The FIVB will return to the U.S. July 22-28, for the first time in ten years, and former AVP commissioner Leonard Armato plans to make the week a full-blown volley-festival. Besides the FIVB Long Beach Grand Slam, which is a huge production on its own, there will be a coed fours tournament, beach sixes, collegiate and youth doubles tournaments, and a series of music concerts and live DJs. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a new tournament concept being debuted alongside the Grand Slam: the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball. Armato described it as “the U.S. versus the world” since the best professional American beach volleyball players will square off against the best players from the rest of the world.
This kind of large-scale beach volleyball event has never been attempted in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world. A celebration in the birthplace of modern beach volleyball, the event will be, according to Southern California legend Sinjin Smith, “a mini-Olympics.”
NBC snapped up a contract to televise the event and is contributing funds to help put it on. In Armato’s words, “NBC is providing a tremendous amount of support for this event. They’re my partner in this 50/50.” In total, the network plans to broadcast 20 hours of coverage. Audiences across the U.S. and the world will be able to watch the Grand Slam finals for the women and men as well as the finals of the ASICS World Series Cup. The FIVB and USA Volleyball are also contributing financially, and – along with ASICS – Mikasa, Paul Mitchell, Bud Light, Sabra, Barefoot Wine, and Nestea have all signed on as sponsors.
“What we’re trying to do with this event is really tap into the mass appeal of volleyball,” said Armato. “Because around the world almost a billion people play the sport and beach volleyball has been a bit of a niche sport . . . [except for coverage of] the Olympic Games. We want to build a bridge between the beach and the indoor game and become really inclusive as opposed to focused on one aspect [of the game].”
By having the coed fours, the six man, and the collegiate/youth tournaments that amateurs can participate in, Armato and the other event organizers hope to lure athletes and fans who have previously only been involved in the indoor sport out to the beach. However, the plan is also to have the pros play in the fours and six-person tournaments after they have finished their duties with the Grand Slam or World Series Cup. “We’re still working out some of those details,” said Smith, who is currently a member of the FIVB Beach Commission.
“Then,” Armato continued, “we’re going to wrap a music festival around the whole thing because music festivals are trending quite a bit in our culture right now. So we really are focused on the millennials and how we can provide them an entertainment experience that they’re going to absolutely be delighted by.”
And of course, the pros couldn’t be more excited about the first international beach volleyball event in the United States in ten years. “I know from many, many years of experience that the international players all want to come to the United States,” said Smith. “And for the American players, it’s a no-brainer. They don’t have to go anywhere; they’re in their backyard.”
The FIVB, too, has been looking forward to bringing their tour back to the U.S. “For [the FIVB] to be considered number one in the world in their sport, they have to have a U.S. component,” said Smith. In fact, Smith vouched for the FIVB in saying that they “want nothing more than to have this event every year.”
Armato also confirmed that his group has signed a long-term deal with both NBC and the lead sponsor ASICS, so the World Series of Beach Volleyball is likely to become an annual event.
“I think people are really going to enjoy the experience,” said Armato, “and that experience then will become something that people put on their calendar and ensure that they attend and their friends attend in the following year.”
Originally published in August 2013