Omaha, USA, July 27, 2015 - It has taken all 23 years of the FIVB World Grand Prix before the United States has served as host for the Final round, and it has been well worth the wait that has resulted in a majorly successful international tournament.
FIVB President Dr. Ary S. Graça F° was on site in Omaha during the World Grand Prix and was impressed with the running of the event in Omaha.
“Omaha has been a fantastic city which has embraced the FIVB Volleyball World Grand Prix completely,” President Graça said. “The public have supported the event superbly and I have been very impressed with how the local media has got in behind these Finals.”
President Graça singled out the cooperation between the Omaha Sports Commission and USA Volleyball for their efforts in hosting a memorable event - one of four FIVB events on US soil in 2015 (others being beach volleyball's St Petersburg Grand Slam, Long Beach Grand Slam and the Fort Lauderdale Swatch FIVB World Tour Finals), that started July 22 and concluded Sunday. USA clinched the World Grand Prix title on Saturday with one day to spare following a 3-0 victory over Brazil.
“Credit must go to the Omaha Sports Commission and USA Volleyball for putting on an excellent tournament and providing outstanding facilities,” President Graça said. “Congratulations also to USA for becoming the first team to win the World Grand Prix on home soil.”
Part of the mutual interests the FIVB and USA Volleyball share is having NBC as a major player in growing the sport. Last week Graça was a special guest of AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour’s New York City open and had the opportunity to meet top NBC executives.
“It was a pleasure to be in New York last week and have the opportunity to have fruitful discussions with such an important stakeholder in the NBC,” Graça said. “This week it has been great that USA Volleyball and FIVB can continue to share our vision with NBC.”
USA has hosted other volleyball events, but the magnitude of hosting the premier annual international women’s volleyball tournament is a first for the Americans other than having the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1996. USA Volleyball Chief Executive Officer Doug Beal is pleased the FIVB has shown confidence in the USA Volleyball staff to handle running such a prominent event.
“This is the most significant international event for volleyball hosted in the USA other than the Olympic Games,” Beal said. “We are proud and pleased that the FIVB, under the leadership of President Graça, believes in the ability of USA Volleyball and our partners like the Omaha Sports Commission to effectively organize major competitions like the World Grand Prix Finals.”
And according to Beal, location has played a major factor in the success of the tournament.
“Omaha was a special location for this event because of its unique relation with sport, as well as the sport having been enjoyed in the community and the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.” Beal said. “The experience of the Omaha Sports Commission in managing large international events successfully was a factor in the selection and success of the World Grand Prix Finals.”
Hosting the event did not materialize overnight. It took years to have everything come together.
“It was a process that involved a couple years of discussion with the Omaha Sports Commission and USA Volleyball about bringing events to Omaha,” Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff said.
Omaha Sports Commission and USA Volleyball partnered to host the 2013 NORCECA Women’s Continental Championship, which laid the ground work from a staging perspective on hosting such a major international event. After the NORCECA event, Cliff and USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland, to present the idea of hosting a World Grand Prix Finals in Omaha. After some planning, the event was awarded to Omaha in early 2014.
“It is a major priority for USA Volleyball to collaborate with FIVB on major world events such as this week's FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, and the FIVB St. Pete Grand Slam Olympic Qualifying beach volleyball event held in June,” said Lori Okimura, chair of USA Volleyball’s Board of Directors as she watched the matches in Omaha. “We have an experienced team behind the team, a tremendous partnership with broadcast partners like NBC Sports, and great support from our city partners like the Omaha Sports Commission and our local regions of USA Volleyball who are eager to support these great events. Our goal is to continue seeking opportunities to bring the excitement of international elite level beach, indoor & sitting volleyball here to American soil where we can support Team USA."
Beal looks forward to additional collaborative efforts on bringing FIVB’s top events to the United States.
"Together with the FIVB, we can grow and promote the sport in the USA, which will have a positive and dramatic impact all over the world,” Beal said. “We very much believe in the FIVB strategy to target volleyball in the USA because it is such an enormous market and the dividends will be significant for the entire volleyball community.
“We are optimistic that the FIVB and USA Volleyball will continue to partner to look for other opportunities to grow the sport together in the US in the near future in both beach and indoor volleyball,” Beal said.
While the event has been a success, it has not come without a lot hard work along the way in showcasing the sport in the best way under such an international spotlight. In addition to not previously hosting the World Grand Prix, the United States has never hosted top-tier FIVB-level indoor volleyball events.
“This is the first time the event has been held in the United States, so there is not a huge background of information,” Cliff said. “What we saw in Japan the last two years was a well-organized event where the attendance would fluctuate depending on whether the host team was playing the earlier match or the later matches. But also the magnitude of the event and how important it is to the FIVB.”
The event brings a lot into the City of Omaha “from the exposure standpoint, especially the publicity and having the teams come in,” Cliff said. “It is very important for the local people and the state of Nebraska to see international sport at its highest level. It is a very strong collegiate program here, obviously this is multiple steps up.”
With Omaha being put on the international map with the matches being broadcast around the world, the local promotion is hard to beat.
“To have the event broadcast around the world is very good exposure,” Cliff said. “But for the local economy it is more about the exposure more so than the actual economic dollars and cents of what the event brings to town.”
Along with the city and tournament itself, the CenturyLink Center where the matches are being played has been given rave reviews.
“The venue itself has hosted many competitions of various sports,” Cliff said. “Being connected to the local Hilton hotel where you have access to where the players and officials are staying, the meal services are right there and it is less than a 30 second walk either way.”
The venue itself is a combination of a 17,000-seat arena and a 200,000-square-foot convention center with high ceilings. That has allowed bringing in both practice courts under the same roof as the competition court, all within a one minute walk of each other. It has also allowed the event to bring in a high school volleyball tournament to be run concurrently with the World Grand Prix Finals and have a great exposure.
The building has also allowed for providing each team with their own dressing room and video rooms for the duration of the event, as well as rooms for the medical staff, officials and control committee.
“Everybody has been accommodated on a regular basis with the same room,” Cliff said. “That is really important so that you are not moving people around. They become familiar with the venue and it puts less stress on people to know exactly where they are going. The fact the teams can practice almost any time of day or night one minute way eases on the transportation needs.”
Multipurpose for a modern world
And transportation to and from the airport has been minimal in travel time as well. The airport is only a five minute drive.
"It all adds up to being a good venue to host competitions,” Cliff said. “We have hosted many other events, and the response is usually the same. It is modern, has all the amenities, has beautiful scoreboards and ribbons boards. At the end of the day, the client is usually quite pleased on how the event has been presented.”
In addition to the FIVB World Grand Prix Finals, the CenturyLink Center hosted an 82-team high school volleyball camp and tournament under the same roof as the international tournament went on. The youth athletes were able to watch high-caliber international athletes when they were not competing themselves.
USA Volleyball also hosted a Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) Level I course for nine coaches seeking to improve their skills in coaching. The event was held at nearby Central High School in Omaha. One of the nine coaches in the program also served as a line judge during the World Grand Prix Finals.