP is charging admission and trying to be a “major” sport.

Perhaps the AVP is overreaching, but the beach volleyball horse long ago left the old-school California barn. It’s an international sport now.

So perhaps the real question should be how much professional beach volleyball one country can sustain.

Most international sports don’t have a U.S.-based tour featuring top U.S. players. Winter sports have World Cup circuits that may pass through the USA, but any other competition in the country is second-tier. USA Track and Field has a series of meets — some on the Diamond League list, some not. The ATP and WTA tennis tours spend a few weeks in the country.

Given that, it’s a bit of a miracle that the AVP has lasted this long as a full-fledged professional circuit. And still, only a handful of U.S. pros are making decent money. Many of those players are also doing double duty on the FIVB tour.

Coincidentally, U.S. players are having a rough week at the Grand Slam FIVB event this week in Stare Jablonski, Poland. No Americans made the quarterfinals in the women’s competition. Jen Kessy and April Ross didn’t advance from group play. Neither did Olympic champion Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh. Things are a bit better on the men’s side, where top-seeded Phil Dalhausser-Todd Rogers have advanced along with Jake Gibb-Sean Rosenthal.

(Update: Seems a USA Volleyball registration error compounded problems for the U.S. players this week.)

3 Comments

  1. AVP is not really charging admission. At their recent Virginia Beach event, they sold weekend passes for the first 8 rows. However, general admission is free, which their web-site, of course, does not mention. As the finals come around, they work the beach hard to get people to fill up the stadium for TV. The whole event felt more like a pre-programmed entertainment show, rather than a competitive sporting event; complete with MC telling the crowd when to cheer, when to start a wave, etc.

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