Beach volleyball hopes ESPN draws Olympic fans

Cape Breton Post - - Sports -

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.

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