The most storied tournament in beach volleyball was in jeopardy on Friday — but only for a few hours.
Less than a week before play was set to begin at the 50th Manhattan Beach Open, the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals announced that it is no longer financially viable and canceled the rest of the season.
The timing of the AVP announcement meant little time for the city of Manhattan Beach and the California Beach Volleyball Assn. to save the tournament.
"I think the most important information to get out to everybody is that the tournament will happen," CBVA President Chris Brown said. "Unfortunately, the details are a little hazy."
He said the tournament will run from Friday to Sunday as planned and would return to its roots — no stadium seating, no grandstands. "No bells or whistles," Brown said.
Players first learned of the AVP's decision in a conference call Friday, said Jake Gibb, who won at Manhattan Beach last year with partner Sean Rosenthal. Gibb said the history behind the Manhattan Open is the least of players' worries.
"This is how we earn our living," Gibb said. "When the tour is up and running, Manhattan is our ultimate goal, but all of a sudden not having a tour and not making a living is what's on our minds."
Nearly all AVP administrators and workers were laid off on Friday with little to no severance pay.
"Unfortunately, the time constraints were such that pulling the trigger on the amount of money necessary to salvage this season were too great," AVP Commissioner Mike Dodd said in a statement released Friday.
The shutdown was not unexpected. The Times first reported on the AVP's financial troubles during the Long Beach Open last month, days after tour officials warned players that the season was in doubt.
Last week, the AVP postponed the San Francisco Open, originally scheduled for this weekend, as it tried to work out a deal with investors.
AVP tournaments feature many of America's best players. At least one pair of Olympic gold medalists has come from the AVP in every Olympics since 1996, when beach volleyball was added to the Games.
Each event also draws large numbers of spectators. But while sponsorships have dried up, admission remains free to the majority of tournament play. Yet prize money at AVP tournaments had always lured the top players. The total purse at Long Beach, for example, was $200,000, although it was not known late Friday whether that money was paid.
Some top players, including Gibb and Rosenthal, will be able to play internationally. Others may turn to smaller tournaments, or will have to take other jobs.
Some players have already begun play in the Corona Light Wide Open Tour, which was created by beach volleyball legend Karch Kiraly. Kiraly said several athletes, including Aaron Wachtfogel and Casey Patterson, entered this weekend's tournament in Breckenridge, Colo., after the San Francisco Open was postponed.
"I think a number decided on their own because there's nothing going on this weekend and they wanted to play," Kiraly said.
The AVP, which launched the tour in 1988, had been in financial trouble before but never had to cancel a season, not even after it declared bankruptcy in 1997. It also survived when many of the tour's biggest sponsors pulled out in 2008.
Dodd and Chief Executive Jason Hodell were hired in 2009 to run the tour, which was kept solvent only by ownership group RJSM.
Gibb said there was no indication of whether the tour would begin again next year.
"I asked the question," he said, "but there's just no way of knowing."