Glory Days: It’s Chris Marlowe and Paul Sunderland calling the 1992 Manhattan Beach Open (above)
What we have planned for this weekend’s edition:
Chris Marlowe wasn’t the first voice of Olympic beach volleyball when NBC brought it into the gold-medal area some 20 years ago at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
NBC had assigned him and Paul Sunderland, teammates on the U.S. gold-medal-winning 1984 team at the L.A. Summer Games, to the indoor volleyball venue.
Instead, it was two other SoCal based broadcasters — Randy Rosenbloom, with former beach legend Kirk Kilgour — who planted the flag at that beachhead. Bill Walton was there, too, as a sideline reporter.
Considering all that Marlowe and Sunderland had accomplished as a broadcast team in delivering the sport as a TV commodity to that point with their stellar and colorful Prime Ticket coverage in the 1980s and ’90s, it’s easy to assume they’d have been there to help usher the sport into this new TV era.
“I don’t think anyone really realized how big the beach event would become from that particular tournament,” said Marlowe, who, since then, has called the beach game during the 2000, ’04, ’08 and ’12 Games, and is already signed up to do the 2016 event in Rio.
In an extended Q-and-A we’ve done with Marlowe, who a week after doing the AVP’s Manhattan Beach Open is back to call this weekend’s Long Beach World Series of Beach Volleyball and the FIVB Grand Slam finals, he reflects on when the sport stepped up its game to become an Olympic-quality TV experience.
Many of the top men’s beach players at the time were involved — Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes were the first gold-medal winners, with Mike Whitmarsh and Mike Dodd taking the silver and Singin Smith out of the medal round — but others who brought the sport into this Olympic realm were either past their prime or not interested. For that matter, the U.S. women didn’t even gain a medal in 1996, but now it supports one of the strongest pools of talent in the world.
Marlowe, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Games in L.A. as captain of the U.S. national indoor team, talks about how that transition went:
Many of those players back then had a choice of playing on the beach in the summer or devote their time to the U.S. national indoor team, which was basically a full-time job. Some of the greats of all time didn’t get a chance, sure. They were at the tail ends of their career and you always wish some of the older guys from the ‘60s and ‘70s had made it. I’ll never forget Ron Von Hagen telling me the difference between beach volleyball players of today and yesteryear. Those today are called “professional” because they make money. Those from long ago are “beach bums” because they didn’t make the money.
The sport has certainly changed. The way players go about it is much more professional with trainers, accountants, coaches. All in all, it’s been a very good progression. The reason there isn’t a great pipeline in men’s volleyball is the most outstanding players are overseas indoors or on the U.S. men’s national team. They can make so much money in places like Russia or Italy or Korea, some getting half-million dollar contacts. They can’t afford to pass that up. Some U.S. national team players could be on the beach today, as the prize money and sponsorship is coming back. But now, it’s just not as strong as it was in the 1980s and ‘90s. It’s starting to regenerate. It’s headed in the right direction.
What’s worth serving up to the masses at this point in the week:
== The complete TV schedule for the Long Beach World Series of Beach Volleyball goes this way as Marlowe works with Kevin Wong and Dain Blanton:
Saturday’s women’s and men’s semifinals are on Channel 4 at 1:30 p.m. (replayed on Universal Sports at midnight, 1 a.m. and 2 a.m.).
The women’s bronze medal games is on Universal Sports Sunday at 10 a.m., with the gold medal game at 11:30 a.m. on Channel 4. The men’s bronze medal game is at 1:30 p.m. on Universal Sports on Sunday, with the men’s gold medal game at 3 p.m. on Universal Sports.
Universal Sports also replays the women’s final (Sunday, 11 p.m.) and NBCSN replays the men’s final and third-place game (Tuesday, 4 p.m.)
== If you’ve bought into the premise that Sunday’s MLS match up between the Galaxy and the expansion New York City FC (noon, ESPN) is, on paper, the most start-studded contest in the league’s 20-year history, you won’t get play-by-play man Adrian Healey to contradict that.
And not because he’s paid to be the one giving the match all the context it needs for those who may not understand the financial repercussions of these two rosters.
“It’s hard not to argue that, in terms in genuine star power on both sides,” said Healey as he arrived in L.A. to begin prep work having been to Seattle and Chattanooga, Tenn., to call matches for the network prior to this trip.
There are six Designated Players in this one – the Galaxy’s Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Giovani Dos Santos, going up against the New Yorkers’ David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampart – with a combined salary of $29 million. Considering all are healthy.
The closest thing Healey can compare this two was in 2011, when he called matches between the David Beckham-led Galaxy (who also had Landon Donovan and Keane) and the New York Red Bull with Thierry Henry.
“But this one has taken it to a whole new sphere with all the stars involved — six of the top 13 paid players in the entire league.”
Other MLS teams, and fans, may be tuning in just to hope the two super teams fail. Can someone watch this with a twinge of jealousy?
“In any sport and league, when New York and Los Angeles meet, you expect big stars,” said Healey. “Every team has the opportunity to do what these franchises have done, but they just don’t have the financial resources.It is a bit of a double-edge sword, but in a league with a tiny salary cap, you’d hope they recognize that the rising tide lifts all boats and this makes it an important matchup on the national scene.”
If one were to consider this a possible MLS Cup matchup in December, that would mean a lot of team chemistry improvement takes place over the next few months.
“The Galaxy is much closer to the finished article, and Bruce Arena has been doing this for eight years and has an amazing track record for melding superstars with the rank and file,” said Healey. “Nobody does a better job of that with him. NYC is a totally different situation starting from scratch. Jason Kreis knows how to win and has done it before, but a successful year for NYC would be just to have a presence in the postseason. That would be their mission accomplished.”
== The latest with ESPN’s “The Undefeated” website? The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir has circled back to sadly note that two months after the removal of Jason Whitlock as its founding editor: “The current plan is to post one piece a week until a launch that may not happen for several more months. Many, including those inside and outside ESPN, have begun to wonder if it will happen at all.”