Kerri Walsh Jennings Q&A on p1440: “If we are just another volleyball tour we will fail”

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Kerri Walsh Jennings-FIVB-Long Beach-WSOBV
Kerri Walsh Jennings celebrates a block at FIVB Long Beach in 2015/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Three-time Olympic gold-medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings piqued the volleyball community’s interest with the recent announcement of her p1440 platform (www.p1440.com), dubbed an event series encompassing the pillars of competition, development, health and wellness, and entertainment.

p1440 plans to launch its eight-event pro-beach volleyball tournament series in September with 2018 dates slated for Chicago, the San Jose/Bay Area, San Diego and Huntington Beach, with four more scheduled to take place at the beginning of 2019. The tournaments will include music festivals and a health-and-wellness component.

Walsh Jennings told VolleyballMag.com about the new endeavor, including how the idea was hatched, how it is being funded and the burning question: How will this platform be different than other domestic beach tours over the last decade that have achieved little to no financial success or sustained high visibility beyond the hardcore volleyball community.

Walsh Jennings, whose partners include her husband, Casey Jennings, and Dave and Kasia Mays, had plenty to say about what, on paper, is an intriguing concept with plenty of potential.

VBM: What spurred on this concept?

KWJ: It came about, shall we say, by inspired necessity. You know very well everything that went down in 2017 regarding contract negotiations. This basically is siding on the side of believing in more and better for the sport. At the end of summer in August we sat down with our partner, Dave Mays, who we had been talking to since spring and decided that we believe there is an opportunity here.

There is a great opportunity for our sport and to deliver everything we love which is volleyball, health and wellness and entertainment, the full spectrum and menu of things for people to enjoy. This is not just vanilla but the Baskin Robbins 31 flavors.

VBM: Do you believe the non-volleyball component will be a difference-maker?

KWJ: For many years Casey and I have been talking about starting an academy, and at the academy we certainly would have volleyball, because that’s what we love so much. We would also have other elements that would allow people to live an optimal life and that’s why we added the other elements to what we are doing.

You need to have a holistic approach to performance in life. If it’s only the physical then the mental and spiritual side will break down, ultimately causing you to fail. We really do believe in the 360-degree approach. Everything we are packaging is relevant to every single human being on the face of the earth. We want to be super-inclusive, regardless of gender, age and demographics.

We want this to scale. Our events will be finite. Our first year we’ll have eight and we will grow those. The technology platform allows us to scale and it allows people to live the inspired life we are promoting and creating on our platform. It allows them to live it with us 365 days, 24/7 around the world.

Volleyball always has had entertainment. We’ve had DJ Roueche  (longtime AVP disc jockey) for a long time. He’s been every team’s third guy on the AVP for so long. The setup we will have will have a great lineup of bands, awesome and very relevant. Festivals have a very high success rate and that means they make more money. If you are not coming for the volleyball, come for the music, if you are not coming for the music come for the health-and-wellness lessons.

We are not trying to be all things to all people, but trying to hit all four pillars we believe are important in everybody’s life. We believe if it’s done right we will appeal to the masses. We want to bring net-new eyeballs to the sport and that means new fans. We certainly want to bring more opportunities and more financial opportunities for the athletes participating in our sport. We do believe in iron sharpening iron. We believe this will create a tidal wave for each stakeholder and each person committed to the sport whether you are a member on the platform paying 6 dollars a month, which we will do down the road, or you are coming to the event series paying for your ticket. We will be committed right back and strive to give way more than people are paying for. We care.

VBM: With AVP players not able to play in opposing tours, are there enough players to make this successful?

KWJ: We are not worried about the athletes. Everybody is welcome to come and participate. We have an open format. All of that will work itself out. There is a whole world of athletes who are underserved and beholden to the powers that be. Bringing another player into the market, we are going to give the players more choices and we certainly will raise standards. We believe in free market. We want to be the best product out there, but we have to earn peoples’ trust, which we are committed to doing.

On each continent there are athletes who want to do this. And through all the outreach we’ve done, the response has been very positive from the players. The players are the last thing I’m worried about. Ultimately we believe what we are doing will help everyone, grassroots on up. We will enhance the sport in so many ways. We want to create more crossover from indoor to beach and have those girls coming out earlier and not just at end of their professional careers and make a true career on the beach. All these athletes coming from the NCAA game, we want to give them a home and not just a short-term home because the financials don’t work. We want to give them an option of having a long-term career with us along with the other entities.

