Nov 11, 2019
You can be forgiven if you never heard of the International Volleyball Association – the mid-1970s co-ed pro circuit that aimed to draft off the rising popularity of Olympic and beach volleyball during America’s wildest sports decade – but the high-wattage media and entertainment moguls behind its creation at the time certainly cannot.
The IVA was the brainchild of prolific Hollywood television and film producer David Wolper (Roots, The Thorn Birds and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to name a mere few) – who became smitten with the sport while filming documentary footage of the 1972 Olympics in Munich.
Wolper quickly recruited a who’s who of well-connected LA-based investors – including ABC-TV (later Paramount and Fox) chief Barry Diller, as well as Motown music studio founder/movie producer aspirant Berry Gordy – and by 1975, a five-team California and Southwest-centric league bowed before modest, but enthusiastic crowds.
Ironically, with nary a television contract in sight (despite players Mary Jo Peppler and Linda Fernandez appearing on ABC’s Superstars competition, and coverage of 1977’s IVA All-Star Game on CBS’ Sports Spectacular), most of the big-name investors had pulled out by 1976.
Volleyball publisher Jim Bartlett stepped in to quietly stabilize the league, with legendary basketball big man and beach enthusiast Wilt Chamberlain joining for various roles as player, coach, commissioner, and publicity magnet. But neither could ultimately overcome the PR disaster of a 1979 mid-match police bust of Denver Comets owner-brothers Robert and David Casey (for drug trafficking), nor the promotion-deflating boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics where the US women’s team was expected to medal.
IVA standout and beach volleyball legend Jay Hanseth joins the podcast to help “dig” into one of pro sports’ most enigmatic and endlessly fascinating leagues.
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