The NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship returns to Gulf Shores, Alabama, this weekend. That much had been known since late 2015, when the resort committee was first awarded the NCAA’s newest championship.
By all accounts, Gulf Shores proved the right choice for the nascent event. Beyond the financial windfall and recognition that goes with hosting a championship, Gulf Shores recently received the best reward possible.
Namely, the NCAA announced in April the event is staying in the only home it’s known through May 2022. The news was part of the NCAA’s ambitious project pairing more than 600 host venues with championship events.
“I didn’t have any idea if we would get it or not,” says Beth Gendler, CMP, CDME, vice president of sales at the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Sports Commission.
Gendler spent that fateful April afternoon refreshing the NCAA’s Facebook page awaiting word. There was even a brief moment when Gendler worried the destination was passed over. But it all turned out well, especially considering Gulf Shores & Orange Beach also learned the NAIA track championships will return for two more years.
It’s safe to say never has Gendler been so happy to schedule a follow-up meeting to an event. Indeed, knowing Gulf Shores is keeping the beach volleyball championships allows more long-term thinking, says Gendler.
“It allows us to do more permanent things,” she says. “We have bigger, grander plans.”
For instance, the destination can move forward with Turner Broadcasting’s proposal to incorporate a concert in the festivities. Gendler says her team will buy permanent lighting and signage as well.
But those are future ideas. The good news, for both the NCAA and the host, is there’s not much room for improvement in year two.
NCAA Director of Championships and Alliances Kristin W. Fasbender says the playing courts will be tweaked and signage improved from 2016. The autograph session will also be moved to the beach to allow more room. Gendler is also particularly proud of a new entrance that she says conveys a greater championship feel.
All the effort should help build awareness and attendance. Gendler says 3,500 fans is a realistic target this year after more than 2,000 attended in 2016.
The rest of the job is the not-so-small task of ensuring a smooth tournament.
“It does get easier,” she admits. “Last year was crazy. You have to remember it was the first year for the NCAA too.”