I had wait a hour and a half in the car today. These thoughts have been banging around in my head for a while now. Today they stumbled out, and I was completely ready, armed with just my IPhone, so cut me a break! Here ya go...
Ok so maybe I've seen this all before.
Trust me, the situation isn't exactly the same, but the feeling surely is.
Let me back up just a bit.
Not to date myself (you do the math), but I was 7 years old when in 1967 the Pittsburgh Penguins began operations in the National Hockey League. It was like Christmas to me. I had fallen hard for the game as a six year old watching the Montreal Canadiens play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals a year before.
It would be the last year of a six team league as the NHL expanded for the very first time. It took a while but through all the Randy Cunnyworth's, Mike Bullard's, Rick Kehoe's and Jean Pronovost's Penguin fans waited.
I was lucky enough to be at ground zero when the real change happened.
I had taken a job in the Telemarketing Department, in the bowels of the old Civic Arena in 1982. Selling hockey tickets for the last place Penguins wasn't lucrative, but I had a passion for this game, and I think that came through the phone in my presentation.
I did as well as any of the other salespeople, so the team ask me back for the 1983-84 selling campaign.
The team took a dive, wound up last, drafted this wonder-kid French Canadian named Mario Lemieux, and he saved the franchise, not once but twice!
I made a lot of money selling hockey ticket plans the next summer, and as a group, we sold ourselves out of jobs as the old barn eventually sold out night after night, as #66 lead the Penguins to many great seasons and two consecutive Stanley Cups. Still you ask, why does this belong on a blog that talks almost exclusively about volleyball?
I believe our game here in America has already entered a "Golden Age" with both the successes of the Men's and Women's program last year, and the Beach program continuing its domination in the past Olympics.
Are we ready for the growth to come, are we prepared to nurture and sustain it?
I believe that in this scenario, volleyball's Mario has already arrived, with the Women's team winning gold in Milan last year, the world coming to Omaha this summer, and with the Summer Olympics in Rio promising to place volleyball central in importance, the time is now. What will growth look and feel like?
What can we do to capitalize on this golden era?
Let's look back at what Mario's arrival meant here in Pittsburgh...
More ticket sales. (Thanks for the raise 66!)
The Penguins have long had the best TV #'s in the NHL.
The league as a whole expanded again and again during Mario's (and Gretzky's) time in the league.
Participation skyrocketed here in Pittsburgh, and now, because of it, many more players in the NHL come from Pittsburgh.
So let's draw a parallel and create a blueprint for volleyball.
To sell the crap out of events on our soil including the USA Volleyball Cup matches for both Men and Women, make sure we have an electric atmosphere like the Italian's provided in Milan, in Omaha, and consider a tour before the Olympics begin.
Volleyball sells easy in Southern California, but the game needs to work its way east to gain national attention.
More and better TV and live streaming options. Many are working hard at this. The dawn of conference networks has done great things putting volleyball in the spotlight, that is, until basketball season starts, then try to find a match, and just when the season is getting interesting...
That must change!
Maybe it's time for Volleyball TV?
A channel dedicated to all volleyball programming?
I believe it is time!
Consider a American Pro League again.
Start small and build.
It worked in the NHL,
I believe it could work for volleyball too. Chances need to be taken, and most assuredly money will be lost, but patience, passion, and a solid business plan can make it work, and the time right after the Rio Games might be the perfect time!
Be prepared for increased participation, have quality options ready for new athletes, and new coaches.
Growth is painful, the Penguins had Mario for eight seasons before they won the Cup, but growth was constant, and for volleyball Mario is already here. Are we ready to help the game here in America grow and thrive?