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To augment prize money, the players depend on endorsement contracts with sponsors, many of them beachwear companies like Quiksilver, Catchit and Side-Out (taken from a volleyball term). Through them, the top players are paid a travel allowance plus per diem and equipment expenses.
If a player is savvy, he can make a year-round living playing volleyball. But it's not easy, and only the top six or seven players manage it. Last year, for example, the team of Jon Stevenson and John Hanley split about $35,200 in tournament purses, having won four tournaments and finished second in four others. Stevenson also won a car for leading the the Grand Prix point list and picked up an additional $8,000 for playing six-man volleyball in Italy for five months. With most of his tour expenses paid for by Liquor Barn and Catchit, Stevenson was able to make a decent full-time living from volleyball.
Other top pros have jobs that accommodate their volleyball schedules. Christopher St. John Smith, called Sinjin, earned $24,700 in tour prize money last year (he and his partner Randy Stoklos are considered by many the best team on the beach) and another $6,000 in satellite tournaments. But that was only tipping money. Sinjin also pursued an acting and modeling career that earned him close to six figures. (He has appeared in GQ and Playboy and was featured in one episode of Magnum P.I., playing Tom Selleck's volleyball partner.) In addition, he has a year-round endorsement contract with Side-Out.
Andrew Smith isn't as successful as his brother—he won only $3,375 last year—but off the sand he's one of the highest paid male models in the country, working primarily to promote Ralph Lauren clothing and Salem cigarettes (even though he doesn't smoke). Beach volleyball helps him stay in shape, maintain his tan and remain in the public eye.
Only the best players can make a full-time living on the beach, and even they feel they deserve larger purses. First-place money ranges from $10,000 at the World Championships to $4,800 at Cuervo-sponsored tournaments in Santa Cruz, Calif., Scottsdale, Ariz. and Boulder, Colo., but the figures are deceptive because promoters take 15% off the top for "administrative costs."
"If you don't finish in the top three at a tournament, it's not worth your while financially," says beach veteran Steve Obradovich.
"The players ought to have more money," says Jack Butefish, president of Group Dynamics, the marketing and public relations firm that's in its first year of promoting the tour. "But where do we get it?"
Good question. There's no admission charge—beach volleyball has been promoted as a giant beach party, and that's the way the sponsors want to keep it—so there's no percentage of the gate. There are no television contracts, no product residuals, no bubble-gum cards. The only way to get more money would be to pry it out of the primary sponsors, who are very cautious.
"I've heard the figure $50,000 per tournament bandied about by the players," says Mark Ziskind, Miller's coordinator for young-adult marketing. "There is simply no way that they're going to see it. There is no way a sponsor is going to put up that kind of money for one event."
"We have turned from being bullish to being wait-and-see on beach volleyball," says Peter Seremet, director of public relations for Heublein, Inc., which distributes Jose Cuervo. "That's what the strike did."