By Andy J. Gordon
In October 2018, a new company partnered with the international volleyball federation (FIVB) to bring many of the world’s best beach volleyball players to Las Vegas, to play in a new pro tournament. With a total purse of $300,000 and positioned as the first four-star event of the Olympic qualification calendar, p1440 launched with a bang. Players also earned points that went toward a berth in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
p1440 is the new company spearheaded by Kerri Walsh Jennings, a group trying to do what none has been able to accomplish: to make beach volleyball a popular professional sport in the United States.
What does the name have to do with volleyball? We are not exactly sure. What we do know is that it isn’t the catchiest name given to a tournament-festival, as it doesn’t exactly trill off the tongue. The “1440” is a reference to the number of minutes in a day. We’re not so sure about the “p.” That initial is open for interpretation, according to Dave Mays, one of the company’s founding partners. “Platform” seems to be the most popular choice.
However, as Mays says, “it’s up to your own interpretation.” It can be “purpose” or “power” or “people.” He explains that it can be whatever word that starts with “p” you’d like to use to represent how you personally like to use your 1440 minutes in a day. That’s a high-minded concept, but we should get this out of the way – the name is terrible. It does not make anyone think of volleyball or fitness or health.
Mays is not remotely well known in the volleyball world. He made a fortune in the international package logistics and supply chain industry. His ex-wife, Kasia Mays is another partner and she has extensive experience in the four- and five-diamond luxury sectors of the hospitality industry. She is currently a co-owner and founder of Älsa Energy, an energy drink mix for the body and mind; the company is one of the sponsors of the p1440 events.
The key volleyball connection comes from Jennings, who has been the most popular beach volleyball player globally for nearly 20 years. She and her husband Casey Jennings, another popular beach volleyball player, started p1440 with the Mays. Walsh Jennings is the most successful female beach volleyball player in history, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and a one-time Olympic bronze medalist. She is the beach volleyball career leader in wins with 133 victories and has won the most money, surpassing $2.5 million.
The timing of the p1440 launch is very interesting. Walsh Jennings is coming off her fifth shoulder surgery and recently had a well-publicized dispute with the AVP (the organization that runs the United States professional beach volleyball tour) over the terms of their contract. She no longer competes on that tour, but has committed to competing in FIVB events worldwide, with the goal of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. Her long, successful career may be near an end, but she is determined to push the limits of what a 40-year-old mother of three can accomplish. Off the court, she is dedicated to helping the sport grow and plans to do that through this new p1440 business.
There are many questions to be answered about how this new business is going to succeed and make money. The p1440 business model is not clear. Walsh Jennings’ concept for p1440 is an event festival series that encompasses not only a professional beach volleyball tournament, but also adds personal development experiences, live music performances and a health and wellness village, all mirrored by a powerful digital community designed to provide inspiration and resources to live life fully long after the event concludes. The digital platform offers coaching, live clinics, webinars and nutrition advice – all types of wellness resources an active person might need including mental, spiritual or physical encouragement.
She and her partners hope the p1440 website will grow in popularity, eventually generating revenue from subscriptions. However, a subscription fee, yet to be determined, is not projected to start until 2021. For now, it is back to the old model that has repeatedly failed to work in the U.S. beach volleyball ventures in the past – charging admission fees, finding sponsors, gaining TV coverage and generating merchandise sales.
The Las Vegas event, which took place from October 10-14, 2018, did not charge for general admission, although that was the original plan. They did offer VIP tickets for a fee, but overall attendance was low all weekend and the number of VIP tickets sold seemed quite small. While there were several sponsors with vendor tents at the event, we doubt that they were happy with the low turnout.
For those not in attendance and interested in watching the action, many of the matches were streamed live for free on the p1440 website. Retired beach volleyball legends like Steve Obradovich, Randy Stoklos, Sinjin Smith, Tim Hovland, Mike Dodd, Dax Holdren and Holly McPeak did play-by-play reporting and analysis. ESPN2 showed the women’s gold-medal match live on Sunday, October 14.
The Las Vegas event did successfully incorporate many of the best attributes of previous FIVB, AVP and WSOBV (a FIVB sanctioned, Long Beach, Calif., event that took place from 2015-2017) tournaments to make the weekend a fun and family friendly experience.
