As the midnight-Thursday entry deadline for AVP Huntington Beach approached, it appeared that a boycott was on.
But no longer.
According to a source who demanded anonymity, a top men’s player, taken aback by the AVP’s threat to close down the 2017 tour, signed at the last minute. What’s more, that player communicated that to the other unsigned players, nearly all of whom put their names on the dotted line in the 11th hour.
As the deadline passed, the remaining holdouts for the men are Casey Jennings, Bill Kolinske and Robbie Page, while the remaining women are Brooke Sweat, Summer Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings.
“This is not the first time that we’ve discussed the exclusivity clause and it’s not the last time,” said AVP player-committee member Sarah Day. “With any sort of business outside of volleyball, there would be some sort of exclusivity or non-compete clause. You can’t work as an independent contractor for Samsung and moonlight on the weekends for Apple. It just wouldn’t work.”
The AVP has eight stops this season and the first is in Huntington Beach, Calif., May 4-7.
Many of the pro players took issue with the AVP’s four-year contract and its exclusivity clause. In the past couple of weeks, many of the pros had meetings about it on the heels of the announcement that Walsh Jennings, the American icon of beach volleyball, was suing the AVP over a different issue. What’s more, it came at a time when a rival tour, the NVL, announced that it was joining forces with former AVP CEO Leonard Armato and his FIVB event, the World Series of Beach Volleyball in Long Beach in July.
“I’m hoping that the term of the contract could be reduced from four years, as any athlete would,” said Priscilla Piantadosi-Lima, who has a unique perspective, having played at the tail end of the AVP’s glory days in 2004-2010 and has competed most recently on the NVL tour.
“Four years is a long time,” Piantadosi-Lima, said. “We want to make this a profession, and honestly, it’s tough to call it a profession when many players have to work hard outside of the tour to make ends meet. I play because I love it, my profession is running my club. You cannot make a living off of eight events. Even if you could play both AVP and NVL, for 12 events, it would be tough.
“I think that it’s so important that the players get together and try to come to common ground with the AVP on something that would be good for everyone. “
The AVP did not release an official signup list, but the unofficial lists on the website BVBinfo.com, which is a reliable source for entries and results, showed that as late as Thursday night the men’s AVP holdouts included Olympic partners Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena.
The list also showed that the following players (in alphabetical order) were not attending: Angela Bensend, Lane Carico, Emily Day, Amanda Dowdy, Kim DiCello, Betsi Flint, Lauren Fendrick, Brittany Hochevar, Kelley Larsen, Caitlin Ledoux, Whitney Pavlik, Irene Hester Pollock, April Ross, Summer Ross, Emily Stockman, Sweat, Geena Urango, Kendra VanZwieten, and Walsh Jennings.
Obviously all that changed for many of them.
The AVP is run by Donald Sun, who purchased the AVP out of bankruptcy in 2012 and has rebuilt the tour with steady increases in prize money. But the rival NVL also upped its ante with its recent announcement.
“It was a few months of process, discussing with individual players, groups of players, discussing what concerns they had,” Sun told The Associated Press. “We all made it. I think we’re all pretty happy.”
The NVL-Armato merger included a bump in NVL prize money of $150,000 for the season with the hope of attracting top talent and offer additional opportunities to players at all levels.
“I wanted to work with Leonard to increase players benefits, opportunities, and prize money,” NVL CEO and co-founder Albert “Al-B” Hannemann said again this week. “We have big plans this year and in 2018 and all players are welcome to play in all of our events.”
For its part, the AVP said then that “We don’t discuss details around our contracts as those discussions are private and ongoing.”
That included talks with Walsh Jennings.
“I respect her decisions,” Sun told The Associated Press, “and I wish her well.
“But in the meantime, we’re just geared up. All the athletes that are signed are fired up to play Huntington Beach next weekend.”
Day, who has two fifth-place finishes on the tour and is expecting her second child in August, participated in Monday and Tuesday afternoon meetings with AVP staff.
“I thought the meetings were positive,” Day said. “I thought the brand was doing the best it possibly can, especially considering the hostile environment, and I feel like I understand where the AVP is coming from. They are trying to protect their brand for the longevity of the sport, not only for the players that are currently playing, but for players coming up through the pipeline, and I truly believe that that is important to the AVP.
“They are starting up their academies, we have AVPNext, we have AVPFirst, which is giving back to the community, I think the outreach is there, and it’s not just there to look good, but it’s there to get grassroots players through the professional door. I think it looks really fluid and genuine.
“I walked away from the meeting thinking that the AVP staff was trying to allow for the growth and protect the players so something could happen for themselves in the future.”
On the men’s side, former Long Beach star Taylor Crabb said he is looking forward to the competition.
“We’ll be signing the agreement tomorrow,” Crabb said last week. “I won’t be boycotting, I’ll be there. Hopefully everyone will come to an agreement. I’m hoping all the best players will play, I want to compete against the best, that’s all I really care about.”
Theo Brunner, who is partnering with Casey Patterson this year, told us he’s concerned about the current state of beach volleyball.
“It’s a messy situation. I signed, I have faith in Donald, I think that what we have now is much better now than it was five plus years ago,” Brunner said. “Seeing all the international stuff canceled shows that volleyball is in a tough place right now, just one year after the Olympics. To have a tour, and have the money being increased, by a good amount over the next four years, is something to hold onto, and not take lightly, and we shouldn’t push it to the point that we might not have it.”
Day largely agrees.
“I truly believe in the AVP brand and the direction of the brand, everything from the grass roots to the professional level. I think that Donald’s version of the AVP will be successful, it just takes time. We have to allow for that process to happen, I think that he has proved in the last four years that we are headed in the right direction, and that’s a positive note,” Day said.
“People want to see huge changes after four years, but you can only take baby steps. You have to learn to crawl before you get to walk. Donald deserves a lot of credit for taking this on, I don’t think he’s scared of a challenge, I really think he has his whole heart in making this work, I truly believe he is finding a way to build a business that has longevity, and hopefully in the near future will be able to support a lot of players. For the qualifiers that feel this way now, I get it, but I’m hopeful for them that in the next couple of years, if they buy into the AVP family, they will be rewarded.”
Day took issue with putting a negative spin on the contract.
“I think we’ve taken this word exclusivity and made it this really bad word,” Day said. “Really, exclusivity not only protects the AVP brand, but it protects the players as well. I think that’s really important as a takeaway. It’s not to hurt anyone, it’s to protect. I believe that any successful business should have the right to protect your brand.
All that aside, the players want the opportunity to make enough money to make competing worth their while.
“When I was playing with Angela (Lewis) we were playing 16 tournaments a year minimum,” Piantadosi-Lima said. “I could then pay for an international tuition as a full-time student, paying my way through college taking 13ths, 17ths, and ninths because there were so many tournaments then. I think it was 2006-2009. We were, what, 16th, 18th in the country, and I didn’t need a full time job. Granted, I live in Louisiana, it’s cheaper than most areas of the country.”
“Less tournaments is fewer tournaments to make money. I understand that they’re building, and it’s a new owner, building from four events when they first started, so I’m seeing progress.