Inside Events: Pro-Am Beach Soccer
4 Apr, 2018By: Mary Helen Sprecher
An Interview with Tighe O'Sullivan, CEO and Tournament Director
Pro-Am Beach Soccer is an organization offering the sand version of the sport to all ages, from youth (starting with 9U) and running through adult play. The organization’s biggest event is the Santa Cruz Open in Santa Cruz, California. That event, held over two days in June, brings in more than 150 teams and 2,000 athletes (attendance is capped because it quickly reaches capacity). Other events are held in San Francisco, Oregon, Atlantic City, Racine, New England and more. It also hosts international events in Bali and Singapore. The National Championship is held in August. A full list of tournaments can be found here.
Sports Destination Management: Sand soccer is growing in popularity. How far back do your events go?
Tighe O’Sullivan: We started our events in 2005 during the same week FIFA established the World Cup. In the beginning we were one of three companies offering beach soccer. Now there are more than 60 events going on in the U.S. alone.
SDM: As the sport has grown, have you seen a rise in the number of coaches for beach soccer?
O’Sullivan: Soccer coaches who coach games on grass or turf don’t necessarily know how to coach beach soccer. It’s a different game. In a grass game, you’re keeping the ball on the ground whereas beach soccer is played more in the air – you’re lifting the ball out of the sand as you kick it. You also have to teach players to kick the ball properly because they’re playing barefoot. If they don’t do it right, they may wind up with broken toes. That’s a big rookie mistake so you really have to coach them on the correct technique which actually makes them kick better on grass. In addition, a lot of coaches don’t understand the benefit of beach soccer – they know that it’s fun but they might not be aware it can develop people into better players.
SDM: Is there more of a movement to educate coaches?
O’Sullivan: I would say the awareness is continuing to grow. This past January at the United Soccer Coaches Convention, there was an educational session on beach soccer, and we’re continuing to work with youth soccer associations around the country to promote beach soccer. The states leading the way on beach development include South Texas, Oregon, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Florida, California, as well as others.
SDM: What ages are you hosting in your events? Adults? Kids?
O’Sullivan: It’s both – we have micro level (those are the really young kids and they play in half-size fields in 4 v 4 with no goals) At U9, they start playing 6 v 6. At age 10, they start playing on a full-size field and 5 v 5. The adult field is what they start playing on at age 14. We have all the youth age groups up to U19, and then we have men’s and women’s open and co-ed.
SDM: Let’s talk for a moment about the events you’re hosting around the country. You’re putting them on in a number of regions.
O’Sullivan: We’d like to keep expanding. We almost doubled in size this year, in fact. We’re looking at establishing franchises around the country; we’d like to set up a turnkey operation that would allow them to run clinics, tournaments and small events. I’d also like to expand internationally some more.
SDM: Is it hard finding venues?
O’Sullivan: I wouldn’t say the venue is a big stumbling block but what we are looking for is cities that really want to work with us. We need buy-in – in fact, we ask for that on our RFPs – since we want cities to be invested in the event.
SDM: What else are you looking for in a potential host city?
O’Sullivan: Easy access, obviously. We also are looking for a soccer community that would enjoy seeing the beach game. Any beach has to be at least 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, which gives us space for eight fields. That allows us to host 100 teams over the course of two days.
SDM: Do you consider any city ideal?
O’Sullivan: I’d say I’m still looking for the perfect partner. We both need to have skin in the game and we both need to work toward growing it. The right place will help us be on the cusp of the next wave of development. Good communication from any city is important. The events we are hosting this year are with places that were the most persistent in communicating with us.
SDM: What do you think makes beach soccer so popular?
O’Sullivan: It’s not just about the players; it’s really a family event. Look at it this way: if one kid is involved in the grass game of soccer and he or she is going to be playing in a tournament in just about any city, the other kids in the family might not get all that excited about going to another city and sitting at another soccer complex. But when it’s being held at the beach, everyone wants to go. The beach is just plain fun. And for the soccer team itself, it’s a big bonding experience. The game itself also stretches players limits in every way. It's wins all around win, lose, but we never draw.
SDM: It has to be economically beneficial.
O’Sullivan: From the standpoint from our own merchandise sales, each team spends $95 per athlete. But once you’re at the beach, the kids are going to want to go to the boardwalk, buy ride tickets, play arcade games – they’re happy to stay there all day and utilize whatever aspects the beach or community has to offer next to their shores.
SDM: And the city is benefitting from that.
O’Sullivan: Oh, they are. Of course, the teams are staying in hotel rooms, eating in restaurants, everything. Beach sports – not just beach soccer but beach volleyball, beach Ultimate and more – are a newfound stream of money for many ocean destinations.
SDM: Speaking of which, the World Beach Games will be coming to San Diego in 2019. Do you think beach soccer will benefit from the exposure there?
O’Sullivan: I think beach soccer will be the premier sport there. FIFA will be involved. If it’s done right and has the media behind it, I think beach soccer will definitely benefit. It’s already big in California so there will be planet of people who want to see it played at the highest levels.