I wrote a blog recently discussing ‘MeToo’-type problems within USAV‘s High Performance program. In that post I flippantly make a comment on the lack of a professional volleyball league in the U.S.. Creating one would be easy. I’ve talked about it with friends previously and I don’t think it would be difficult for one to work, nor, critically, do I think a massive amount of money would be required.
First, this is going to be all about television/broadcast. The objective isn’t going to be to get it ‘live’–but to get a consistent time-slot on a network. At that point, VB fans can use Tivo, etc, to find it on a weekly basis. Making it for-broadcast also means you can enhance things in post-production, take time to include interviews with players, the works, and then be able to guarantee to the network that it can fit (with spaces for commercials) in a 90 or 120-minute space. This is all the key–because networks only care about the bottom line. Show them they can make money and they’ll be on-board, witness ESPN’s constant showing of both poker and cornhole.
Also, a while back, I did a post about the costs of club and what they should be. This post will be similar. If there are amounts here that are way off, please comment! Please share this post so that maybe we can get progress done on this, whether it is a men’s league or women’s. Ultimately, what is being done now via “pro” teams playing at regional tournaments is silly–and doesn’t offer anything that will ever go ‘big time.’
So it comes down to the start-up/basic costs. What do we need for a league?
- Competitive schedule
- Broadcasting expenses
- Sponsors for gear/uniforms
Let’s take those in order then.
Competitive Schedule: Ultimately, a 16-team league works best, but initially, eight teams is more manageable. Better to limit potential screw-ups in a first year and expand after than start big and contract. Sports leagues that contract are always perceived as ‘losers’. For this blog though, let’s go full out–16 teams. We’ll put them in two divisions of 8. Teams play their division’s teams twice and never play the other division’s (because we’re going to have an all-star game AFTER the season is over). This means a division is playing 56 matches. Combined, the two divisions will play 112 regular season matches. Once those are done, we’ll have the two division winners play a best-of-three series against one another for a champion followed by an all-star game. That brings us to a total of 116 matches for the league. Now that we know that, we’ll be able figure costs better.
Just as important, we’ll need to figure out the amount of time we need gym space for. We’re going to stagger days for the league, one division plays MON/WED/FRI, the other SUN/TUE/THU. We’re going to play best two-of-three sets (club-style), so teams will be asked to play twice on each of those days. This means ALL regular season matches can be completed in the space of a couple weeks (just short of 8 play dates). If we add a week for the post-season and all-star game, the full pro-season is going to last about a month (pre-season practice time in there as well).
Athletes/Coaches/Staff: We’re presuming 4 OH/OPP, 3 MH, 2 S, 1 L. Basically, 10 athletes per team. We’ll go with two coaches per team and a general manager to handle drafting players/administrative stuff, but no in-game coaching. 13 people, 16 teams gives us 208 employees. Let’s add 12 more employees for the League to handle PR, paperwork, HR/pay, whatever. 220 employees total.
We are going to hold this during a ‘dead period’ for international leagues (work with me–I’m aware leagues all have various schedules), so this is ‘extra’ money for athletes. Still, we’re going to pay them fairly. We’re just starting out, so $78,000/year is good money–>but they are only working for us for five weeks, not a full year. That’s going to be $7,500/person. That means our labor costs are going to be $1,650,000. (If we are going with 8 teams, that would get halved)
Venue: We’re likely going to want to monopolize a facility with 4 courts for 30 days of use. That’s 120 court-days. If we’re paying $100/hour/court (a number I consider high because we’re giving someone guaranteed money and guarantees have value in terms of revenue streams….), we’re paying $400/hour or $4,000/day. Over the course of five weeks–no, we’ll call it six weeks because we’ll want time for set up and take down–that’s 42 days. That means facilities are going to cost us $168,000. The total expense rises to $1,818,000.
Officials: We know we have 116 matches. We need 2 refs, 4 line judges (we’re going 1st class), a scorer and libero tracker/scoreboard operator. We can’t pay big-time D-1 rates, but we want to be reasonable and make it worthwhile. Let’s pay $50/match for the refs, $20 for the LJ and other staff. That’s $220/match total costs. If finding personnel is troublesome, you use athletes from the division with the day off (and still pay those athletes). $220/match, 116 matches will cost $25,520 bringing costs to $1,843,520. (NOTE: Heck, let’s triple things–and it still is a drop in the bucket of costs…)
Broadcast Expenses: This is the one area I have no clue about. Picked up by a network, ideally, this would be zero. With the right sponsors, this would be zero. Given time, it would be hoped this could become a positive and bring money in to the league, permitting an increase in salaries, advertising, etc.
Sponsors: Rather than presume things, sponsors would need to be found to lodge staff while the league was in session or pay for gear, or maybe the broadcast/commercials independently. If not, you’re looking at extended stay rooms ($400/person over six weeks–$88,000) and about $8,000/team for gear ($128,000). We’re adding about $216,000 to our expenses, so we’re finishing up with total costs of running the league at $2,059,520, but you can NEVER be sure of being on-budget, so let’s build in a cost overrun of 30%. That would mean we’re going to need $2,677,376 to operate the league.
Is that really that much? Consider that an NBA star gets paid $20-30 million/year for an endorsement deal by a major company. We’re running an entire league for 10% of a single endorsement. If we broadcast once/week for nine weeks, they are getting good mileage from sponsorship.
What if USA Volleyball helped? According to the USAV website, there are 364,000 registered members in the U.S. If we added an $8 surcharge to registration fees (which is piddling given the freakin’ thousands kids are paying to the clubs), then there isn’t any sponsorship needed. It’s ALL paid for.
I had a talk two years ago with someone who convinced the AVCA that a grassroots league with championships/matches held at regional tournaments was a better way of doing things. Maybe–but ESPN/NBC Sports/Outdoor Network aren’t going to drag gear all around the US to film in venues not suitable for TV. If you want a successful VB league in the United States, it HAS to be done with broadcast (TV, online, whatever) first and foremost in mind.
Have you heard of that pro league? Seen it on TV? Unless you are a radical fanatic, I doubt it.
I get that my idea is imperfect–I don’t know the playing schedule of European leagues, etc. —but by putting it in one place, compressing the playing (but not broadcast) schedule, costs are clearly kept at a minimum and make a league financially feasible.
Think about it. Could you support something like this? A pro league is absolutely possible–it just has to overcome bureaucratic inertia.
In any event, please consider buying my book on volleyball and thinking outside the box. It’s called Like Heck She Isn’t a Volleyball Player. It’s under $5 and it has some good stuff (my opinion) on various things about the sport–different ways to look at the game, coaching, or what goes through a coach’s mind as a game goes on…I mean, all you’ve got to do is skip that latte for one day and you’ve got a book forever, right?.