The state of women's professional beach volleyball is best illustrated by the finances of Mike and Patty Dodd, the first couple of the sand courts.
Late last week, the Dodds said their goodbys, then Mike and partner Tim Hovland--the top money-makers on the men's tour--flew to Boulder, Colo., and won a weekend tournament sanctioned by the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals. Meanwhile, Patty and her partner, Jackie Silva, were continuing their dominance of the women's tour, winning a Women's Professional Volleyball Assn. event in Huntington Beach.
Back in their El Segundo home on Monday, the Dodds could relax, swap stories about their successful forays and enjoy the fruits of victory.
For Mike, it was a check for $25,000. For Patty, it was $1,852.
Such is life on the women's pro tour, which stops at the Manhattan Beach pier Saturday and Sunday for the John Shaw Open. Amid the publicity given the six-figure incomes generated on the men's circuit, the top female beach players in the world continue to toil for a fraction of the prize money available to their male counterparts.
"If you get eighth place, it's not enough to cover the air fare to Florida and your accommodations," said Malibu promoter Scott Hubbell, who is in his third season as director of events and promotions for the WPVA. "The women's tour has been in its embryo stages. Now, it's just starting to be born."
The birthing process began with cable television's growing interest in the women's game, said Hubbell, who adds that women's tournaments have consistently beaten the men's events in the TV ratings game. Plus, the money has increased steadily from $5,000 purses two years ago to $10,000 last year to $15,000 this year.
Hubbell and several others close to the tour say the women are about at the point the men occupied five years ago--a promising assessment since the winnings of the top male players have ballooned more than 400% in that period.
So the women's tour is on the brink of something. But no one is sure exactly what.
The best hint is the hiring of sports attorney Leonard Armato as the WPVA counsel. Armato, a former top beach player who now represents athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Phoenix Suns guard Kevin Johnson, is the man credited with organizing the AVP and catapulting the men's game into the big time.
Armato says he sees much promise, calling volleyball "closely analogous to tennis" in terms of potential growth as a women's sport. "I think women's volleyball is every bit as attractive as any women's sport," he said. "They just came to me this year and right now I'm ferreting out various things and trying to get a handle on the situation."
But for promoters of the 15-event women's tour, the new marriage of Armato and the WPVA looks like a storm warning. The battle cry when the players wrested complete control of the men's tour was "cut out the middle man." Translation: Get rid of the promoter. They did just that in 1987 and the AVP began promoting its own events, dealing directly with sponsors rather than paying someone to do it for them.
It's a scenario that sounds good to many of the women. "This is a transition year for us," said Patty Dodd, who has seen up close how the money has skyrocketed on the men's tour. (Her husband and Hovland have already earned more than $93,000 apiece with 10 events remaining.) "I think our goal is to have just us and the sponsor and not everybody in the middle. The prize money would be higher, the players would benefit more and it would be better all around."
That all sounds familiar to Craig Elledge, who worked for Group Dynamics Inc. until 1987, the year the AVP severed ties with the firm after it had promoted the tour for three years. With the entrance of Armato, Elledge--who promotes two WPVA events--began to feel like an endangered species.
"I've met with Leonard no less than four times in the last month," said Elledge, who operates his own sports promotion firm in Van Nuys. "In fact, the second I heard that Leonard was involved, I went in and met with him. There's no question what (Armato's involvement) meant."
For Armato's part, he doesn't sound as if he's in a hurry to run the promoters out of the women's game. To the contrary, he says that the structure of the women's tour is such that it's necessary for the WPVA to deal with outside promoters.
"I think they need to contract with a variety of promoters who will be able to get sponsors on a local level," Armato said. "A promoter does have a certain benefit. He has the organization in place and the expertise in dealing with businesses. If you're dealing with honest promoters, no one has a problem. But when promoters are pulling the wool over the eyes of the players and exploiting them, that's when there's a problem."