We are working around — which is not too easy — the AVP events and FIVB four- and five-star events. We are not asking for exclusivity. We are literally a new opportunity for the athletes. We don’t want to put anybody in bad situations. We want to work with FIVB and USA Volleyball. We have outreach out to the AVP. We are very athlete-centric and very focused on elevating and respecting the sport and that all starts with the players.

We want to up the level of American play for sure. On the world stage, the United States has taken a hit the past couple years and I believe it is a direct reflection of the fact the USA players cannot focus solely on their craft and have to have other jobs. We want to switch that. We want to serve the U.S. players.

VBM: What is going to make your endeavor here different than other volleyball tours, that as history has shown, have struggled from a profitability and exposure standpoint in recent years?

KWJ: We are not reinventing anything. We are taking elements that are very successful and packaging it together and bringing it to market. We believe the other pillars will bring new people to new events. The technology part will allow us to scale. And technology companies done right are highly successful because their reach is great and we can develop a great scope of work and deliverables to our members.

We are not just another volleyball tour. We all are very clear that if we are just another volleyball tour we will fail. That model hasn’t proven itself successful. We are so grateful for the people who exist right now who are putting on their tournaments or tours, but we are reframing how we are packaging this and delivering it. We will bring new people to the market and be able to serve athletes better and give them opportunities.

p1440.com partner Dave Mays

VBM: Where is the funding coming from this?

KWJ: Our partners Dave Mays and Kasia Mays, they are the founders. We are building this together and we certainly are a family. Dave and Kasia have had great success in their careers. I was listening to a podcast recently with the president of Golden State Warriors and before he took the job everyone said, “You are absolutely crazy this franchise is so sick. It is literally impossible for them to not make the playoffs that many years in a row.” He said, “You guys are crazy, look at the other components that exist. This is something that is so sick, but the numbers support something else. There is an opportunity there.” That’s where we all are at. We all bring our different expertise. We are collecting a team of A-team of ridiculously talented people who know their stuff. We all are very resourceful. Every door we’ve knocked on has been warmly opened. We are making great progress.

VBM: What has the corporate response been like, thus far?

KWJ: We don’t want to be like NASCAR. We’d rather have few but great partnerships because we want a clear and aligned message. We don’t want it where we have a million little partnerships. We feel our partnerships will become the DNA of our very fractured sport. There is a unique kind of history where big brands that are aligned in principles and message can come in and virtually own a sport and they can have a big presence with us and become our limb. We will be the heartbeat of it. The fact that 25 to 40 million people — we haven’t found the right number — play in the U.S. and something like 800 million globally. Those numbers don’t lie. If we were going to pick the low-hanging fruit, we would just be going after the volleyball community. The companies and brands we are sitting down with, everybody knows how timely it is. From the world global perspective, we need movements and peer positivity and we need movements to build accountability and autonomy in their lives — that’s where we are going to help inspire people through the resources we give and the tone we set onsite.

VBM: Do you have a financial investment in this?

KWJ: I have put a lot of sweat equity and my heart and soul in it. Yeah, we’re all giving what we got to give. Time is the most precious thing and goodness gracious I feel like I have a 24/7 job with this, but it’s all worth it.

VBM: In professional sports, we all know television exposure is king. How is that part of the equation coming along?

KWJ: We are really focused walking down the path to having a linear partner. We are dancing with the big dogs and haven’t finalized that yet. We also will have various digital partners. Again, we want to be where the people are. Digital is a huge presence and yet the brands and the numbers support having a great linear focus as well. We need to be on TV and have that presence, but digital is the future. The percentage of people watching sports on mobile devices I absurd. Digital is hugely important as well.

VBM: If you had a crystal ball, where do you see this headed in a year or two down the road?

KWJ: We see it being successful. We want events to be successful. We’re looking for 20,000-30,000 onsite at each vent. We want to start aggregating members. We want 4 million paid members by 2021 after the Olympics and we just want to grow the sport into a valuable property. We want success by every measure and a lot of that includes financial We know the heart and intent of this is beautiful and the heart is pure, but we need to pay for this and need partnerships with our brands and media partners, that’s what we are working toward. We want to be successful internally and want to be successful for sport at large.  We want to be successful for our brand partners and help them reach their markers and stay with us. This will affect generations positively.

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