Three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh-Jennings will be competing… (Nhat V. Meyer / MCT )
Aug. 13, 2010: A date that lives in professional beach volleyball infamy.
The Assn. of Volleyball Professionals shut down that day after running out of money, which burned many a bridge with players who had counted on the tour's events to help them pay the bills.
It also marked a dark day for the future of the sport, because if its premier professional domestic tour could fail, then the prospects for any other such tour seemed grim.
But after a two-year hiatus, the AVP is back.
Its first event was in Cincinnati over Labor Day weekend, and the final one of the year, the AVP Championships, is this weekend in Santa Barbara, running from Friday through Sunday.
There will be 12 men's and 12 women's teams competing for a prize purse of $225,000, the largest purse in U.S. pro beach volleyball in 2012 to date.
And star players will be present, including:
2008 Olympic gold medalists Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, who were upset by an Italian team in the round of 16 in London; London gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, who is teamed up with Olympian Nicole Branagh; and London silver medalists April Ross and Jennifer Kessy.
The event, like the one in Cincinnati, was organized in a relatively short amount of time and many sponsors weren't on board, meaning AVP owner Donald Sun bankrolled it almost single-handedly.
But Sun, an Irvine native who bought the tour for $2 million in April, said sponsors have been enthusiastic about the AVP's future. (On that note, Sun said he aims to hold between four and six events next year.)
As for the players, Sun said they're optimistic too. "They've been nothing but appreciative and happy that the AVP is back and coming strong," he said.
Rogers agreed, adding that the consensus among players is that they'd rather have a strong domestic tour than be forced to play in overseas events almost year-round just to make ends meet.
"Everyone wants stronger events [here]," he said. "Everyone."
New tours sprang up in the AVP's absence, such as the National Volleyball League and the Jose Cuervo Pro Beach Volleyball Series, though sponsors have largely been hard to come by.
Still, Rogers said, expectations are hopeful for the future of the AVP and for the sport, which lost many of its key sponsors during the depths of the recession.
"It is still in a very precarious position and in a state of flux," Rogers said, "but I think things are looking toward the horizon."
Dave Williams, the managing director of beach programs for USA Volleyball, agreed.
"Sports marketing mirrors the economy," Williams said. "The Olympics has created an opportunity for some very exciting conversations to take place. The future of beach volleyball looks very bright."
AVP Championships in Santa Barbara:
Friday: 9 a.m. to approximately 6:30 p.m.: Rounds 1 and 2 of pool play.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to about 6:30 p.m.: Round 3 of pool play and semifinals.
Sunday: Women's final starting at 10 a.m., men's final at 11:30 a.m.
General admission is free.