Building the Biggest Umbrella in Beach Volleyball
By Mati Bishop
Soft chatter fills the beach under a sense of anticipation as the players collect in the calm morning air. They throw, pepper and hit. Preparing for a day of possibility, a day of breakthroughs or a day of disappointment. It’s a scene that every beach volleyball player at every competitive level is familiar with. A common bond between people who love to play with their toes in the sand. It’s a bond that in more and more places also includes the oversight, guidance and rewards of AVP America.
The Birth of AVP America
AVP America are the new guys in the AVP structure but have been one of the top organizers of beach volleyball for adults and juniors since their creation as Volley America in 2011. This was a measure to fill the gap left by the loss of AVPNext programming.
“Rich Heiles of East End Volleyball and I started working on a points system in 2003,” said AVP America Executive Director Wayne Gant. “When the AVP went dormant in 2011, we started Volley America to help promoters band together and support the players.”
Volley America gave promoters cheaper insurance, the ability to purchase bulk prizes and made them more attractive to larger sponsors as a group. It quickly grew into one of the largest outdoor volleyball organizations in the country.
“Volley America grew so much that it became a full-time job,” Gant continued. “We started on the East Coast but grew every year and eventually had promoters from all over the country contacting us.”
As the organization expanded, so did their ability to bring in sponsors. A host of companies put their support into Volley America and the promoters who came under their umbrella. Among the most notable was Spalding, whose King of the Beach volleyball was the official ball of Volley America.
When Spalding decided to step away from the outdoor volleyball market in 2017, it opened the door for Volley America to connect with the AVP.
“(The AVP had) Wilson (as a sponsor), and Spalding did a lot to support us,” Gant said. “That made it hard for us to work together with two conflicting sponsors. When Spalding stepped out of the market, I knew it was a no-brainer. It was the perfect match really.”
Within the first year of the partnership, the membership of the AVP rose by approximately eight times. This year, the total number of promoters that work with AVP America is expected to reach 250 organizations.
“The biggest benefit is that now we get to help our promoters put on better events full time,” Gant said. “AVP America is a promoter-driven organization, and providing support and resources to them is what we love to do.”
AVPNext Sets the Stage for the Next Generation of Pros
In 2020, AVP America took over management of the AVPNext semi-pro program. They are uniting the most prestigious tournaments in the country into a developmental proving ground for up-and-coming beach volleyball players the likes of which has never been assembled in the USA.
“Running pro events costs more money than anyone realizes,” Gant said. “AVPNext bridges the gap between the junior and amateur ranks and the AVP Pro Tour. It provides not only opportunities for the players but also opportunities for the AVP to train officials, event staff and audition potential venues for future pro tournaments,” Gant explained.
There are over 34 AVPNext events on the calendar, each offering a minimum of $5,000 prize money. The calendar is highlighted by 12 AVPNext Gold Series events, all of which will offer at least $15,000 in prize money.
“We expect Atlantic City to have $40,000 in prize money, Seaside will have $25,000 and Waupaca Boat Ride will give away $20,000 and the rest of the Gold Series events have $15,000,” Gant said. “This year is the first step. My plan is to make that explode.”
Arguably the biggest accomplishment of the AVPNext tour has been bringing the who’s who of beach volleyball promoters across the country under one umbrella. The Tour of Texas, Dig the Beach, Volleyball of the Rockies, Tampa Beach Bums, Seaside Beach Volleyball and the iconic California Beach Volleyball Association are just a few of the organizations that have come together to be part of the AVP programming. As part of their agreement to host AVPNext events, they agree to provide tournament standards that are similar to the AVP Pro Tour with regards to court set-up and spacing. They also have refs onsite and agree to split the prize money equally between genders.
But First, there is the Junior Series
In 2015, the AVP developed a tour specifically for junior players: AVPFirst. Within a few years, the program grew into a nationwide proving ground for up-and-coming junior athletes where players could earn the opportunity to play on stadium court at the Hermosa Beach Open if they had what it took to make the finals of the National Championship tournament.
In 2019, AVP America assumed control of the promoter-driven competition component of the AVPFirst. The move standardized the junior competition under the AVP America umbrella and allows the AVPFirst on a smaller number of marquee events, mostly alongside AVP Pro Tour events. The proceeds from those events fund the AVPFirst non-profit outreach mission of bringing beach volleyball to underserved communities across the country.
