A beach volleyball junkie’s p1440 review and primer and thoughts from Kerri Walsh Jennings

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Kerri Walsh Jennings scores a block/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

I have attended pro beach volleyball events since 1976.

Most of those were as a fan, before we bought Volleyball magazine, making the pilgrimage from Northern California to the meccas of beach volleyball –- Huntington, Hermosa, and Manhattan Beach, or perhaps Redondo, Seal, Ventura, or San Diego.

I was thrilled to watch my heroes play: Sinjin, Randy, Hov, Dodd, Linda Hanley, Liz Masakayan, Karolyn Kirby, and Holly McPeak battle it out from sunrise to sunset (and occasionally beyond).

But p1440, this is something different.

Vastly different.

So different that I feel for its marketing department, because it offers so much more than volleyball that it defies classification. The closest analogy that I can think of is that it’s like a World Series of Beach Volleyball on steroids.

Consider this a Yelp review of sorts, to help any folks heading to Las Vegas, San Diego, or Huntington Beach to understand how to attend a p1440 event.

P1440 charges $40 a day. I understand that SoCal folks used to free general admission can have issues with this, but in these days of $15 movies and $175 concerts, $40 for an all-day pass to world-class competition plus events that actually strive to make you better is probably the best $40 you could spend.

In other words, this ain’t your father’s volleyball tournament.

P1440 makes a big deal about their four pillars: competition, health and wellness, development, and entertainment. That was something Kerri Walsh Jennings — with whom I talked at length on Sunday — has preached since she announced the formation of p1440.

Competition: With Walsh Jennings and Dave Mays throwing around 300 grand per tournament (the same as a FIVB four-star), you can bet that you’ve got the players’ attention. And yes, the quality of the field was spectacular.

The event gathered many of the world’s best teams, pairs like Norway’s Anders Mol-Christian Sorum, Canada’s Brandie Wilkerson-Heather Bansley, Spain’s Adrian Gavira-Pablo Herrera, Brazil’s Carolina Salgado-Maria Antonelli.

Sure, we wish there were a few more of the top USA teams, like Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena and Sara Hughes and Summer Ross, but the competition was top-notch.

Compared to a Southern California AVP tournament, the bottom four teams in the San Jose event may not have been quite as strong, but the difference is less than you might think.

Also, it’s a tribute to p1440 that it raised the officiating bar. For example, on the Thursday qualifier day, they have both an up and down official, rather than just an up ref, getting another set of eyeballs on the court. For all main draw matches Friday through Sunday, they have a full complement of up and down officials, two linespersons, and multiple scorekeepers, rather than providing all just on Sunday. It’s a detail that the fans might not notice, but the players appreciate the added diligence.

Health and wellness? Development? Yep, p1440 wants to make you a better person. I’ll repeat that, make you a better person.

Maybe that better person runs a bit faster, jumps a little higher, is more flexible, or recovers faster. Maybe that better person learns new ways to cook healthier fare, or perhaps establish a more well-rounded nutrient base. Maybe that person is able to reduce stress and fatigue through meditation.

I’m not the best guy to judge the health and wellness, because I’m the volleyball junkie that wants to photograph the first serve, the last serve, and all the serves in between.

I did manage to tear myself away to listen in for a bit on a few different sessions, and was intrigued by what I heard, and hope to sit in on a few sessions in Vegas when we have more staff.

Entertainment? Those of you that know me know that I could be the worst person to assess contemporary music, so I’ll leave that one for people that know what they’re doing. I did chat with a couple of knowledgeable folks that assure me that the musical lineup assembled by p1440 was impressive.

I did get to catch part of the Magic Giant performance, and enjoyed what I heard, and the crowd was certainly into it.

What doesn’t show up on the live stream is that p1440 has been extremely diligent in putting together a top-notch event in all facets. There was a small army of staffers running around, who were all unfailingly polite and helpful, and seemed to be trying to make sure that everybody was having a good time.

The p1440 organization dotted all the i’s and crossed all of the t’s, unusual for a brand new organization. It’s a Field of Dreams-like “Build it and they will come” philosophy, and p1440 has much to be proud of.

Attendance for the weekend was disappointing, light on Friday and Sunday, decent on Saturday. I’m guessing that as word-of-mouth builds, attendance will improve significantly.

A couple of notes: First, spend more time here than you typically would. It’s way more than just a volleyball tournament, and you’d be selling yourself short by just going to the volleyball. My bride is a one-day kind of beach volleyball attendee, after that, she’s bored and looking for an open court. I’ve encouraged her to take some time in Vegas and experience some of what p1440 has to offer.

If you’re typically a one-day person, try two at p1440. If you’re a two-day person, try three. There’s so much here, pick the matches you want to see and take breaks in the health and wellness and development pillars.

The p1440 app is a huge help here, it can help you organize your p1440 experience. It’s free, so be sure to download it, otherwise it’s too easy to miss events, with so much going on.

Second, if you have kids, bring ‘em. Plenty of bounce houses, slides, and other entertainment to keep them entertained and engaged.

Third, step outside of your comfort zone a little bit and experience something new. Attend a self-improvement seminar, cooking seminar, mini-boot camp, climb a rock wall, or just attend an adult beach volleyball clinic. It’s a premium experience, get as much as you can out of the experience, not just the volleyball.

Fourth, don’t be shy to ask staff for help. They’re all helpful, friendly, and smiley, and will help you find what you’re looking for, or at least be able to direct you to someone who can.

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Carolina Salgado, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and Maria Antonelli post with the prize check/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

I had a chance to chat with Kerri Walsh Jennings after the last ball hit the sand about her take on p1440’s first event.

