Dispatches: News from the Field, November 1996
For years, the Association of Volleyball Professionals, purveyor of the popular beach game, has thrived using a simple, bankable formula: sun, sand, and a sport played and watched by the bronzed and beautiful. So it was only a matter of time before someone would try to duplicate its success. Which brings us to what may become the next great cocoa-butter-slathered American pastime, Pro Beach Soccer.
Of course, beach soccer has been big in Brazil for decades. But this month, as the international Pro Beach Soccer Tour wraps up its inaugural season, it seems clear that the new league is making a bid for the U.S. spotlight, kicking off its four-nation world championship on the 23d at that most high-profile and hedonistic of shores, South Miami Beach.
The game does seem perfectly paced for the channel-surfing American audience. The five-on-five competition averages nearly two shots per minute and ten goals per game. And it's certainly been faring well, selling out 5,000-seat venues and gaining coverage on ABC, despite such over-the-hill stars as Brazil's 43-year-old Zico and 42-year-old Junior. But it's been suggested that the sport's appeal may lie more in what's on the sidelines--as U.S. national team member and occasional sand player Cobi Jones puts it, "all the women in bikinis."
Still, the tour's controlling partner, Viking Graham Sports Group, seems determined to have its brainchild taken seriously. No luck on that front yet. For instance, though Viking Graham is seeking the sanction of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, FIFA spokesman Marius Schneider says only that he has "doubts." Nor does its would-be rival, the AVP, seem too impressed.
"I think they may be pushing the limits of what people want to see," says AVP vice-president Jon Stevenson. Not that any of this bothers sand soccer's future superstars. "If you build a stadium on the beach," says U.S. goalkeeper David Vanole in defense of his oceanfront field of dreams, "people are going to come. It doesn't really matter what you're doing."