Last month, amid the 360s on snowboards, triple axels on the ice rink and take-outs on the curling rink, a different sport was trying to gather attention at PyeongChang. The FIVB and CEV hosted a snow volleyball night in South Korea in a bid to demonstrate the new discipline that they hope will create an extra revenue stream and form the basis of a winter volleyball calendar.
Snow volleyball is, unsurprisingly, not something that is on most people’s radar. The discipline is in its infancy, but it has embraced all the successful elements of beach volleyball - two players a side, a DJ and party atmosphere - to create what its promoters hope will be a viable entertainment product.
In a major step along the way to the creation of a global tour, the CEV hosted the sport’s first European Championships at a picturesque ski resort in Wagrain, Austria, last weekend.
The journey to the inaugural competition has been rapid and ambitious. CEV president Aleksandar Boričić tells Sportcal Insight: “Last year was a test year for us and that was very positive, we had 10 test events. So, then we decided to organise the first European Championships. This year, for the first time we had 17 national championships. The second step was incorporating very closely with FIVB to see how we can promote snow volleyball in the future, not only in Europe - and luckily they accepted.”
In 2016, the CEV teamed up with Chaka2, a Salzburg-based event marketing firm that created the Snow Volleyball Tour in 2012. Together, they launched the Snow Volleyball European Tour. This year, the tour featured eight stops, culminating with the European Championships in Wagrain.
The championships, which were free to attend, managed to secure international exposure through broadcast deals with Austria’s ORF and pan-European broadcaster Eurosport, while additional coverage came from Reuters TV, Sportdeutschland.TV, Sportitalia, and Viasat Baltics among others.
The CEV had guaranteed itself a crowd in Wagrain by placing the championships within a bustling ski resort. With free entry, the CEV pulled in the punters, but it remains unclear how this will be converted into revenue and media exposure.
Plenty of people were ‘Instagramming’ and ‘Snapchatting’ the incredible backdrop behind the main show court, and the event experience was definitely unique, but whether they will tune in to watch it online or on television is another challenge.
The captive and slightly lubricated audience at the weekend provided a great atmosphere and most players even thanked the DJ in their post-match interviews.
However, the discipline has not yet even developed standardised equipment, with most players wearing soccer boots, albeit the CEV is in talks with manufacturers for the design of specific footwear.
Now we are only at the beginning. At the moment we are still waiting for a special player that wants to just play snow volleyball
Nevertheless, with the first major European event under his belt, Boričić envisages a cautious and gradual progression for the sport. He explains: “We are very close to organising the first World Championships in snow volleyball but first we made the decision that we would like to hold European Championship every two years. We need to prepare this project for the future.
“Now we are only at the beginning. At the moment we are still waiting for a special player that wants to just play snow volleyball. We have many indoor players that start to play outdoor and now we have totally different indoor and beach volleyball players.”
The top prize for the men’s and women’s teams at the European Championships was only €7,000 ($8,645), not enough to entice some of the world’s best beach players. Snow volleyball is yet to create its own pool of specialised athletes, or even equipment. Most of the athletes taking part in the European event switch between indoor, beach and snow volleyball throughout the year. A few had never played on snow before.
The challenges in attracting broadcasters, sponsors and fans to snow volleyball seem great, but the CEV has aligned itself with the FIVB, which has laid out its own ambitious plans for the discipline. Between 2017 and 2019 the international federation will establish an eight-year plan, testing rules and regulations at various demonstration events.
By next year, the FIVB wants a fully-fledged World Tour, with a minimum of three stops. In 2020, there will be a World Championship and, it hopes, a spot as a demonstration event at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne.
Ary Graça, president of the FIVB, has also set the ultimate goal of having the discipline added to the winter Olympic Games sports programme, in what some might consider to be a slightly over-ambitious plan.
The FIVB has also signed its own memorandum of understanding with Chaka2 to help roll out these plans.
Fabio Azevedo, the director general of the FIVB, is confident that the federation can achieve most of these goals in a relatively short space of time, despite having to “shape the project from scratch.”
Azevedo also boasts of hosting interest from “Argentina, Canada, US, China and Japan.” Despite Europe’s status as the heartland of snow volleyball, he says that the FIVB is “absolutely ready for a World Tour next year.”
Boričić is also optimistic in his expectations for snow volleyball, predicting a steady increase in fans and commercial opportunities. “First we finish the European Championship,” he says, “then we would like to see a proposal to see how we can become superior in volleyball with the number of players and events.”
When pressed on whether he wants to secure a title sponsor for the European tour or the championships he adds: “We are a sporting institution first, then second we bring money through our sport activities. Of course, every big company that likes to support our tournaments is welcome.”
With little existing infrastructure in place for snow volleyball the CEV and FIVB seem to have their work cut out to make this the new destination event for winter sports fans. But, judging by the crowds of skiers and snowboarders enjoying the European Championships as part of an ‘Apres Ski’ party in the Austrian mountains, there might just be potential in this frozen festival.