Last month, thousands of fans descended on Danube Island in Vienna, Austria to watch the biennial FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships. As you would expect, the FIVB put on an enjoyable beach party.
The tournament introduced the use of new technology, innovations and activations, part of a major commercial overhaul that the FIVB hopes will eventually lead volleyball to join Group A of the International Olympic Committee’s revenue distribution hierarchy (alongside athletics, swimming and gymnastics).
Volleyball presently sits in Group B (alongside soccer, cycling, basketball and tennis).
Since he was first elected in 2012, FIVB president Ary Graça has sought to increase volleyball’s global appeal to the IOC and to potential broadcasters and sponsors, initially through the launch of a nine-point plan in 2015.
We’re having lots of discussions and lots of companies are experiencing our product
The plan includes the addition of four new global sponsors by the time of the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020, contributing an additional $10 million per year in sponsorship revenue, and a doubling of the FIVB’s present annual income of $31 million to $66 million by 2020.
Speaking at the championships in Austria, Fabio Azevedo says the federation aims to progress these plans by targeting certain territories.
“It’s going well,” he says. "We’re having lots of discussions and lots of companies are experiencing our product."
“In terms of targets and strategy we want to move forward and have a presence in the best markets in the world, based on the GDP ranking. We want to be in USA, China, Germany, France and England. Those are the main countries that we want to increase the presence of volleyball in. We are having discussions with the US national volleyball federation about potentially taking more events there.”
Like many other federations and sports properties, the FIVB is eyeing up Asia as a future growth area for its sport. Azevedo says the federation is “planning to have much more events in China, bring more companies together and ensure we increase events.”
This year, the FIVB hosted one event in China, the World Grand Prix 2017 Group 1 Final in Nanjing, but Azevedo claims that others will be added in the region in the coming years, as the federation has begun to see a significant uplift in its hosting fees.
He says: “What we are seeing is a very big improvement in revenues from cities and countries hosting the event. That is increasing a lot.”
Hosting fees for FIVB events in China have more than tripled in the last three years, Azevedo says, despite overall annual income remaining static.
The same uplift can also be seen in fees that the federation is demanding from its Asian television rights-holders as “people want to pay more for rights because we are improving the quality of our product.”
What we are seeing is a very big improvement in revenues from cities and countries hosting the event
The federation has acknowledged that, in order to command higher fees and eventually lift income, the product must improve and interest has to be sustained.
The FIVB’s ‘improved product’ includes the relaunch of its traditional annual indoor volleyball league, the men’s World League and the women’s World Grand Prix.
From 2018, a new 16-team promotion and regulation league will launch for men’s and women’s international teams.
The competition will feature a second division and involve a round-robin format but final details about the name and branding are yet to be released.
The FIVB has said that the competition is part of plans “to control content production and distribution… “to guarantee the quality and consistency of events throughout the season.”
Azevedo explains: “Next year, we are going to launch a new volleyball league that will be a completely new event. What we are doing is that in every single match we are going to take control and make sure that it’s visible on TV and ensure that we are in control.
“We are revolutionising our sport. Our sport is focused on entertainment and we’re pushing our audience. Our expectation is that our audience can really be engaged for every single point.”
The FIVB also hopes to sustain interest with the launch of its own over-the-top platform in 2018.
Azevedo anticipates “that there will not be any exclusivity any more,” so the FIVB’s intention is to launch its own OTT channel “selling content directly to consumers” and “allowing fans to subscribe.”
He adds: “TV will continue but live streaming, Facebook and our own OTT platform is a must for communication.”
Communication is a must for the federation, Azevedo stresses, and an area in which it has perhaps failed in the past.
We are understanding more and more that we have to improve our communication
“We are understanding more and more that we have to improve our communication regarding the special moments in our events and the players as well,” he says.
“Why in beach volleyball do we not have worldwide heroes yet? In beach volleyball we are not communicating properly. It’s as simple as showing the face of our players. We are not doing that. We need to explore fan engagement and make the most of our breaks in play to communicate.”
For Azevedo, Tokyo, where volleyball made its Olympics debut at the 1964 Olympics, is the “perfect” opportunity for volleyball to present itself as a ‘Group A’ sport.