Volleyball Is Not ‘Big’ In Europe

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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.


      1. Well obviously ‘business’ isn’t an issue.
        There is a lot of prestige involved. Companies like the exposure they get. Clubs are run by volleyball people who want to play CL and are prepared to pay. It’s embarrassing to qualify and then not participate. They are just guesses. I suspect there aren’t really any simple answers. Each situation is different.


      2. Sounds like AVL on a bigger scale. I can sort of get my head around the idea that a bunch of enthusiastsic amateurs shelling out a couple thousand dollars to play AVL, but not a “business” losing 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars on a bit of exposure or to save face. Then again, i’m guessing the owners of some of these teams are stratospherically wealthy and their motivations are not always so… um… rational.


  1. Lets not pretend that clubs in any sport are great business ventures…

    In the English premier league, Man Utd, Tottenham, Everton, Birmingham, Arsenal, Liverpool are the only teams who make a profit.

    But respectively, those teams owe the bank or individuals (in pounds) 500M (at 16.5%), 45M, 37M, 12M, 297M, 261M.

    So Birmingham, who make 13M a year and have a 12M debt, are the only team who can be confident of their financial position.

    At least the goal of volleyball clubs is to break even…


    1. You’re absolutely right.
      One difference though is that football clubs are able (for the most part) to service those debts through borrowing or whatever. When volleyball clubs get into debt, they just don’t pay their employees (players, coaches) and keep ‘trading’.


      1. Sadly, the same does happen in football clubs (not those in the CL perhaps), but your point is certainly valid.

        The key point is that Football clubs treat their players as the priority (they will put investors in debt just to pay the players). Where volleyball will protect the investor by not paying the players.

        Also, when a club doesn’t pay their players in soccer, the media actually cares.


  2. there’s a book i’ve been meaning to lend both of you about how retarded the business of Football teams are. Even Real, Barca, Milan, Inter, Man U aren’t great businesses when you compare them to “real” businesses.

    Their profits aren’t great (if they make profits), they’re bad at hiring managers, making deals, getting the transfer market right etc etc.


  3. Mark, I know this is an old post but thought I would ask if you have any advice for an aspiring professional volleyball player traveling to Europe in an attempt to find a club to play for.

    I am an established member of the New Zealand Men’s team and am heading out to see if I can take my game to the next level. I leave in 3 days on a one-way ticket to Europe to see what else is out there!

    I have FIVB World’s Round 2 in September in Japan and a try-out in Lebanon shortly after but haven’t had much luck lining up visits to clubs around Europe.



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