Beach volleyball hopes ESPN draws Olympic fans
Beach volleyball has a new ally as it tries to grow from an Olympic phenomenon to an every-year attraction: ESPN.
The sports network will broadcast the World Series of Beach Volleyball, an international pro tour stop in California in July. Event organizers hope the exposure will help beach volleyball attract new fans and hold onto the ones who watch during the Summer Games only to drift away until the next Olympics.
“The fact that ESPN is partnering with us is just a game-changer,’’ said five-time Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings, who has committed to the event. “That’s something that beach volleyball has never had. I think the average sports fan takes the sport more seriously when they’re on ESPN.’’
Like the Iowa caucuses or Feb. 29 of leap years, beach volleyball has its moment in the sun every quadrennium but then largely disappears for another four years. One of the most popular events at the Olympics, the sport has struggled to translate that success into a full-time audience.
ESPN thinks it can change that. “Like so many other people, I watched the Olympics in Rio; volleyball — the indoor and the beach — was a primetime staple many nights,’’ said Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice-president of programming and scheduling. “There’s great enthusiasm around the sport, and it just kind of disappears into the ether.’’
Magnus said beach volleyball is attractive to the network because it’s popular among both men and women, domestically and globally, and still has a lot of room for growth. ESPN already broadcasts the men’s and women’s NCAA (indoor) championships, giving it familiarity with the sport.
“We’d like to put our shoulder behind it,’’ Magnus said. “Maybe acquire other volleyball content, give it a good try and see what happens. We’ve never put a concerted effort behind the sport at all.’’
This year’s broadcast from will include 30 hours of play spread across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2, and streamed on ESPN3 — “our full array of networks and platforms,’’ Magnus said.