One my goals in all of my internet endeavours (this blog and contributions to Devo and Ozvolley) has been, wherever possible, to give some insight into what volleyball is really like in Europe, or at least my experiences of it. However, there seem to be many myths that persist. This is my attempt to address a few of them all in one go.
Italian volleyball is big, but volleyball is not big in Italy.
Italy has the best, biggest, richest (mostly) and, as the Italians themselves claim, most beautiful league in the world, it is on TV regularly and daily coverage in the national sports daily newspapers. All of those things are true. It is also true that volleyball had its TV contract terminated reducing its presence to one match per week, many clubs sign big contracts but don’t always pay them and that the volleyball news comes after football division 1, football division 2, football division 3, basketball, motorsport, cycling and sometimes rugby (but before horse racing). While the Italian league is the biggest volleyball league in the world, volleyball is not a very important sport in Italy. In my limited experience, volleyball is most important in Poland, but even then volleyballers are not household names anywhere but volleyball households.
Professional doesn’t mean professional
Technically speaking, professional has two meanings. It is a description both of a method of employment and of a certain type of attitude. The problem is that we too often take one use to imply the other meaning. Being paid does make one ‘a professional’, but it does not make one ‘professional’. And from the other direction, employing ‘professionals’ to play does not make a club ‘professional’. Many clubs are small time operations, essentially run by a few people who love(d) volleyball, often with either marginal support from their communities or great support from small communities. To coin a phrase I first read in a Dilbert book, organisers of those clubs eventually reach the level of their incompetence (and/or resources). Once that happens they will often lie and cheat rather than watch the clubs go back down through the leagues. In that case, no one wins. I didn’t.
Champions League isn’t Champions League
On more than one occasion I’ve heard volleyball Champions League described as ‘lucrative’. I presume because the adjective is so often used to describe football Champions League that people use it unconsciously. It is certainly not because it is lucrative, because it is not. In football when you enter Champions League you directly receive a cheque (or more likely bank transfer) for your cut of the TV rights fees. In volleyball when you enter Champions League you receive an invoice for your cut of the costs. The goal for most teams is to provide additional promotion for their major sponsors, and to break even. The reason men’s Champions League has more participants than women’s Champions League isn’t due to the innate sexist nature of the CEV but because fewer women’s clubs are prepared to risk financial ruin for the honour of participation. The biggest bane is the requirement for TV. With hundreds of channels available nowadays (pay, free to air, internet) you would think it would be easy to find someone, somewhere who wants some good programming. If you thought that you be right. However, what hardly anyone wants to do is pay for it, especially the production costs. That is the great hidden cost of TV coverage. The spectacle is attractive enough to be interesting to TV, but not enough that they can take the risk to produce it themselves. And the sport is not big enough to pay for its own production costs.
From a certain point of view, volleyball in Europe is big. The reality is, it is bigger … because of your point of view.