Pro women’s volleyball is getting another chance in America.
The Pro Volleyball Federation announced its presence Thursday and said it will begin play in February 2024, calling itself “real pro volleyball and the premier women’s professional volleyball league in North America.”
The organizers, while making their announcement, revealed that Columbus, Ohio, and Dallas-Fort Worth will be two of what it expects to be eight to 10 cities the first season.
What’s more, they said players will earn “a living wage” from the start.”
The opportunity will present itself for USA women to play at home year-round. It may not be as conventional as playing a pro season in Europe, for example, but with Athletes Unlimited Volleyball moving to the fall of 2023, players could play in the AU in the fall and then PVF in the spring. League One Volleyball (LOVB) has said it plans to start a pro league in 2024 but has not announced details.
PVF players will earn about $60,000 a year, organizers said, noting that the salary is comparable to what first-year WNBA players make, and that there will be bonuses, and players on a championship team could make $100,000 or more in 2024 with those numbers escalating over time.
Dave Whinham, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, is the president and CEO and founding partner of The Team Management LLC.
“Very soon we’re going to announce an NBA ownership group,” Whinham said, adding that the names of owners and the PVF cities will begin being revealed in the next few weeks.
His volleyball partner is Stephen Evans, who lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco and is president and founding partner of The Remedy. Together they are the founders of Pro Volleyball Federation.
Another partner is Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer, whose three daughters all excelled at volleyball, including Tori, who is playing professionally now in Perugia in the Italian league.
“This is the first volleyball league in the United States that will be offering their players a living wage,” Evans said. “And I think we’re the first league ever in sports to do revenue sharing with the players from day one.
“And the reason for that is the players are the product and the players are the most important part of this.”
The league’s vice-president of operations is former Florida State coach Cecile Reynaud, who has served as the chair of the USA Volleyball board of directors.
“I couldn’t be more excited professionally to be involved in the launch of a professional volleyball league in the United States,” Reynaud said. “This is something we know has been needed for years.
“I look forward to working with the athletes, coaches, officials, fans, people in the communities and team owners to make sure we are providing the best opportunity to showcase the talent we have to the rest of the world.”
Laurie Corbelli, the two-time USA Olympian who was the longtime Texas A&M coach, is a start-up consultant.
“This type of endeavor has not been done successfully before, and I believe that Pro Volleyball Federation has the expertise, financial backing and experience with a sustainable model to finally put volleyball in the biggest American arenas with a multitude of enthusiastic and devoted fans,” said Corbelli, who played in a previous pro league in America, Major League Volleyball. That league existed from 1987-89 but folded in the third season. After that was the USPVL, a one-year entity that competed in 2002 with the Chicago Thunder, Minnesota Chill, Grand Rapids Force, and St. Louis Quest.
Corbelli “is going to play a key role in the attraction of the players, coaches, administrators and other staff,” Winham said.
The president is Jennifer Spicher, who played volleyball at Wayne State University and coaches club in Metro Detroit. The PVF says in its notes, “Jen is a seasoned global sales executive experienced in building and providing strategic direction and leadership to high-performing corporate teams.
“As a Chief Revenue Officer and an Executive Vice President prior to joining PVF, she exhibited a proven history of aggressively driving business development, sales, and revenue growth for multi-million-dollar private enterprises. Jen most recently served as CRO for LevelUP Human Capital Solutions, which helps companies achieve their goals by creating sustainable talent programs that constantly exceed expectations. A leader in her field, Jen has developed extensive expertise in building executive-level relationships and providing innovative solutions to create best-in-class processes and results.”
Other league staff members will be announced soon, Winham said. Former Marquette standout Jenna Rosenthal, who has been in the USA national-team gym and played professionally, is a player consultant, the PVF said.
“This is decidedly a women’s league that will be run by women,” Whinham said. “Our role is to attract founding partners to provide the league with the tools to do the job right.”
PVF launches at a time when the sport continues to grow with tremendous TV ratings and increased attendance at NCAA matches throughout the country.
“Having been in the sport of volleyball for 50 years, I have seen it become one of, if not the most popular sport for girls and women in America,” Corbelli said. “It has always been extremely popular in Asia and Europe, and many of those countries have professional leagues that are expertly promoted and televised, thus having great fan bases and sponsorships.
“Currently, higher-level American volleyball players must live and play overseas in those leagues to earn a living wage, away from family and friends and home. For decades, players have been dreaming of a league in America where they can stay home and make a living while also receiving the media attention, recognition and elevation that they deserve.
“American women play volleyball at the highest level in the world as proven by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where USA won gold for the first time ever.”
The PVF plans its first collegiate draft a year from now, in November 2023. The league will also include foreign players.
“We expect to have between eight and 10 teams our first season,” Evans said, “and continue to grow from there. Our first season will be 16 games and run February through May with a final-four championship event to culminate the season.
“The biggest thing is this is real pro volleyball. That’s what we’re leading with and people can make their inferences based on that. This is real pro volleyball with a real league structure, with the traditional structure that people are used to with teams and major-league markets that play each other in home and away matches.
“We have real major-league pro ownership groups. We’re playing at major-league venues. We are attracting the best of America’s volleyball players and coaches.”
Said Whinham, “We can take a great game and make it even better.”
Dilfer joked that, “I’m really more known now as the ‘Dad of Setters’ than a Super Bowl champion, so this is really meaningful to me and my family.”
Dilfer’s daughter Maddie played at Notre Dame before transferring to play beach at Pepperdine. Tori started at TCU and transferred to Louisville, where she set the Cardinals to their best season in program history last year. Delaney, who started her career at Lipscomb, is a junior setter at Liberty, which won the ASUN regular-season title.
“The lack of a major league women’s professional volleyball league has always perplexed me,” said Trent Dilfer, the 14-year NFL veteran and quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens when they won the 2000 Super Bowl. “The athleticism, the determination, and the emotion of the athletes is so much fun to watch, and the game is so big overseas. Until now there just hasn’t been an opportunity to make a living as a professional in the United States. That’s why I am so pumped about Pro Volleyball Federation.
“This is going to be huge and I am so excited to be a part of it. It’s long overdue. Like I did, sports fans all over the country are going to fall in love with the game and the fantastic athletes who play it.”
Whinham said the PVF will have strong television contracts, investors and league owners.
“This is something that Stephen and I have had in mind for about a dozen years,” Whinham said. “With the work that we do televising live sports events and producing content for networks, we followed the progress of women’s NCAA volleyball very closely and in so doing we’ve seen the rise in the viewership and the excitement. We decided it was the right time.”
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