AVP, home to Olympic beach volleyball greats, cancels season

The AVP, the professional beach volleyball league which helped shape the careers of eight American Olympic gold medalists, will cancel the rest of its season after struggling to find investors and sponsors to sustain the league through the rest of the schedule.

Players were alerted of the cancellation via an email from CEO Jason Hodell and commissioner Mike Dodd. "As of now, the AVP will be closing the doors," they wrote. "It is with a heavy heart that we must tell you that despite a valiant effort by all and a flurry of investor interest, we have been unable to secure the necessary financing to continue the season."

The move wasn't entirely surprising. Two years ago, the AVP lost nearly $8 million in sponsorships after a number of companies ended contracts with the league due to the economic downturn. And last month, players were warned of more dire financial troubles when a marquee event in San Francisco was postponed because of a lack of funds.

Still, it's a sad development for a league which helped cultivate American talent and aided in U.S. domination of the sport on an international level. American teams have won at least one gold medal in every beach volleyball event since it was added to the slate in 1996. In Beijing, there was a red, white and blue sweep, which led to a surge in interest in the AVP and brought along hopes that the league would survive based on the strength of Kerri Walsh, Misty May-Treanor, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. New events were added in landlocked cities like Cincinnati and they were, by all accounts, a rousing success. But without sponsors and investors, it didn't matter. There's a market for beach volleyball, but it's a niche one and that makes it difficult to attract broader sponsorship deals from companies like McDonald's, Nautica and Hilton.

There's now a serious question of whether the sport can survive in the United States. The best current players will be fine; they'll thrive on the international FIVB tour and will be ready to represent the U.S. in London in 2012. (There's some question about how Olympic qualifying will work now that the AVP is gone, but that's a question for another day.) But what of the next generation of players? Without AVP events in California and other beach locales around the country, how can the sport get the interest of the kids who would be the next Mays and Walshs and Karch Kiralys? Does the end of professional beach volleyball in the United States mean the end of beach volleyball domination by the United States? For a few years, no. After that, it's a very real possibility.

The AVP was created in 1983 and first ran the domestic tour in the United States in 1988. Since then, all the American greats have played in the league en route to Olympic glory.

Play will be halted immediately. The first affected event is the 50th anniversary of the Manhattan Beach Open, which is the beach volleyball equivalent of the Super Bowl. There's hope that the tournament might be able to run under different management.

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