The announcement of the 2022 calendar has been eagerly awaited by fans, coaches and players alike. On the surface the phrase comes to mind „Progress is progress no matter how small“ so you would think more tournaments being announced could only be a good thing. However, the new schedule has potentially raised more problems than it has solved.
Check out the schedules below for yourself, and see if you can figure out why everything that glitters is not gold.
So, have you notice the problem yourself? It has to do with the middle column of the 2022 Calendar of Elite-16 and Challenge tournaments. There are no challenge events in the 2nd row. Meaning between 17th April and 5th October there are no tournaments for those trying to push their way into the top Elite-16 tier. While, there are 6 Elite-16 events during that same time frame, plus the World Championships in Rome, (which brings another problem, we will speak about later). For now, let’s stick with this problem.
Theory vs Reality
The new Beach Pro Tour was advertised as a format that would not only raise the profile of beach volleyball and increase the media and social footprint. They wanted to create a simpler more refined tour with an easier to understand system of promotion and relegation. So, the 3 tiers of Elite-16, Challenge and Future events where born. In theory the table below, shows how the point system promotes movement between the tournaments. Highlighted in green are the ranking points that are more than then higher category and red are the ranking points that are less than the lower category.
This ranking point model suggests for a dynamic changing roster for each new tournament. However, it can be massively swung in the favour of the top teams or bottom teams depending on the scheduling and the number of tournaments in each category. If there is a bottom-up focus on the tournaments eg. If there would be 10 Elite-16 events, 15 Challenge events and 20 Future events (this is kind of what we seen with old 1*-5* system). This would mean teams would consistently push upwards if they play many tournaments and get results. Compare this with 20 Elite-16, 15 Challenge and 10 Future events, this would result in an ever-growing gap between each tier, so it is very unlikely that anyone would choose this system.
However, let’s say for the sake of increasing financial viability of the flagship Elite-16 product. If the powers that be, didn’t want such extreme changes to the teams (so the best household names stay in the Elite-16) and still maintain a sporting fairness. Tournaments could be organised on a game-week basis, so for every Elite-16 being played, somewhere else there is a Challenge event at the same time. This would be loosely related to how UEFA run both the (1st Tier) Champions League and the (2nd Tier) Europa League at the same time. Ever 2 weeks there is a round (sometimes even longer due to international breaks) where the Champions League play on Tuesday & Wednesdays and the Europa League plays on Thursday.
Such a system could mean in every 3 weeks there would be both an Elite-16 and Challenge event (eg. KW 3, 6, 9 ect). This method would mean all the teams could potentially play the same number of tournaments, and their reward for finishing highly in a Challenge event (could*) be to play in the next Elite-16 tournament.
*I say could, because obviously there are points from other events that need to be taken into consideration. Such as zonal events, CEV, Major Series ect.
Looking at the current 2022 calendar. The system is against the majority of teams outside of the Elite-16. Firstly, at the moment there are 9 Elite-16 events (10 if you include the World Championships), 8 Challenge events and 6 Future events (As the 2 Madrid event are 2 separate single-sex events).
So, it’s not looking good from a number’s perspective. What about the timing of the calendar? Can that really affect the tournaments to drastically? Without Challenge events between 17th April and 5th October, this will make a huge difference to the above table showing the promotion and relegation system. Let’s redo the table and take out the Challenge event row to see how this period of time looks
This table is a completely different story. There is no green or red because without any Challenge events during this time period, movement between leagues becomes impossible. Unless a lot more tournaments are added the Elite 16 tier is knowingly or unknowingly starting to resemble the fiasco of last year’s football European Super League. (Which if you didn’t hear about you can read about it here in English, and here in German).
Here is a summary of the European Super League for those of you who didn’t click the links. The people at the top football clubs who hold the most worth and power in their leagues wanted to do everything possible to make sure they can stabilise and increase their income. Finishing in the top positions in a domestic football league allows entry into the Champions league and with that comes a lot of money. If a team finishes outside of these top places, they stand to lose around £50 million that year. So, plans were devised to make a new break-away league from UEFA’s Champions League. This new Super league made up of invited teams that cannot be relegated regardless of results making their finances and share of the profits even more secure. This was seen as an attack on the fundamental nature of sport. Playing to earn results, that underdogs can cause upsets showing that past results do not guarantee success.
The domestic leagues, fans and even players fought against this and ultimately the plans where stopped. In my 1st Blog Article „The World of Volleyball is Changing„, I wrote about how smaller sports often see the success of bigger sports and copy the strategy, hoping for the same success without understanding the pro’s and con’s or if it is even translatable. Regarding the attempt at the European Super League, for once I hope they are not preparing something similar.
