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Case Study 1: Volleyball

Kevin Roberts spoke to FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) Secretary General Fernando Lima about why a culture of innovation looks set to be the hallmark of Dr. Ary Graça’s presidency.

Dr. Ary Graça took the presidency of the FIVB in 2012, pledging to focus on innovation across all areas of the sport. They were not empty words.

Last year’s Men’s World Championship in Poland reflected Graça’s willingness to do things differently. The opening match dispensed with tradition and was played in a packed national football stadium where more than 60,000 were treated not only to a home team victory, but the sort of sport-meets-showbiz extravaganza usually associated with American football’s showpiece Super Bowl.

According to FIVB secretary general Fernando Lima, the spectacular and lavish opening set the tone for the entire tournament, adding that more than 600,000 tickets were sold and fans from across three generations came, often together as families.

“For us, that consolidated our vision that volleyball can succeed in becoming the number one-sport in family entertainment in the world,” he says. “Poland has a unique relationship with the sport, and was a great host of the event. We are now looking forward to the next two Olympic Games in Brazil and Japan, two massive markets for volleyball.”

Lima, whose background is in sports TV with Brazil’s TV Globo, where he was sports director for 17 years, says the focus on innovation championed by the FIVB president is driving fresh-thinking across every area of the federation’s operations, most importantly in helping live and TV audiences understand and enjoy the sport better.

A revolutionary LED net, which allows match information and even sponsor messages to be shown during breaks in play, is just one example of where Graça’s “challenge to innovate” is leading the sport.

“The net has been developed from an original concept and we have improved its resolution and quality since the earliest version. It has been tested in the top Belgian league and I expect it to be launched as early as this month (April) once those tests are complete,” Lima says. “I am sure other sports will look at this idea and follow us, but the fact is, we are ahead.

“We are looking at everything; even the colour of the court itself, with a view to better differentiate the front and back zones for viewers. We are also considering introducing a system that will track players and the ball and provide information about the number of touches in a rally, player movement, the speed of the ball in different phases of the rally and the time lapse between serves and spike. This will be a mass of data that hasn’t been available before, and will satisfy the curiosity of young fans.”

Unsurprisingly, for a man steeped in TV, Lima believes improving video output and capturing the sport’s great moments for posterity are key opportunities for the federation and its major tournaments.

“Unfortunately, volleyball has a very sparse visual history because no attention was paid to it for years,” he adds. “Modern technology allows us to correct that and we are determined to make the best of the sport available.

“Long rallies are precious in volleyball, they are like goals in football or home runs in baseball. Our goal is to capture great rallies and share them with fans around the world. We want new ways of showing the best shots so we can share things with the public that they haven’t been able to enjoy to date.

“These are exciting times for all forms of men’s and women’s volleyball, and our new partnership with Red Bull and one of the sport’s most important promoters is an indication of the progress we are making.

“Volleyball can go shoulder-to-shoulder with other major sports, though growth in new markets takes time. In Brazil, for example, it took 35 years to grow the sport to where it is today.” 

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