Back in 1948 the first beach volleyball tournament to offer a prize awarded the winners a case of Pepsi. The AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) has come a long way since then, but the road to international recognition has been a rocky one.
The first rumors of 2-man volleyball being played on the beach in Hawaii surfaced in the 1920s, but official reports date the first beach doubles games in the 1930s. Many families would play 4 on 4 or 6 on 6 games during The Depression, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that parks and recreation groups in California starting organizing official tournaments.
By the 1960s some recognizable features were surfacing: the Manhattan Beach Open was held for the first time in 1960, and Hermosa Beach had its first official tournament in 1970.
The California Beach Volleyball Association was founded in 1965, and by 1975 they had landed their first sponsor: Winston Cigarettes. Olympia Beer, Jose Cuervo Tequila and Miller Brewing Company join as sponsors in the next few years.
Throughout the 1980s the sport expanded both nationally and internationally, with tournaments being held all across American and events being held in Brazil. In 1983 the AVP was officially formed to help protect the interests of the professional athletes, who were starting to bring in some serious cash from the sponsored tournaments.
1984 saw a strike by the players at the World Championships, and the AVP subsequently started running its own tour. With sponsorship by Bolle sunglasses, the tour prize purse was $275,000 in 1985, and in 1986 the Australian Pro Beach Circuit got started.
1986 also marked a step forward for professional women’s volleyball with the creation of the WPVA (Women’s Professional Volleyball Association). Previously the women’s matches had been played as amateur games or as an accompaniment to the men’s games.
A 1988 deal with Miller brings the AVP prize total up to $4.5 million, and two years later the first international beach tournament takes place. Run by the FIVB and called the World Series, this tour had stops in Brazil, Italy and Japan and offered $140,000 in prize money.
During the 1990s beach legends Sinjin Smith, Karch Kiraly, Randy Stoklos and Mike Dodd emerge as dominate forces, and TV coverage continues to expand.
In 1991 the FIVB meets to determine the program for beach volleyball, and in 1992 the game is played as an Olympic demonstration event in Barcelona. The same year marked the inaugural women’s FIVB beach tournament.
By 1993 the AVP began including women’s events on their tour, marking the beginning of the end for the WPVA. The same year the IOC (International Olympic Committee) names beach volleyball an official Olympic sport. FIVB prize money tops $1 million in 1994 as the AVP continues to rapidly expand its sponsors, team base, and prize offerings.
Although the 1990s see continued expansion of the sport, in 1997 the AVP business collapsed under serious financial problems. Its CEO Jerry Solomon is replaced by Harry Usher, former US Olympic organizer. That same year the WPVA holds its final season.
FIVB expansion continues in 1998 while the AVP sees massive sponsorship declines and continues to struggle with financial difficulties. Eventually Bill Berger and Dan Vrebalovich take over management of the AVP as CEO and COO respectively. They immediately fund the day to day business, and begin to transition the AVP from a players association to a for-profit, privately owned entity. The AVP is placed into chapter 11 bankruptcy and the players are signed to new long-term agreements as independent contractors.
In 1999 Berger and Vrebalovich partnered with Spencer Trask Securities to form Major League Volleyball. MLV purchased the AVP out of bankruptcy and funded the 1999 Tour, which included 12 events and a total of $1 million in prize money. Only five events featured women’s tournaments, which probably prompted the formation of the BVA (Beach Volleyball Association) in 2000.
However in 2001 Agent Leonard Armato and his company Management Plus announce their purchase of the AVP and their intention to unify men’s and women’s professional beach volleyball under a single umbrella organization.
After the rock years of financial instability and uncertainty, the newly-reformed AVP has been going strong since 2001. Nearly two dozen players have earned over a million dollars by playing professional beach volleyball, and internationally famous players like Karch Kiraly, Misty May, Kerri Walsh, and many more continue to help the tournament expand in sponsorships, viewers and prize money.
For more details (yes, there’s more!), check out the AVP’s History on their website.
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