• Volleyball head wants $100 million sales by Tokyo 2020
  • Plan to launch dedicated channel and target women and families

Set on the sands of Copabanana just feet from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the beach volleyball arena at the 2016 Olympics will be remembered as an icon of the games. For volleyball’s president it means much more.

Ary Graca, 71, was born in the neighborhood, and his crooked fingers were permanently damaged from years of playing his favorite sport on the same beach. Volleyball and beach volleyball, in which Brazil’s men’s team claimed gold in front of a packed house Thursday night, have proven to be among the most-popular sports in an event that has suffered from sluggish sales.

Beach volleyball arena in Rio.
Beach volleyball arena in Rio.
Photographer: Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The international volleyball federation bet big on the Olympics, building its first ever Olympic hospitality house and spending more than $1 million on additional lighting and entertainment at both the beach venue and the indoor facility in northern Rio. Moves are afoot to spend another $1 million on a dedicated Internet-based channel to stream live games and programming. It would follow the launch of the IOC’s own channel after the games.

"I believe in the near future the big revenue will come from the Internet," Graca said in an interview at the pop-up Volleyball House. "The participation from all over the world will bring us a lot of income -- China has 1.5 billion people. Let’s suppose I’ve got 100 million people in that market, for one dollar I get $100 million with no effort."

Volleyball is a relative pauper compared to other governing bodies in sport. Its $70 million in annual revenues compares with the $1.4 billion soccer World Cup organizer FIFA gets. The income comes from broadcast sales, sponsorship, hosting fees and a $26 million stipend from the International Olympic Committee every four years.

By the time Tokyo hosts in 2020, Graca is targeting a 50 percent revenue increase. To boost the sport’s profile he’s targeting women, something Graca says led to success in his previous job as head of Brazil’s volleyball federation for 18 years. He also focused on differentiating volleyball from soccer, which remains by far the most-popular sport in Brazil despite the recent struggles of the national men’s team.

"Football has its own passion but it has some bad things -- the fans fight each other in the stadiums so you can not bring women, not even children to the stadium," said Graca. Volleyball has grown to compete for the title of Brazil’s second sport "but with women we are 20 percent ahead of football," Graca said.

Though a breakdown was not provided, women appeared to make up a large part of the volleyball crowds at the Rio games, joining in when DJs blasted music and urged spectators to participate in synchronized celebrations. Graca’s concept is based on the city’s Carnival floats, with large trucks blasting music along the beach.

"In reality the show is the public. We make them dance, shout, sing. We just stimulate them, and now they know how to do this themselves."

Having got Brazilians on board, world volleyball is hoping the images beamed
around the world will lead to millions of new fans.

"It’s very important to show the rest of the world what we have done in
Brazil," Graca said.

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