No idea was too outlandish when the AVP beach volleyball tour was brainstorming for ways to salvage its season.
Bringing all the athletes to a local beach for a series of back-to-back tournaments, with no fans. Playing in a TV studio in front of a green screen. Moving the whole tour, which was originally scheduled for events from Hawaii to the Hudson River, to different beaches in the Los Angeles area.
“It’s not what we want,” tour owner and CEO Donald Sun told The Associated Press. “Beach volleyball is about the electricity. But it’s also the way the athletes earn a living. We talked about green screens. We talked about how we could just do a whole tour up and down Southern California beaches and not have fans, just for content, if that’s what we have to do in the end, and everyone wants to do it. But we’re not seriously considering it at this time.”
The AVP announced a revamped schedule Tuesday, joining other sports leagues trying to preserve what they can in response to the coronavirus pandemic. For the tour, the decision was a moving target made in a “war room” at the Orange County headquarters only after conversations with local governments in each potential stop and increasingly dire updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization.
“It was the only thing anyone worked on for several days at a time,” Sun told the AP in a telephone interview from his home, where he was juggling AVP responsibilities with four children, ages 2-17. “As you know it changes literally every minute. It’s been a challenge just to follow, but you kind of know what you have to do as an organization.”
The tour is cancelling its events in Seattle and Austin and shuffling the rest of its schedule to try to save a six-tournament season that would begin in New York on June 19. The Huntington Beach Open that had been planned as the May 1-3 season opener will now be the finale on Oct. 2-4.
Seattle has been a hotbed of the outbreak, and tour operators knew that the May 15-17 event in Austin could not go on after local officials there on March 6 announced their decision to cancel the South By Southwest arts and culture festival.
“Like all other companies, we had been monitoring the situation daily and working through all of our 'what if' scenarios. We knew then that the possibility of having to make decisions regarding our season was very likely,” tour spokeswoman Megan Hanson said. “We know how important this tour is to our athletes, our partners and our fans."
In a series of interviews that offered a look into the decision-making process for one of the many organizations adjusting to the coronavirus outbreak, AVP officials told the AP they watched as other sporting events made decisions to go forward, play in empty arenas or cancel and postpone events until the threat has abated.
AVP chief operating officer Al Lau said tour staff watched the March 8 Los Angeles Marathon and saw hand sanitizing stations everywhere; runners — some wearing masks — were told not to congratulate each other. The cancellation of the March 4-17 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, after some of the athletes had arrived was also eye-opening; the event uses some of the same suppliers as the AVP.
But the biggest turning point was the suspension of the NBA season, which came March 11 after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
“Everything kind of took a turn when the NBA said ‘we can’t run,’ That was the domino that kicked everybody," Lau said. “We were having conversations like everybody else, along the lines ‘Hey, what do we have to do?' with the goal of running the events. And then everyone kind of got the reality that we’re not going to be able to do this. All the event operators were doing the same thing.”
For the AVP there was one last hope: Could it put on tournaments without fans, just to have something to satisfy its sponsors and media partners?
“A lot of people are going to be stuck now at home. It’s the ultimate time to create content,” Lau said. "And so that’s why the whole concept of: do you put things on green screens? Do you just build a court in Southern California beaches and just don’t play in front of fans? We went through that whole process.
“But part of a beach volleyball event is the atmosphere, and the ambiance, and where you're holding it,” he said. “With how bad the outbreak went, the reality was it just didn’t work. For everybody in the sport, everything grinds to a halt. And we’ve just got to see what the new normal becomes."