And the volleyball was fantastic. Past and future Olympians as well as world champions competed. There were live music performances by classic rock cover bands Phoenix and O Wildly on Friday and Saturday evenings, while DJs spun tunes all weekend.
People who wanted a diversion from the volleyball action found many other activities to enjoy, too. Kids could get their faces painted, climb a rock wall and joust with giant rubber clubs on a big bouncer. There were cooking demos with Chef Amber, bootcamp workouts with Cody Butler, ping pong with Pongstarz, yoga with Kim Bauman and meditation with Hailey Lott.
The volleyball competition was dominated by four countries – Norway and Poland on the men’s side; Canada and Brazil on the women’s. The men’s gold medal went to Norway’s Anders Mol and Christian Sørum, who defeated familiar foes in Poland’s Grzegorz Fijalek and Michael Bryl in two sets, 21-13, 21-17. The teams also faced each other in the finals of the Vienna and Hamburg Majors earlier in 2018. The powerful Norwegians also won all three of those previous matches in straight sets.
The women’s gold medal went to Canada’s Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson, who defeated countrywomen Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, 21-17, 17-21, 15-9. It was especially sweet for Bansley, who played in the 2016 Summer Olympics with Pavan. After disappointing results in Rio, the pair split up and each found new partners. Since that split, Pavan with Humana-Paredes hold a 4-3 winning record over Bansley with Wilkerson, but the Bansley-Wilkerson team have won the last two meetings.
The United States had several teams competing, but none won a medal. The best showing was by Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabbe, who finished fourth, losing the bronze medal match to Russia’s Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy. It was a good showing by the Americans. Bourne came back recently after missing nearly two years of competition with chronic inflammatory muscle disease. He and Crabbe formed their partnership in the summer of 2018. The top American men’s team, Phil Dalhausser and Nick Lucena, chose not to compete in the event.
On the women’s side, Emily Day and Betsi Flint finished fifth, having beaten Kerri Walsh Jennings and her partner Brooke Sweat on Friday (they finished in 17th place), as well as winning a hard-fought match against fellow Americans Summer Ross and Sarah Hughes. Unfortunately, April Ross and Alex Klineman, the top American women’s team, had to cancel their plans to compete at the event, as Klineman was injured while training earlier in the week.
Once Walsh Jennings was eliminated, she did her best to be the “face” of the company. She was very accessible all weekend – participating in exercise sessions with the fans, signing autographs and taking pictures. Beach volleyball is one of the only pro sports where the players actually mingle with the fans and Walsh Jennings was one of several competitors seen interacting with fans.
The p1440 tour will have one more event in 2018. That second exhibition event will take place in Huntington Beach, California, from November 30 to December 2.
It will consist of two tournaments running simultaneously. The p1440 Beach Volleyball Top Guns Invitational will feature 16 of the best players of each gender from around the world. The p1440 Beach Volleyball Young Guns Invitational will include younger, rising-star athletes participating in a 24-team main draw and double elimination tournament.
The three-day event will also feature family-friendly happenings including a “Kid’s Court” area with activities created for the youngsters; a health and wellness village with expert trainers leading high-intensity interval workouts, health workshops and bootcamps at the Älsa Energy Movement Shop; a portable fitness studio with daily yoga, mediation sessions, healthy cooking demos and more; some immersive art experiences; and local DJs will spin music all weekend.
Information about the format, schedule and tickets can be found at the p1440 web site.
While we are concerned about the confusing company and tour name, the questionable business model and the lack of focus on volleyball, we are hopeful that the tour will succeed. They have additional events in the United States scheduled in 2019, all planned with the approval and coordination of the FIVB. Those dates were carefully selected – they do not conflict with other four- and five-star FIVB events or with any AVP tournaments. If the p1440 partners can sustain the high level of volleyball action and diverse alternative entertainment activities that were provided in Las Vegas, then they are headed in the right direction.
We applaud all efforts to grow the game of beach volleyball and provide more opportunities for American volleyball athletes to make a respectable living in the United States. Perhaps p1440 can accomplish what no one else in the United States has to date, creating a popular, profitable, professional beach volleyball tour. Here’s hoping.