“A sport that will grow a lot” … How volleyball is already surfing the Olympic triumph in Tokyo

Not even the time to take advantage … A month after their Olympic triumph, the Blues of volleyball have already started a Euro where they remain undefeated before the serious things start. It would be a question of not crumpling the most beautiful page of their history, written on August 7. 6.7 million viewers (record audience for the Tokyo Olympics) thrilled at the incredible scenario of the final against the Russians (3-2).

From their sofas, people of all ages were ignited by the prowess of Earvin Ngapeth, and the magic tricks of Antoine Brizard, while their relationship to the discipline was limited until then to clumsy passes in the course of EPS and / or sport-sentimental activity Jeanne and Serge.

“Something happened,” agrees Eric Tanguy, the president of the French Federation (FFVB). There is an undeniable Olympic Games effect, we can already feel it. »Team Yavbou and its charismatic leader Ngapeth wrote their masterpiece in Japan, at the power of the wrist. A decisive feat in the existence of the smallest of the great French co-sports, which for a long time survived while handball collected more medals than a well-regarded Soviet marshal of Poltiburo.

Volleyball, an exception in a disaster landscape

“Each time we have had results since 2014, the number of licensees has increased behind,” continues Tanguy. There, we are talking about Olympic gold. We watch the numbers with great attention. The first trends are very positive, in a context where the health pass imposed on over 12s worries the federations. “As of August 30, we were at 8,155 licensees against 6,090 to date in 2019.” If a more complete panorama cannot be drawn up before the end of October, the FFVB expects to exceed the pre-Covid figures, i.e. 143,000 licensees (including 49 % of women).

On the ground, the dynamic is confirmed. In Toulouse, the Spacer’s, which so far had 140 members without professional staff, thus recorded 30% more registrations among 6-18 year olds, according to their new president Bruno Sola. “I’m not a volleyball player, but I’ve always found it to be a dynamic, offensive and little-known discipline. It is a universal sport and the first at university level, in France and in the world. “

“Develop notoriety and attendance figures”

So inevitably, this Tokyo title in the heart of summer appears as a divine surprise when setting out to conquer a city where sporting and cultural demands are not lacking. “It is a beautiful showcase to highlight a sport in which everyone has played but which must develop its notoriety and its attendance figures”, analyzes the manager of a club which has post-trained three Olympic champions (Clévenot, Brizard, Chinenyeze).

Earvin Ngapeth, charismatic leader of the Yavbou team. – Manu Fernandez / AP / Sipa

Ngapeth was however moved, on the return from the Games, to play at the end of August in an enclosure of only 1,500 people in Belfort, for two friendlies against Ukraine. “When we reserved the room, we were at the beginning of May, with a health situation which led to games behind closed doors,” replies Eric Tanguy. Very clever who knew that we would become Olympic champion. But volleyball knows how to attract people, as when we put 13,000 people in 2019 in Bercy during the Euro “. A date at home ended in a fishtail …

The thorny issue of TV rights

The way to go to become unavoidable, however, remains as winding as a Corsican road. During the famous Belfort meeting, the FFVB financed the production and offered it to France Télévisions, for a retransmission on France 4. “It’s complicated to have a TV channel that wants to broadcast volleyball and take on the production costs, ”agrees Tanguy.

The contract with the L’Equipe channel, which has been following the Blues since December 2015 and currently broadcasts the European Championship, is therefore about to expire, with no guarantees of being renewed. “The Euro will be a key factor,” indicates Jérôme Saporito, director of the TV division of L’Equipe. Between being eliminated on a Monday at 4 p.m. in the round of 16 and being European champion at 9 p.m. on Sunday, there is a world, a ratio of one to ten. For the time being, the team coached by the multi-titled Brazilian Bernardinho, who succeeded Laurent Tillie after the Augustian triumph, continues its seduction operation.

30% more audience for the Euro

“On the first three group matches, we see an increase in audiences of 30% compared to the previous Euro [en 2019], details Saporito. This represents 350,000 spectators on average. According to the FFVB, the trend is also optimism when it comes to finding a new equipment supplier, while the call for tenders launched before the Olympics had been unsuccessful. “We are discussing over-the-counter with two brands, the negotiations are favorable”, specifies Eric Tanguy, in post since 2015 and at least until 2024, the year that everyone in sports (and politics) in France has ticked roughly on his agenda.

Les Tillie father and son after the Olympic coronation in Tokyo.
Les Tillie father and son after the Olympic coronation in Tokyo. – Vladimir Pesnya / Sputnik / Sipa

Especially the Blue, who watched team sports shine in Japan without them. “They are part of the” Generation 2024 “project, asserts the boss of the Fédé. Before, we did not qualify for the Euro, there it is twice in a row. In 2019, the girls had not left the hens, there they arrived in quarter where they took a set from the Serbian world champions “.

The other big project of French volleyball concerns a professional championship still too confidential and broadcast, while waiting for better, by the own channel of the National League (LNV). “Too few internationals evolve in France [Nicolas Le Goff à Montpellier, Kevin Tillie à Tours, Daryl Bultor à Tourcoing] “, Judge Bruno Sola, the pilot of Spacer’s, who intends to fill the Palais des sports (4,200 places) on October 7 during the first day of League A against Cambrai. And not just with the 34% more subscribers already identified.

“Other investors will arrive”

Logically enough for a Toulousain, the boss Spacer’s sees the future in pink for the discipline. “The current thrill makes me think that other investors will be entering the volleyball field. It is a sport that will grow significantly in the coming years. “Volleyball is starting to take hold,” confirms Jérôme Saporito of L’Equipe. We can see how beautiful this sport can be, between serves, smashes… ”

It remains to master the art of negotiation behind the scenes, not always the noblest but essential at a very high level. “The FFVB must also fight to be recognized as a great nation of volleyball on a European scale, calls out the broadcaster of the Blues. For now, the round of 16 is scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. If, on the strength of her status as Olympic champion, she pushes for it to be disputed at 9 pm, the audience will be multiplied by three ”. When you are told that the high level is played on the details.

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