Sports fans and the media can only dream of what the Olympic tournaments would be like if some other sports had followed the Olympic qualification process adopted by Beach Volleyball: over the two years leading up to the Games, qualification for the Olympic Beach Volleyball tournament is decided by the best eight results on the sport’s top professional world tour, the Swatch-FIVB World Tour. A maximum of two teams per country can qualify and there is a guarantee that every continent is presented.
Unlike with Volleyball and Beach Volleyball, spectators and media that follow many other Olympic sports know that they will see very few of their sport’s best players at the Olympic Games, so they care less about the Olympics than their own sport. The FIVB on the other hand, like many other IFs, has managed to find ways of bringing its greatest assets the best players, the keenest supporters and the most knowledgeable media to the Olympics.
Likewise with Volleyball, the best teams play at the Olympic Games, but the qualification process is even tighter as it has to whittle down to eleven teams (plus host nation) the 218 countries on all continents that play Volleyball. (No fewer than 85% of these organise national championships.)
This means that the most knowledgeable volleyball media and the most ardent fans follow the sport right through to the Medal matches, and it was no surprise that Volleyball and Beach Volleyball were among the best supported events at Athens, accounting for 10% of all tickets sold, 392,000, and it is no surprise that the media accreditation requests for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball were very high. It is also notable that in a recent analysis the IOC reported a high percentage of press articles for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball in Athens .
Outside the Games themselves the media interest back home was also very high in many countries, as the Olympic medals ended up being won by teams from four Continents: South America (2 Gold, 1 Silver), Norceca (1 Gold, 2 Bronze), Asia (1 Gold) and Europe (3 Silver, 2 Bronze.) For Africa, the men from Tunisia did well to take sets off France, Poland and Argentina and the performance of the South African men’s and women’s Beach Volleyball teams will help further develop the sport in a country which has already hosted its first Swatch-FIVB World Tour event.
Unlike the IOC, we have two confederations for the Americas , South and Norceca (North, Central and Caribbean) and Oceania teams play against Asian teams in the Asian confederation. This works well for our sports and enables excellent continental competitions and the best regional development solutions.
Volleyball Organisations have recognised the pivotal role played by the media in the development of its sports. They develop international competitions, set the rules in such a way to encourage exciting, evenly-matched tournaments which appeal to sports fans, who look to the media for news and coverage of their sport, which attracts commercial partners, who enable greater prize money to be awarded, which attracts the best performers, who appeal to the media, who help the best to become stars, who attract a greater following and bring more people into the game, and appeal to potential host countries … and so on.
In awarding the right to host World events, the FIVB require commitments to broadcast and written media coverage as part of the contracts with organisers and promoters. This applies to all FIVB competitions, and the IOC also recently recognised the high numbers of media accreditation requests at Volleyball and Beach Volleyball World Championships. An average of 450 applied for the last two Volleyball World Championships and 350 for the last two Beach Volleyball ones.
We are confident of equally high figures for this year’s Beach Volleyball World Championships in Berlin and next year’s final rounds of the Volleyball World Championships which will be held in Japan . The worldwide interest and media coverage is already astonishing, as 174 national teams on all continents battle it out: 24 men’s and 24 women’s teams will play in Japan, twice as many as in the Olympic Games, where the tournaments are 12 and 12. As with everything on planet volleyball, there are equal opportunity and rewards for men’s and women’s teams and indeed for juniors.
However the World Championships and Olympic Games are not the only high-profile Volleyball and Beach Volleyball international tournaments that have caught the imagination of media, players, fans and commercial partners. In fact it has been a feature of Volleyball Organisations that the FIVB has also developed so many successful international tournaments, such as the World League (men), Grand Prix (women), World Cups (men and women) and the Swatch-FIVB World Tour.
FIVB MAJOR COMPETITIONS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
It is also part of the FIVB philosophy to create the conditions for exciting sport which provides great entertainment, and we consult players, media and other partners as we consider changes that will increase the appeal of the sport. For example the move to the rally-point system of scoring has led to more exciting and more accessible matches in both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball, and the adoption of the ‘libero’ in Volleyball has led to more exciting rallies.
Also since Beach Volleyball was officially recognised by the FIVB in 1986 (ten years before Atlanta), the sport has been transformed from a seaside sport to a media-friendly, fun, glamorous, but highly-competitive and exciting sport that is also attracting enthusiastic city-centre crowds. Thus Olympic bid cities are increasingly looking for iconic venues for Beach Volleyball and promoting them as key attractions of their bids: Bondi beach for Sydney 2000, Tiananmen Square for Beijing 2008, and among the proposals for 2012 are the Eiffel Tower for Paris and Horseguards Parade near Buckingham Palace for London .
The FIVB’s success in presenting the sport in the most interesting and attractive manner is reaping dividends: not only is spectator attendance very high (95.7% of available 155,000 sold for Sydney, and 75.6% of the 202,500 for Athens), but the sport also stands to benefit from the coverage given to the Olympic Beach Volleyball tournament, as many of the media that were attracted to the fun and glamorous side of the sport found themselves reporting on sport and athleticism of the very highest order. As a ‘lifestyle sport’, Beach Volleyball also attracts considerable media coverage beyond the sports pages.