Having the AVPFirst running the events at the Pro Tour events frees up AVP America to focus on what they do best, supporting their event promoters. This year, Rox Volleyball is folding their national championship tour and joining forces as a sponsor for AVP America’s Junior National Championship being held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, July 27-30 as well as a host of larger promoter-run events. Wilson, Unsinkable Polarized Sunglasses, Park & Sun and Tuff Sox are just a few of the other sponsors that AVP America has put together to support their events and make them stand out in the crowded junior market
Beach Week in Atlantic City is Blasting Off
This year’s Beach Week event at Atlantic City will feature both the Junior National Championship and the highest paying AVPNext event along with a 1,000 seat stadium, DJ, match commentator, vendor village and AVP Young Guns awards banquet. It will be the largest beach volleyball event the AVP has produced in New Jersey since the pro tour hosted tournaments there in 2013 and 2014.
The combination of the junior and semi-pro series will draw interest, but it will be the recreational players that will bring the crowd to the event.
“The bread and butter of Volley America has always been the recreational player,” Gant said. For the recreational players, Atlantic City is perfect. There is a great atmosphere on the beach and plenty of entertainment for after the event. In time, Beach Week in Atlantic City could grow to rival Seaside on the Oregon coast, where the amateurs far outnumber the juniors and the pros, creating an atmosphere that has been described as “the Woodstock of beach volleyball.”
Grand Prix – for More than Just Race Fans
Imagine receiving a check in the mail in January from AVP America as a reward for the points that you collected in events played over the spring and summer. It’s not too good to be true; it’s a real thing called the AVP America Grand Prix.
“Our philosophy has always been to use whatever funds we collected or raised to support the players and promoters,” Gant said.
The Grand Prix system does just that. At the end of the season, October 31, the top 10 players from each division ranging from Open to B in each of the five national zones receive a check from AVP America for up to $400. There is over $70,500 worth of prize money awarded for men’s sand, women’s sand, coed sand, grass and coed grass divisions.
Unlike most points systems that only average your top events, you earn grand prix points every time you play. The players who play the most with the best finishes get the prize money. It isn’t enough to get anyone rich, or even make them file a 1099, but it is a great reward for playing in AVP America events, and it sets the tour apart from other recreational events.
There is a Beach National Championship for Everyone
A true adult National Championship has been missing from the beach volleyball landscape in the United States. Volley America held championship events, but they did not reach or include many West Coast players. Now with the AVP partnership in place, the stage is set to put together a true national championship for players of all levels.
“The recreational player was the biggest element of Volley America,” Gant said. “Creating a quality end of season for them is a big goal of ours.”
In 2019, the AVP America Adult National Championship was held in Huntington Beach, California. This year, the event will move to Clearwater Beach, Florida, and is expected to dwarf the 2019 offering.
This is a move back to the Volley America roots and another opportunity for West Coast players to travel and experience beach volleyball in other parts of the country. The event is scheduled for October 24-25 on Sheraton Sand Key.
AVP America Goes Beyond the Beach
“The fastest growing segment of our membership is the grass players,” Gant explains. Although it isn’t beach volleyball, the grass game makes the benefits of AVP America available to a far wider audience around the nation who don’t have access to sand volleyball courts.
The crown jewel of the grass season is the Waupaca Boatride Tournament, an event that has been held since 1984 and includes a variety of formats over five days of action. The event, which is traditionally the second weekend of July in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has added sand divisions as well and attracts lower level AVP pro players who travel for the high level of competition, prize money and prestige associated with winning the event.
AVP America will host an Adult Grass National Championship October 2-4 in Greensville, South Carolina. The event will include men’s and women’s doubles as well as coed doubles and triples divisions. It’s expected to be the premier end-of-season grass event in the country.
The Points are a Plus, But the People Make the Tour
It’s exciting for players to see their names in the same rankings as the top players from the Team USA. The AVP beach point system incorporates all levels of play, from U10 to adult recreational to the pro tour. The real impact of AVP America goes far beyond that, though.
“For us, it has always been about the players, supporting them and their love of the game,” Gant said. “The AVP is allowing us to do that like never before. This is just the beginning.”
For more information about AVP America, visit AVPAmerica.com