For 30 minutes, Maddison McKibbin waited.
And “there was nothing,” he said. “We were like ‘Oh, no.’”
Maddison, his brother, Riley, and Cory Salter, the CEO of SharpeVision, had just opened up ticket sales to a four-man event in Austin, Texas, that starts Saturday. It would feature five Olympians — April Ross, Tri Bourne, Taylor Crabb, Taylor Sander, Casey Patterson — and 11 AVP champions, as well as a host of local Texas teams and a SharpeVision team.
A fine end-of-season event that, in a single day, will include 12 hours of volleyball and nearly an around-the-clock party.
But to the McKibbins and Salter, it’s more than a typical beach volleyball tournament. This is a proof of concept: Make an intriguing enough beach volleyball product, and fans will pay to see it.
Except, for 30 minutes, nobody bought a ticket.
Until everyone did.
Within 24 hours of the McKibbins and Salter opening up tickets, they were sold out.
“The fact that we sold out in 24 hours was kinda crazy,” Riley said. “There were a lot of people who were pretty upset how fast it sold out. It sold out in 24 hours and we were like ‘OK, it’s done!’”
But it wasn’t done. They’re people-pleasers, the McKibbins. If there was a demand for more tickets, they’d find a way to meet that demand. With the help of Salter, the name sponsor and whom Riley describes as the “MVP of this event,” they switched venues, from Aussie’s to Moontower Saloon, which could fit from 800-1,000 fans — big enough to add more tickets, small enough to keep the event from swelling out of control.
“Because there was such a demand to watch the other four-mans we put on, we figured we’d make an experience out of it,” Riley said. “It made so much sense to do it at these bars because they’re all set up for what makes beach volleyball great: you got the beach vibe, you’ve got the bar that’s super close. We’re bringing the party vibe back and we believe the style of four-man is the most entertaining style of volleyball because it combines all the things that are great with indoor mixed with the beach vibe and lifestyle.
“What’s better than pouring yourself a brimmer or sipping on a cocktail an arm’s length away from the best beach volleyball players in the world?”
And, make no mistake, this event does include the best players in the world. Just a single team, Team Hawai’i — Tri Bourne, Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb, Taylor Sander — boasts 16 AVP titles and three Olympians. Another, Team California — Casey Patterson, Jeremy Casebeer, Chase Budinger, Troy Field — includes four players who have all made AVP finals. There are AVP champions on both women’s teams: Olympic gold-medalist April Ross on one, Kristen Nuss and Taryn Kloth on the other. The Texan teams include a number of AVP main-draw players.
All of this begs the question: How did the McKibbins and Salter manage to haul in that type of talent, for a fairly random four-man tournament in Texas, at the tail end of a season that capped an Olympic quad?
It’s one thing to put on an event at 16th Street in Hermosa Beach, as the McKibbins have done on multiple occasions, including the unforgettable AVP vs. NBA clash three years ago. It’s another to request all of those players, who have been traveling around the globe since March, to get on yet another airplane.
Salter did his part, raising $20,000 in prize money, renting a mansion on Lake Travis to house almost all of the players traveling in for the event.
“Cory was able to raise enough money where it would be enticing to the top players,” Riley said. “The event we threw at 16th Street (in 2020) — we weren’t able to market it. In fact, we didn’t want to, because it was towards the end of that initial surge of COVID and we didn’t want to break rules but we still wanted to play. We figured if we put up enough cameras it would still be fun to watch.
“Before, all the four-mans we put on we were like ‘Let’s just put it on 16th and we’ll figure it out.’ Now we’re charging admission and we’re trying to prove a sustainable model where all of the funds go back to the players and pay for all the costs. We took a look at the numbers today and we’re going to do better than break even, so the model is working and it’s pretty exciting.”
The numbers are working despite Salter and the McKibbins turning away a few interested advertisers and sponsors. This year wasn’t so much about making money or breaking even as it was proving that pulling off an event like this is possible and sustainable.
“This is hopefully a proof of concept if it goes off well to show that you can have ticket sales, you can do things, you can make some money, and you can sell it to advertisers, because there’s plenty of opportunity,” Salter said. “We didn’t let anybody else in. We’ve had other people want to advertise, but next year we’ll hopefully open it up.”
Beach volleyball, and athletes in general, have been, as Salter said, “a great way to advertise” for SharpeVision, which provides, among other services, Lasik eye surgery. Both Maddison and Geena Urango turned to SharpeVision when they needed Lasik, and SharpeVision has worked with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, and is currently partners with Major League Soccer.
Athletes are “a huge part of our demographic,” Salter said. “They just don’t want to wear glasses and contacts, especially at the professional level because everybody’s looking for an advantage.”
A recreational volleyball player, Salter, like so many recreational players across the country, came across the McKibbin tutorials on YouTube “and thought these guys are onto something,” he said. “I really liked what they were doing.”
Now they’re working together, putting on a first-of-its-kind event to bookend the 2021 season. The first of what they intend to be many.
“It’s been fun,” Maddison said. “It’s been a learning experience, but we didn’t know there would be this much demand. It’s been cool because a lot of players are on board and easy to work with. We’re excited. It was a much bigger load than we thought but it’s kinda fun. It’s like when we started learning YouTube, all these smaller things you have to figure out. But it’s all coming together, that’s for sure.
“Really when it comes down to it, we’re not looking to make a profit, we’re testing the waters to see what the demand of this is like and what we can create. The event we did in Hermosa was a case study, and this one is the biggest case study we’ve done.”