It is safe to say that the media played a major part in the success of the Beach Volleyball tournament in Athens and in making Beach Volleyball one of the undoubted successes of the Athens Games, as indeed it was in Sydney . The early stages of most sports were characterised by empty stadiums, and some sports never really recovered. Even for Beach Volleyball attendance was disappointing for some early matches, but word got around that something special was happening ‘down at the beach’, and the stadium was full for most of the matches, with people queuing to get in.
Some commentators may have taken a dim view of the music and dancing girls between play, but were soon caught up in the atmosphere and saw phenomenal sport in the knock-out phase matches: seven of the men’s matches went to a tie-break and six of the women’s. The level of play with which the top seeds won both the Men’s tournament (Ricardo/ Emanuel) and Women’s (Walsh/ May) with relative ease was a supreme advertisement for this young sport.
Volleyball’s 40th Olympic anniversary
In the indoor game, the media also rose to the occasion: Volleyball was celebrating its 40th anniversary on the Olympic programme, and the stadium was bigger than those for many other sports (including swimming, indoor cycling and tennis.) A high number of informed Volleyball media were present to enjoy full-houses for nearly all the Men’s knock-out phase matches and many of the Women’s. Brazil ’s men’s team beat Italy for the Gold Medal with a quite magical display of volleyball, which was reported round the world and covered on TV throughout the world.
Also the thrilling 5-set match that saw China beat Russia for the Women’s Gold Medal will go down as one of the great matches of all time. The Women’s final represented everything that the women’s competition has entailed - beautiful skill, matched with awesome power and ability - with the score drawing level 50 times during the match. Russia were at their magnificent best but China, already World Cup and Grand Prix winners, eventually took the Gold, claiming the tiebreaker in a thrilling finish.
It was no surprise that this match won the highest TV rating (5.9%) of any sport in China during the last three days of the Games. Figures released after the Games show that 3,239,000 viewers stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch it, and then more than 3,138,000 watched the replay. The replay was rated the second highest at 5.7%, and it was the first and the only time that both live and replay transmissions of the same game in any sport got the highest ratings during Athens Olympic Games. This was echoed by the phenomenal coverage in the written media in China , which in turn has further boosted interest in Volleyball there and augurs well in the build-up to Beijing 2008.
Attracting new interest in the game
Here we see again the importance of the media: attracting new interest in the game. Both Volleyball and Beach Volleyball are blessed with being strong on all levels: with their low costs to set up and play, they are ideal for development programmes and ‘sport-for-all’ initiatives, as well as having an educational value as non-contact, team sports requiring a harmonious blend of body, will and mind fitness, stamina, tactics and team play; both are also excellent amateur sports as well as highly rewarding and appealing at the elite levels.
The media help to create stars who give a halo effect to the sport at all levels. And occasionally in the most unexpected ways: news and images shot round the world of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barichello playing Beach Volleyball against Australian Beach Volleyball stars before this year’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix, and the media also shared with the world Prince Albert’s Beach Volleyball skills when he played a friendly match at the Olympic venue in Athens, as well as eventually awarding the Medals to the winners of the actual Tournament!
Another secret of its success is that World Organisation was quick to realise the potential importance of the internet and other new media. As well as the FIVB’s own website, and those of the NFs and continental federations, there are many independent sites devoted to Volleyball and Beach Volleyball round the world. Recognising the importance to true sports fans of instant news and reviews, the FIVB has developed a highly sophisticated real-time computerised system known as VIS (Volleyball Information System) which not only feeds into our own sites but is also much appreciated by news agencies and other media. During major events the number of hits is exceptionally high. The FIVB website gets on average 15’000 hits a day and during the 2002 Volleyball World Championships this figure rose to an average of 50’000 hits a day. For the Athens Olympic Games the FIVB website received between 40’000 and 75’000 hits a day.
“When an organization enjoys an optimal professional relationship with members of the media, it can be said that the organization has already achieved half its objectives”
Dr. Rubén Acosta H., ‘Managing Sport Organizations’
The FIVB is on a constant mission to improve its sports and create greater opportunities for players, spectators and commercial partners, while maintaining the highest ethical standards, protecting the health of its players and fighting against doping in sport. Especially at times of change the need to communicate and explain through the media is crucial to win understanding and support.
If no-one heard, or no-one listened or no-one cared, we would fail. With Volleyball and Beach Volleyball that is not the case far from it! The interest in and clamour for Volleyball and Beach Volleyball are greater than ever: from the media, from sports fans, from would-be host cities and from commercial partners. The Organisation’s challenge is to manage and direct all that and see that the most appropriate decisions are taken and implemented at all levels of the sport throughout the world.
Under the Volleyball World Vision 2012, and following the rigorous strategic planning process that the Vision’s plan entails, Volleyball and Beach Volleyball will succeed.
Andrew A. Napier