“It is gnarly as hell being an entrepreneur,” she said. “We are a startup. We’re self-funded, we’re self-driven, and inspired from within. It’s so gnarly, because we’re not just a tour.

“We’re so much more than just a tour, we need to be to be successful. So every single element that we came out strong and hard with, requires just as much love and attention as the volleyball tournament.

“This volleyball tournament is a reflection of our entire product, we have the best teams in the world. We have amazing prize money. We have an amazing TV partner. An amazing venue. Multiply that by four, with our health and wellness, our personal development, entertainment, we nailed it.

“Our staff sets the tone, and Kasia Mays, she’s the leader of our culture, she sent out a tutorial video for all of our staff. This is how we greet people, this is how we escort people, this is how we respond to questions, so top to bottom, this is an experience where we treat people with kindness and integrity. We take so much pride in our people, because relationships and partnerships are everything. I think you see that in the vendors that are here, I think you feel that with every single person that’s working with us, we care.”

One of the most difficult tasks for any organization is to build a culture capable of pulling off an event of this size from the get-go, going from 0-100 mph.

“If I were to give us a rating on execution, I would say we’re an A-, the minus comes from the fact that we need more people here,” Walsh Jennings admitted. “Obviously we have to market a little bit better, we have to get the message out a little bit clearer, but it was always going to be an uphill battle because we are so much, you know?

Traditionally, the beach volleyball community hasn’t had to pay admission for events, in part due to the California Coastal Commission, which limits paid attendance on events held on public beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day, creating an atmosphere and expectation of free general admission.

“And the volleyball world doesn’t like to pay for stuff,” Walsh Jennings said. “They like to show up and be given the product for free. That’s why we have brought in other elements, so they can feel better about paying to watch the best in the world. The athletes deserve a lot. They deserve to be paid, they deserve to have huge crowds, and we’re building that.

“We always knew that it was going to be walking before we run, and we have Sinjin (Smith) and Randy (Stoklos) here, they’re doing live stream all day long, honoring their heritage. We have these 20-year-olds, who are in the finals, and are the future and the now. It’s exceptional.

“The four pillars that we have flow together. They fit together like a perfect puzzle. That’s really hard to do when you have four powerful elements, but everything flows, everything is integrated, we are servicing kids and adults. I think that we nailed the experience, I think we nailed the vibe.”

With any new organization, especially one conducting an event of this magnitude, there’s no practice run. I asked Kerri what lessons she learned from San Jose that will carry over to Las Vegas.

“We’re not perfect, we have a lot to work on, but everyone here feels like they’re a VIP, and to me, that means everything. We nailed the experience, the vibe, and the community here.

“I think we can shrink the footprint, I think we’re a little bit big, especially for the bands, I think we can shrink it, but I love the fact that we had space. I think we can nail down some of the things that the average person doesn’t see, like the players shuttle, and communication with the players, because a lot of people haven’t played double-elimination format, so this is new in a lot of ways.

“I think the details and the logistics we can improve upon. Before this event, we had no assets, we had nothing to give to ABC to say, this is our package, this is what you can expect, so it’s all me talking. It’s really hard, because how do you talk about it? It’s so much, and I think our marketing and our messaging will now have visuals to support it but we need to tighten up that message.

“When we’re talking about volleyball, we talk about the best in the world, which is what we have. When we talk about health and wellness, we talk about our experts that will be with us at every single stop educating. When we talk about fitness, we have the best in-class experts here. We need to lead with our strengths. Instead of trying to cover everything in a 90-second interview, I think we lead with our strengths, which are inherent in each pillar, and we go from there.”

I also had a chance to check in with p1440 partner Dave Mays and get his thoughts, positive and negative, as we listened to Magic Giant. He noted that many of the alterations for Las Vegas that he had in mind were logistical and set-up issues that wouldn’t translate well into print, but offered a few reactions.

“The things that I am most positive about are the player’s reactions from the programming, the flow, the general celebration of the sport and them,” Mays said. “Without taking away from their awesomeness, we added a lot of things that we thought would attract people that only have a slight interest in volleyball. That really worked.

“What we didn’t do more of, is really getting the families committed to coming out and understanding that their kids will be fully entertained as well as the adults. We want to market more to families, where it’s very clear what everybody can do throughout the day, so they’re free to socialize or watch the incredible volleyball.”

One of Mays’ concerns was being able to showcase all of the great matches on the live stream.

“I think there are more great games to watch than are generally captured and distributed to the fans. Throughout a three-day event, there are probably twelve blockbuster, barn-burning, awesome matches. There are so many great matches at the end of Friday, or the middle of Saturday, that are awesome. And the live stream is good, but the live stream with commentating is better.

“The live stream with commentating on every court would be even better, and I don’t know if that’s too big of a hill to climb, but I’m very inspired by the live stream, and very inspired by the feedback we got on the quality. It’s not a broadcast going to millions, we’re generally understanding that the live stream network is for the volleyball community. I think they can understand when Hovie and Dodd, Sinjin and Stokie will kind of talk shop. They’re cool with that.

“I would say that from an economic perspective, we can tighten up the physical site and the programming a little bit.

Mays said that p1440 and the AVP could work together for the betterment of both, as well as that of the players.

“If we can be the fruit and vegetables, and the AVP is the meat and potatoes, everyone should be able to play a role to complete a schedule which creates a living for players,” May said.

“No event series, or no promoter is perfect. I think if we stick together we can put together something that will rise the tide of all boats. I keep saying that, but it’s so true.”

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