Money, at the time, was still new to beach volleyball. According to former player Jon Lee, now a volleyball writer and historian, prize money was introduced to the game in a manner reminiscent of pro wrestling or turn-of-the-century boxing. In the early 1970s, Jim Bartlett, a young publisher and entrepreneur with a taste for beach volleyball, decided to make things more interesting by placing a "bounty" on the top teams, Lee said.
"Each team would enter the tournament with bounties on their heads and, if you beat them, you would win the bounty," said Lee, who coaches volleyball at San Marcos High in Santa Barbara. "If the team won, they would retain their bounty."
But it was Event Concepts that recognized the promotional power of beach volleyball and introduced a more sophisticated method of compensating the players. In 1976, the firm persuaded a corporate sponsor to put up a $5,000 purse for the first World Championship tournament and "professional" beach volleyball was born.
For eight years Event Concepts promoted the beach tour, expanding corporate sponsorship, modestly increasing the prize money and attracting the first cable television coverage. But all was not well. The players, Dodd said at the time, were "tired of being treated like nets and poles." They wanted more control and more money.
Enter Armato. Under the direction of the attorney, the players formed the AVP and, thus, became a single bargaining unit, one unified voice. And when Event Concepts failed to meet the AVP's demands in the summer of 1984, the players went on strike.
The aftermath of the AVP's boycott of the 1984 World Championship tournament in Hermosa Beach brought total victory to the players. Event Concepts was out, the corporate sponsors were persuaded to stay and the players had control of beach volleyball.
"Essentially, (Event Concepts) was doomed from the start," Hanseth said. "They saw the potential first; they saw thousands of people (attending tournaments) and no money being made, and they brought in the sponsors. But eventually we asked, 'What are they really offering us? Why not start a players' union, hire our own promoter and give him a salary?' "
According to Armato, the AVP did just that for the next three years, hiring another promoter, Group Dynamics Inc., and expanding the tour to 25 events with $600,000 in prize money. But after the 1987 season, the players decided to cut out the middle man and promote the tour themselves, dealing directly with the sponsors.
"The AVP felt it could maximize the visibility of the sponsor and maximize the benefit to the players without having the money diluted by a third party," Armato said. "And the prize money went from several hundred thousand dollars to over a million overnight."
These results--coupled with the AVP's corporate expansion into areas such as merchandising, publishing and concessions--have increased the players' loyalty to Armato and their faith in his leadership, according to Stevenson.
"He's made all the right moves," Stevenson said. "He's made good decisions, just about all of them have paid off and we're looking forward to what the future may hold."
So is Armato, who predicts that television will allow volleyball to overcome the limitations a beach sport might anticipate in a world that is largely landlocked.
"Hockey is not as transmittable to television as volleyball is," said Armato, who has already introduced the beach game to the shores of Lake Michigan and, by bringing truckloads of sand to city parks, to places where there is no beach of any kind. "And if television can do what it did for golf--the most boring sport in the history of the world--imagine what it can do for us."
Jon Stevenson calls them the "thirtysomething guys." Smith, Dodd, Tim Hovland, Pat Powers, Steve Obradovich, Hanseth and Stevenson himself. They are all 30 years old or older and dominate what is still perceived by many as a young man's game--meant to be played by teen-agers during those long summer days before they must confront the realities of life.
The "thirtysomething guys" still play, Stevenson says, because they still win. "It was just a generation of really good volleyball players," he said.
But he allows that their continued presence also has a lot to do with perspective. The older players remember when a "career" in beach volleyball meant sacrificing other \o7 real \f7 career opportunities. Some of life's realities might not have been so bad, and casting them aside for a game that offered no real future seemed unwise.
"People can't believe we're making this kind of money," said Stevenson, 31, another $100,000 winner last season. "But for five years, I wasn't making more than $10,000 or $20,000. Since college (at UC Santa Barbara), I always considered going into the mainstream. I even did my first year of a master's program in business. But I stuck with volleyball and it finally paid off."