Success From Different Sides
We all want the sport to be successfully, but we should not forget that depending on what side of the game you are on, success is measured in different ways, each side has its own priorities. In my thinking there are 3 groups responsible for a sport’s success, each bringing their own unique worth in creating success. To be truly successful these different groups need to be working in synergy and not be dominated by one.
- Consumers (Fans)
- Value creators (Players / Coaches / Event organisers)
- Commercial (Sponsors / Advertisers / Betting Companies / Agencies)
Fans of volleyball will want to see high level, competive games. They want to see players they know and recognise (household names) battle it out for victory. They want high production entertainment to support the games, such as high quality live-stream, good commentaries, player interviews, stats and graphical layouts to make it all more visually appealing. Fans want access to the players to feel like they are along for the ride with the players, obviously at as cheap a price as possible.
Players and organisers want successful events with big crowds, good vibes and spectacular matches. Although, defined success for both the players/coaches and organisers could not be further apart. Players/coaches more specifically want to be successful by receiving both prize money and ranking points and also increasing their profile for sponsors. All this helps maintain their environment for success as professional athletes; or it help amateur and semi-professional players improve their training environment to help them move closer to becoming full-time. While organisers define success more in how well the tournament ran, how was the atmosphere, most importantly how many tickets were sold plus things like food and merchandise bought (so more the on-site income).
The commercial side of sport want a great product to sell (the product being the players and fans). Their goal is to make money behind the scenes, to find a winning formula and push it to maximize profits. So fingering out how to take a product make it appeal to advertisers and to gain sponsors. In collect data for betting markets and to use the information from fans ect through cookies and marketing tools to target who they think will spend more money.
If each of the 3 categories do their jobs well, it will mean creating better and more consistent products. However, in writing this article it has made me think a little deeper. One question comes to my mind often, who wanted and pushed for the new format? who has the most to gain? I do not believe the fans called for massive changes, nor the players and coaches. This only leaves the commercial side rallying bureaucrats with money and power to influence policy. From a financial view point it make no sense to improve the entirety of the volleyball pyramid (there are more low level than high level players). At lower-levels across all sports the profits to be made are less, so to focus on a small minority at the top is normally what is most profitable from a commercial point of view. However, in this short-term pushing the ceiling, rather than the creating upward movement from the bottom causes gaps from an unfair playing field. These gaps normally appear after the effects of money and influence start to bring advantages that are not possible to smaller teams. This creates even more issues for the underdogs of the sport, unfortunately the only bottom the commercial side cares about is their bottom line.
A Glimmer of Hope
In saying that, if the tour is delivered as promised I think it can still be a huge success, however, after the recent developments over the last months. It does make me ask the question, are we playing the commercial game and are just along for the ride? Or is this just the teething issues of a new format? And will help create an environment to inspire the current generation of players to rise to become stars? I truly hope so, as for me the next generation of young players need to see and know that for all the sacrifices, they are willing to make. At the end there is the potential to make a living as a professional beach volleyball player.
Some players and coaches have started to fight back against this, and cracks are starting to appear. Also, with rumours of problems between the IOC – FIVB and Volleyball World (CVC) regarding how the ranking points will combine to make a fair seeding for the Olympic qualifying system. Potentially having similar effects to major tournaments such as the European Championships and World Championships.
There are other tournaments and ways where lower ranked team could potentially improve their points tally. Although as just mentioned the qualifying criteria could be a sticky point this year for the World and European Championships.
- World Championships – 7th – 19th June (Rome)
- European Championships – 15th – 21st August (Munich)
- Major Series 2022
- Gstaad – 6th – 10th July
- Vienna – 2nd – 7th August
- Hamburg – Dates not yet announced
Players could also play on their own national federation tours and / or zonal events. However, national tour gives next to nothing in terms of international points (usually less than last place on a Future event).
Obviously, these other tournaments do not make up the difference of an un-even playing field, so many factors are still going against the many underdogs. This is also without considering the ripple effect of bigger teams from the Elite-16 playing as many extra Challenge, Future and even zonal tournaments to buff their points to stay in the Elite-16. As points get tougher to come by the bigger teams will use their money and points to their advantage, pushing small teams out of tournaments.
This downward ripple of big teams will make it increasingly harder for younger teams and teams will small budgets to get into tournaments and get results. The negative effects on these teams cannot be understated from a players and coaches point of view. It could cause many to stop trying to reach a more professional level causing a top elite and everyone else as just hobby players. It is a sad thought for volleyball fans, player and coaches‘ but from the commercial side as long as there are 16 male and 16 female professional beach volleyball players, they do not need any more for profit and success.
I hope there is more tournaments on the way, we must not forget that federations and organiser have to bid to host these events. Potentially concerns regarding crowds and selling tickets, even events being cancelled ect from ongoing worries about Covid-19. All I can wish for is that soon the world will be in a better place and that more tournament will be organised to give the majority of players the chance to make a living from volleyball and not just the top teams getting richer.