The AVP debuted streaming platforms for its season-opening tournament two weekends ago (March 16-19) in Miami Beach. It was a rough way to open the season, or, as the AVP said to us in a statement, “The reality of producing sports entertainment programming is that we will never make everyone happy.”
Change rarely is well-embraced by viewers, but the switches to the established ESPN+ subscription service and the work-in-progress Bally Live app were skewered across social media.
Fans griped about the showcase Stadium Court matches being streamed behind a paywall on ESPN+, and seemed particularly miffed that the new Bally Live app, which showed matches from one of the two outer courts, was not compatible with many of their devices such as Android cellphones and personal computers.
Below is a sampling of comments made under posts on the AVP’s official Facebook site:
“Hey sponsors, people want to watch and can’t! In this day & age of live-streaming at the very least, are you getting your money’s worth if the majority of your target market can’t access the event??? No wonder AVP has failed so many times to gain traction as other “fringe” sports have!”
“This is annoying enough I may not go spend an obnoxious amount of money in Atlanta this year at the tournament. This is a really out-of-touch move that will alienate a ton of the fans.”
“I’m not paying for ESPN+, and I can’t get Bally to download in my iPhone. Guess it’s gonna be a long summer!”
“The year is 2023. One AVP tournament is being streamed on two different apps. One is a paid app, the other is an app that’s not available on any TVs. Between the two apps, the coverage is two courts total. People outside the US have no way to watch. It’s been a great six years AVP, RIP.”
“What a disaster… AVP has a following but getting the product to the people seems to be so hard. For me I’ll switch over to March Madness [because] accessibility is too difficult.”
“Sucks. Once again you need to pay for an extra channel or app.”
“Oh, the bally live app that only apple cultists can enjoy.”
“Terrible decision on AVP’s part to make it so no one can watch. Way to promote the sport.”
“Where can I watch full match replays?”
“How can it be that a sports-streaming app (ESPN) is missing an instant rewind feature. The time scrubbing user experience feels decades old.”
“Different apps. Bally Live app seems to be only for iPhone. No android or androidTV, no AppleTV. Watch on the smallest screen in your house.”
Such criticism seemed to be the norm, rather than the exception. On the initial post about the streaming options on the AVP’s Facebook site on Friday morning, the start of main-draw competition, the first 22 comments easily could have been construed as negative. With virtually no lead time built in to buffer these changes, many AVP fans seemed to be confused. As the weekend went on, fans from Canada who were shut out from watching their favorites, Brandie Wilkerson and Melissa Humana-Parades, were particularly vociferous.
In the interest of fair journalism, we reached out to the AVP for its reaction to this apparent groundswell of ill will among its customer base. In a statement issued to VolleyballMag.com on Wednesday, the AVP wrote:
“The AVP will continue to serve the majority of fans who are glad to watch on ESPN+ and Bally Live. The reality of producing sports entertainment programming is that we will never make everyone happy. We know that our existing fans want consistency from the AVP. We have now established these long-term relationships with our partners so fans will always know where to find us.
“Our overwhelmingly large segment of new fans are college-aged, and predominantly women. With the move to ESPN+ and Bally Live, we are rising to meet them where they are. New fans are interested in watching amazing beach volleyball played by the world’s best athletes. Bringing live AVP finals to ESPN’s family of networks gives us massive reach, and we are thrilled to have our athletes showcased by the worldwide leader in sports entertainment coverage.
“The monthly subscription fee is not only in line with what fans pay for access to other sports in the era of cord cutting, but also offers subscribers the ability to watch thousands of hours of other sports.”
The statement from the AVP further indicated that the company was aware of the problems with access for viewers outside of the United State, writing:
“Feedback from our fans is always important to us, and we listened closely during our season-opening event in Miami Beach. We are actively working toward a solution that will allow fans outside the United States to watch the AVP on our streaming platforms. We will announce details soon. As the season progresses, fans can expect even more from the AVP across the globe.
“Additionally, the Bally Live app provides a tremendous opportunity to stream live matches from outer courts at all AVP events, giving fans access to more live beach volleyball than ever before — the biggest thing our diehard fans have asked for. These are all important steps in continuing to grow the AVP Tour and expose more and more people to this amazing sport.”
The statement concluded by noting that the AVP’s official YouTube channel, “AVP Beach Volleyball, would remain operational and provided some clarity regarding its content:
“Being a fan of the AVP is more than just watching tournament play. Our YouTube channel will offer a deeper dive and more complete view of the AVP. This year our YouTube channel subscribers will have access to highlights from our 2023 Pro and Gold events — including Miami, which will post after the finals broadcast on ESPN (it first aired this past Thursday). We are so excited to partner with the renowned McKibbin Brothers to produce a behind-the-scenes series featuring some of our top athletes throughout this season. And to celebrate our 40th Anniversary year we are creating a four-part series celebrating the best of the past 40 years of the AVP!”
As detailed in the statement, AVP fans with cable TV were able to watch two hours of coverage of the finals from Miami Beach on Thursday night, if they subscribed to the ESPNU channel. A “second-tier” offering on most cable systems that focuses on college sports, ESPNU can be accessed in 39.58 million U.S. households, roughly 53% of the subscriberships of sister channels ESPN and ESPN2.
The first week of the AVP on ESPNU failed to crack the top 150 list on the widely referenced daily Showbuzz cable TV list, which ranks shows based on Nielsen ratings in the coveted 18-49 demographic. No. 150 on Showbuzz’s list had an 18-49 rating of 0.01, meaning that it was viewed by one-one hundredth of one percent of American TV households in that demo.
The AVP Miami Beach finals are available on-demand to ESPNU subscribers. The program also can be found on ESPN’s website, which has a separate “button” for the AVP on its “channels” list. VolleyballMag.com’s TV listings page has indicated that the next two AVP Pro Series tournaments in New Orleans (April 14-16) and Huntington Beach (May 19-21) will be replayed on ESPNU on the following Mondays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern. The finals of the remaining four Pro and Gold Series events, will be telecast live with two-hour blocks on ESPNU, with coverage of season-ending AVP Championships aired live on ESPNews.
Watching the telecast of the Miami Beach finals on ESPNU (produced in-house through Echo Entertainment) generated a few takeaways. The bare-bones three-camera production didn’t look much different than what the AVP gave viewers last year on its YouTube channel, but it had a smoother feed with fewer video blips and the sound quality was better.
The setup with the overhead “hard” camera located behind the main grandstand meant the prevalent picture for the viewer had the two-story VIP boxes in the background with only a few people in each box. The grandstand looked to be filled with fans, but we saw them only for a few seconds over a two-hour show.
The result was a sterile environment that made it more difficult for the viewer to share in what excitement might have been present in the venue, and one that was reminiscent of the made-for-TV “no-fans” telecasts of the AVP during the COVID period in 2020. Two hand-held mobile cameras on the sand also had base positions pointing toward the VIP section and away from the general-admission bleachers.
A two-hour window gave time for the women’s and men’s finals (both of which went two sets) to be shown in full, although the telecast did sign off abruptly without a postmatch interview with men’s champions Taylor Crabb and Taylor Sander. Some minor audio issues occurred involving analyst Dain Blanton, whose microphone occasionally echoed, and periodically Dain’s voice sounded muffled.
The overall presentation might have been just fine for the AVP’s niche audience willing to pay the subscription fee to watch live through streaming on ESPN+, but fell a tad short of the production standards mainstream sports viewers are accustomed to seeing. We’ll see whether the AVP chooses to ratchet up its production budget for the live telecasts coming later in the season.