Travis Mewhirter’s 2023 Ultimate Beach Volleyball Gift Guide
December 8, 2023
October 18, 2023
HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA — Steve Obradovich took all the money.
He pauses. Laughs. Corrects himself.
“Actually,” he says on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter, “Dodd and Hovland and Sinjin and Randy and Steffes and all those guys took all the money.”
Every player he mentioned made more than $1 million in prize money over the course of their careers as professional beach volleyball players. Randy Stoklos once inked a deal with FILA that brought in half a million in royalties alone — in one year. Obradovich knew the money in the sport had dipped considerably since his last full-time year in 1989, when he played in 19 tournaments and made $35,775, bumping his career earnings into the six figures. But it wasn’t until last fall that he realized how far it had fallen.
It was a Saturday, and he was at breakfast in Huntington Beach with Taylor Crabb. He ordered a bloody Mary. So did Crabb. Obradovich raised an eyebrow.
Wasn’t Crabb playing in an AVP tournament that day?
“He says ‘I’ll win the tournament, don’t worry,’” Obradovich recalled, laughing. “That’s how bad it was.”
Crabb did win that tournament, the Huntington Beach Tour Series, splitting $4,000 with Taylor Sander, about the same split Obradovich shared with Ricci Luyties when they finished second in Long Beach — in 1985.
“When I saw Taylor that’s when it clicked on me,” Obradovich said. He’d long wanted to help the current generation of beach volleyball players. His breakfast with Taylor Crabb was the final impetus he needed: He was going to revive fours beach volleyball in the United States.
That revival begins this Saturday, in Newport Beach, with the inaugural Newport Beach Volleyball Invitational, an exhibition featuring three men’s teams and three women’s teams with a star-studded cast of players and sponsors.
“I said Taylor would you be interested? And he goes ‘Yeah!’ I wanted to take care of the AVP guys. I wanted to make them some money,” Obradovich said. “The money’s going down, players getting fifths are great players but they’re not making money.”
They will this weekend. Every player participating in the invitational will make a $2,000 appearance fee. The winning team will tack on another $4,000. The money is good to the point that several players in the field — Crabb, Taylor Sander, Miles Partain, Andy Benesh, Savvy Simo, Zana Muno, Alex Ranghieri, Kelly Cheng, Betsi Flint, Julia Scoles, and Alix Klineman — turned down the opportunity to compete in a Challenge in Goa, India, with Olympic points on the line to play in a fours exhibition instead.
The numbers made more sense to stay home.
“I was deciding if I was going to play a Challenge in India and pay that money and keep on going or if I stay back and play in this,” Simo said. “I just kept poking and seeing and Maddison [McKibbin] asked if I could make a team.”
The McKibbin brothers, Maddison and Riley, will be producing the event for their YouTube Channel. There will be no livestream, and they have the numbers to back up their strategy to instead make a cinematic post-production product: Two of their most-viewed YouTube videos are fours replays with more than 500,000 viewers each, more than quadruple that of the most-viewed AVP final on ESPN this year. If you want to watch it live, you have to come down to Newport Beach and see it yourself. The entry is free, and there will be no stands.
“Old school,” Obradovich said. “Plop down your chairs and be on the beach.
There will be a paid VIP section where alcohol and food will be served, tickets for which are $500 and can be bought at nbvolleyball.com.
If the sticker price seems high, consider the teams:
“The players are all jacked up,” Obradovich said. “As soon as I mentioned two grand, everyone got all excited. I could have done it for $500 but I wanted to make it a legit deal where guys wanted to come down and play. I’d want to play. I’d have played for $500. I’m trying to help the players is what I want to do. They don’t make a lot of money during the year, you struggle, and now you got $2,000 prize money, that’s great. I’ve always wanted to help the sport any way I can.”
This is, as Obradovich said, just “our trial. This is our beta testing.”
Who knows what the future can bring? He’s tinkering with the notion of founding a fours league, with franchises, general managers, a draft, players paid via salary. He doesn’t see why it couldn’t be successful, with sports leagues and viewership booming around the country, from Pickleball to the MLS, PVF to the WNBA.
“These guys are buying Pickleball teams, why not buy a volleyball team?” Obradovich said. “You have a draft, the team has a GM, you get all the content, see how much content you get to raise money and sponsors. I think it would be a really good deal if some of these investors in volleyball saw it.”
His current crop of investors and sponsors includes Kevin Martin of Eagle Four Partners, and Mario Marovic of Lounge Group, who operates a dozen or so restaurants and bars in the Orange County area. Each team has its own sponsor: Citrus Ford, Chicago Title, Baldwin and Sons, West Coast Aviation, Kincade Construction, and Zotovich Wines. Such is the model Obradovich is seeking to establish in the years to come.
“Hopefully this four-man, we can turn it into some kind of league. I’ve got some ideas on that, with franchises, selling to New York and Dallas where the owners pay the players,” he said. “It’s a league. These guys are buying pickleball leagues. F—! These guys are way better athletes than them, it’s a way better show in four-man.
“You still have the AVP. So if you have nine AVP events, and I have nine events, now these kids are making money.”
And the man — and group of them — who took it all is now giving it back.