If you are a fan of the volleyball podcast The Net Live, you probably know who Matt Garthoff is. The hosts of the show—former Olympian and men’s national team member Kevin Barnett, pro sports DJ Jeremy Roueche, and former USC setter/libero Dustin Avol—refer to him by name and don’t bother to clarify. But if you listen enough times, you’ll figure it out. This guy is vocal. He’ll engage in the conversation on the chat board, he’ll make comments on volleyball-related Facebook posts, and he’ll even put his time and money on the line to make sure the men’s national team has fans in attendance at their last chance to qualify for the Olympics. But that’s a story for later.
Garthoff, a creative director at the advertising firm High Wide & Handsome in Culver City, Calif., has seen his notoriety with TNL fans increase recently with the popularity of the collages he makes after every show. The project began humbly, with five or six images thrown together to visually represent what the hosts discussed each week, but as other TNL listeners began to give him positive feedback, he dedicated more time to each collage.
“They’re starting to take on a life of their own,” Garthoff said. “It can be several hours [before a collage is finished]. Now all of a sudden they’ve become Where’s Waldo for what was said on the show.”
His dedication to this project stems from a love for volleyball. Once dubbed “World’s Greatest Volleyball Fan” by About.com, Garthoff’s relationship with the sport began in Washington D.C., where as a high school student he learned to play beach volleyball in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. The SoCal transplants who taught him the game filled his head with stories of Manhattan, Huntington, and Hermosa, so he decided to attend college at USC to see it for himself. Years later, Garthoff still lives in Southern California. Volleyball has become an integral part of his life, and he an integral part of the SoCal volleyball community.
“I heard about [The Net Live] through a buddy of mine who I played beach and indoor with,” said Garthoff. “At my old job, I was invited to have a meeting with Jason Hodell, who was then the CEO of the AVP . . . and this buddy said, ‘Hey, you should listen to The Net Live. They talk about the business end of the sport, not just the results and the fan-type stuff.’ And of course it was the perfect fit for me, all the information I wanted and more.”
After listening to the show every week and becoming a regular, Garthoff thought it would be nice for there to be an index of the shows. That way if someone wanted to hear about what was going on in women’s NCAA volleyball, they didn’t have to listen to the entire two-hour episode to find that small segment.
“But being the person that I am, I decided I’d rather see it than read it,” he said. “So I started throwing together images, just found-stuff on the internet, and saying, well, here’s a simple collage, here were the major guests, these were the major topics covered, that type of thing.”
To create these masterpieces, Garthoff takes advantage of his ungodly commute on the L.A. freeway from his home in Long Beach to Culver City to listen to each episode of the show over and over again.
“One thing I figured out early on was if you’re in the chat room, a lot of times you’re really not listening . . . so I found myself listening to [the show] more than once anyway. It started out as more of a note-taking thing just so I could remember if anybody asked me, ‘Hey, did you hear the John Cook interview?’ . . . and it became useful to me when I was doing the collages.”
An advertising professional by trade, Garthoff always has a bigger plan behind his projects, especially when it comes to expanding and promoting the sport he loves.
“I would much rather [The Net Live] have twenty thousand fans or two hundred thousand fans than two thousand fans, and that’s pretty much why I put [my creativity] to work for them. Anything that can help get some sort of viral spread going.”
To do this, he has to find a way to appeal not only to the dedicated TNL fan who knows all the hosts’ inside jokes and is familiar with the top players by name and face, but also the casual fan who has potential to join the next generation of hard core fans.
“I like to put in the major stuff so if somebody just glances at [the collage] they get a sense that that head coach was on or that guy from the national team was there, but there’s also all kinds of little hidden references and things that are buried for real hard core volley people,” he said. “The idea is to hit a spectrum. If you’re just a little bit interested, you’re getting a big April Ross or a big whoever it is that you recognize and know what that means, but then there’s also some real obscure stuff in there for the people who have been doing this for twenty years or been around the sport a long time.”
Garthoff has also developed a bit of a reputation as an event planner after organizing the Vol-B-Que, a giant tailgate party created to help bring fans to the 2012 NORCECA event in Long Beach where the U.S. Men’s National Team competed for the chance to go to London.
“Kevin [Barnett] threw out a challenge on the show to the Southern California fans saying, ‘Are you guys going to show up? You always say you want volleyball, well here it is. Are you going to show up and fill the arena?’ I kind of took that as a personal challenge and used my own network of friends from different beaches, all the way up from Santa Monica, Long Beach, San Diego . . . and decided that we would take on this challenge, and we created this event called the Vol-B-Que.”
The event turned out to be a huge success. Between 350 and 400 people bought tickets to the qualifier through Garthoff. At the event they had costume contests, Sinjin Smith was the grand marshal, and Jeremy Roueche served as DJ and contest judge. It was just another example of how Garthoff will give freely of his time and creativity for the good of the game.
Unfortunately, at press time, Garthoff’s wife had just had shoulder surgery (only seven months ago, it was Garthoff on the operating table, also for a shoulder procedure), and he was four collages behind. We hope he finds a few hours of free time soon so we can continue to enjoy our weekly volley-Where’s Waldo with all the other TNL fans.
>> To see all of Matt Garthoff’s collages check out The Net Live’s Facebook page at facebook.com/thenetlive.
Originally published in August 2013