Michael Pavitt

I must admit Worlds Collide does seem a fitting anthem to sum up the collaboration of the International Volleyball Federation and Grammy award winning DJ duo NERVO.

NERVO, twin sisters Mim and Liv, are more accustomed to performing on the festival scene, along with touring with the likes of Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj.

Given that context, their association with volleyball is something of a head scratcher at first.

But then, picture the scene: The Australian duo are performing a set with their booth surround by a dancing crowd with a smoke machine on full blast.

From underneath the booth, two teams of volleyball players come racing out through a tunnel and the smoke to take to the field for the final of a five-week series.

That is the reality that the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) have managed to create with their Volleyball Nations League Finals, with the inaugural season concluding here tonight.

Sitting down for an interview with the duo, which I must say was completely different from my standard ones normally conducted with governing body presidents, the clear question was why on earth have to pair got involved in volleyball.

"The FIVB got in touch and the reason why this sport is so good is because it is equal in terms of the sexes and I think they wanted to find artists that are female," came the reply from the duo. "When they were speaking to us they said it was great that we were some of the only women in our industry and they are very pro equality, so I think that is where they liked us.

"We started speaking to them and we really liked them, we do not normally do gigs like this. It is a completely different environment we are used to. The creative team the FIVB have put together have put together is great and so much fun."

When launching announcing the partnership between the FIVB and NERVO last month, the sport’s governing body claimed it was "another indication" of their commitment to lead the way in fan experience.

Having watched over the past couple of days here, the move makes sense from the FIVB, with sport and the additional entertainment clearly seen as a way to attract new and younger viewers to volleyball.

There are huge similarities between how the FIVB now presents volleyball to its younger sibling beach volleyball, which made its Olympic debut just 22 years ago at Atlanta 1996.

Several of the key phrases uttered by the somewhat hyperactive and certainly crowd-pleasing stadium announcers are exactly the same as I heard when I attended the Beach Volleyball World Championships in The Netherlands three years ago.

And why not. If it works for one discipline, why would it not engage and boost interaction with crowds in the other.

Most of the lines such as "monster block" and "super spike" come with their own dance moves and music, which immediately draw in the crowd, whether you are new to the sport or not.

As well as improving the engagement of the crowd, the FIVB hope this boosts the understanding of the sport amongst new fans, who might be experiencing the game for the first time.

"Our main audience is aged between 15 and 35 years old," Ary Graça the FIVB President, said. "So if my public are these people, I have to give them what they want.

"To combine the entertainment and education about the sport will help to bring young people to volleyball. This integration of fans and athletes is part of the show, the fans like this very much.

"We bring in dancers, bring in songs. We had this in Brazil and in beach volleyball, now we brought that here."

Players entrances and the trophy presentation took place underneath where the DJ booth was situated ©FIVB
Players entrances and the trophy presentation took place underneath where the DJ booth was situated ©FIVB

The idea of engaging the crowd in competition is coming increasing important across sport, whether it be the FIVB firing volleyballs and gifts to the public at their events to people clapping along with hawkeye at tennis events.

With sports going head-to-head for the public’s attention, there are increasing needs to improve upon sport presentation. The FIVB, in a similar way to athletics and swimming, they have used digital screens and an entrance tunnel for athletes to try to make the banal activity of an athlete entering the field of play into an event in itself.

However, entrances do appear to be where it stops for athletics and swimming at times, bar the odd flames shooting up at the finish line.

Leaving the volleyball, you did have the impression of leaving a nightclub or concert, with music having been pumping from nearly the second you arrived to the end of the action.

For NERVO, this is seen as potentially the future of sporting events, with the DJ duo suggesting sport needs to learn from the spectacles often seen in American sports competitions.

"Americans do it really well, if you go to a basketball or hockey game the music is pumping between each point and it is really integrated entertainment," the Grammy award winners said. "We have seen a lot of that with the volleyball guys in China, where they were being interactive and filming the crowd. 

"This is the fourth one we have done, we did Holland, then Ottawa, then Nanjing and now Lille, we will be back next year.

"This is a start, it is an international sport and can touch all countries around the world. The entertainment aspect is really exciting and maybe something new for Europe. When you go to Wimbledon it is dry and not as crazy, whereas this is next level and we can see it catching on."

The event in Ottawa saw NERVO perform their global debut of the new track Worlds Collide, which has been adopted at the anthem of the VNL.

While the move to combine the music and sporting worlds seems to be geared towards the younger generation, it is worth noting that there were large portions of the crowd who would exist outside the 15 to 35 age bracket suggested by Graça as the sport’s core audience. In this respect, you could see the appeal for NERVO it potentially picking up fans outside what you would assume to be a young festival and touring scene.

The FIVB hope the mix of the revamped competition and additional entertainment can boost the sport's audience further ©FIVB
The FIVB hope the mix of the revamped competition and additional entertainment can boost the sport's audience further ©FIVB

It is worth also noting that you can have the best sports presentation possible, but it could all be for nothing if the product does not match up to the standard.

Having tried to find results and understand the World League in the past, I have to admit to having felt lost in the somewhat confusing calendar.

The VNL does appear to be an improvement, with 12 core nations and four challengers teams playing each other once during a five week period. Each of whom get to host a pool on at least one occasion, which the FIVB claim gives the people from all over the world the chance to watch the best players.

With the top six all qualifying for the Finals tournament, there is a clear signpost to the end of the tournament.

One wonders whether the FIVB have borrowed from sport’s such as tennis, badminton and squash, where a large finals tournament is used to bookend one season from the next.

For Graça, the VNL represents a necessary shake-up of volleyball from what was viewed to be a somewhat dated World League.

"The World League in the past was the same for 20 years, nothing changed," the Brazilian said.

"My ambition is to do something with total respect to the public and the fans, because if you don’t change, the fans will change us for another sport. We try to make something high level to make a difference.

"We needed to do something for the fans and the athletes, we have now provided them with something that will give another image of volleyball. If you see a volleyball match in Australia or Vienna, it has the VNL branding and image. It is the same all over the world in all countries."

With the finals of the men’s tournament taking place in the United States for the next three years and the conclusion of the women’s event staying in China, the FIVB believe they can benefit from close collaboration with two key markets.

Graça claimed that volleyball is different to many other sports, with the men’s and women’s game viewed equally, along with prize money to match.

With women’s volleyball viewed as more popular than men’s in Asia, keeping the finals in the continent is viewed as a smart move towards continuing the sport’s development.

Coupled with the increasing efforts to bring entertainment in conjunction with the sporting world, the FIVB will hope their efforts meet the message of the VNL slogan, which encourages people to "Be Part of the Game".