Pevkur vows to overhaul European volleyball if elected CEV head
By Susan Lingeswaran
Hanno Pevkur, vice-president of the CEV, the European Volleyball Confederation, has insisted he will bring ‘fresh blood’ into the sport if elected as the next president of the continental governing body, and has pledged to overhaul and modernise the sport to increase its media exposure.
The Estonian candidate announced last week he will stand in the presidential election on 19 June in the Russian capital Moscow, in conjunction with the CEV General Assembly.
He is set to go up against current president Aleksandar Boricic, who was elected in 2015. At the end of last year, Boricic announced his plans to run for another four-year term at the helm.
Speaking to Sportcal, Pevkur said his decision to run for president was based on the realisation that European volleyball had fallen further behind other European sports and that a new leader was needed to boost its profile and modernise the game.
The 42-year-old said: “As a previous minister and as a leader, when I see that something is not functioning well then I try to change it. Worldwide, we have twice as many volleyball players as we have basketball players but in Europe you see that we are losing ground to basketball and handball and I don’t like to see that. I love volleyball so much and it needs a new future and we are not doing enough now to push ourselves.
“The main task for volleyball as a whole is to grow and one element to bring in more fans is to have more stars because even though volleyball is well perceived in different countries, you struggle to name two or three world famous players because we have not put emphasis on using Facebook, social media, digital strategy to promote our athletes and our sport. These aren’t new concepts but so far there has been no movement to use them and now we are behind.”
Pevkur has served as CEV vice-president for four years and has been Volleyball Estonia president for eight years. He is also a member of the board of the FIVB, the sport's governing body, and a former leader of Estonia’s Reform political party. He has previously held several ministerial positions but recently said he will leave politics if he is elected CEV president.
Pevkur said annual revenues for the CEV are between €15 million ($16 million) and €20 million and that if elected, he would look to create new competition formats to attract broadcasters and increase the number of teams participating in the CEV Champions League, the top clubs competition in Europe. The competition currenly has 20 teams participating.
He said: “We know that one of the biggest challenges for volleyball is the scope of the new needs of the media because all the media companies would like to see that one event is in 90 minutes’ maximum or maybe 120 minutes. Of course we will have to work with the world federation to work out the rules and this might take one or two years but we need to have a good product before we can increase our television visibility.
“At the moment, twice a month you’ll see a snooker competition on Eurosport but you don’t see volleyball and for me, this is very crucial that you have to be visible and when you’re not on the top television stations, then you are not visible.
“In Europe we have Champions League, CEV Cup and Challenge Cup. Most attractive is the Champions League and from my point of view I would like to see more teams participating, which would give smaller countries an incentive to invest more into volleyball to gain a place in the competition.”
Pevkur said modernising the game would also be key, using innovation to increase fan experience and show off the player’s athletic abilities, adding: “The CEV just started cooperation with one Israeli company regarding AI to bring more possibilities to show the game. Volleyball is about emotions and when you want to show emotion, you have to use more slow motion cameras, you have to use more technologies that show how great the athletes are.
“This is not just creating an event and hoping that will do it, no, this is constant work, a complete overhaul with fans, the media, with new technologies, new inventions. We see that in television you can see how high top athletes can spike the ball, you can see jump heights, you can see serve speed - this all creates emotion and in sport when people have emotions you can expect you have more people coming to see more and enjoying it more.”
Asked if he would look to in-house talent or agencies to grow European volleyball, Pevkur said as president he would use a range of expertise to create his new vision.
He continued: “I am ready to use every expert there is to achieve this because it’s not even important if it’s a company or employee at this point, I just want to find the best people to help us because a good leader always finds even smarter people around them to achieve their goals.
“If you go to the CEV website, you’ll see there are only two major sponsors, [Japanese sports equipment manufacturer] Mikasa and [Russian bank] Sberbank and we will need to hire very good people in commercial and marketing to find what our biggest issues to do with marketing are and then go to the biggest players in Europe and say ‘Hey, we have a very good product, let’s start promoting this, let’s start using all the digital outlets, and let’s start raising the revenue to at least double or even triple'.
“The main goal is yes to attract sponsors but you can only attract new sponsors with the understanding that sponsors want to see that the CEV is a well-managed organisation with transparency and good governance.”
Late last year, Infront, the Switzerland-based sports marketing agency, announced an extended and expanded agreement with the CEV for the distribution of media rights to its top competitions.
Infront and the CEV are longstanding partners, and the new agreement covers club competitions, including the Champions League, CEV Cup and the Challenge Cup and all CEV Snow Volleyball events from the 2020-21 season onwards.
Infront also replaces Sportradar for the rights of the Champions League.
The deal is expected to be ratified at next weekend's general assembly, although Pevkur has voiced concern over how the agreement was struck by current president Boricic, and said he would like to see the CEV be more ambitious.
He noted: “I think it is a step forward but my main concern is that it was not done in the best way in terms of governance because yes there was a negotiation between Infront and CEV but the [last] deal with Infront was for eight years and was meant to be over by 2021. At that point I would have liked it to end there and put it out for open tender but at the moment the president decided to come to the board with a new partnership.
“Now the main question is, 'How can we get the maximum out of this contract', because when you take the numbers behind this, we will have had the same contract for 20 years, which is a long time. So 10 years have passed with Infront and 10 years which are coming and we know basketball and handball are getting about €500-900 million and volleyball is getting €100 million for 10 years and in cash, even less, like €7 million per year. I would like to be more ambitious and create a product where we can say that it is either Infront or someone else but we have a public tender to get the best conditions for our volleyball family for the future.”