A new professional sports league is embarking on its inaugural season and has chosen San Diego to be the home of its lone California club.
The San Diego Mojo with the osprey as its emblem is now part of the Pro Volleyball Federation (PVF). Including San Diego, the league has seven teams, each of which is scheduled to play 24 matches (12 home, 12 away) in 2024.
San Diego has not yet named a home base for its matches but a media release from the PVF said league matches will be played “at a major-league level in marquee arenas with elite athletes who, for the first time, have an opportunity to be paid a living wage while playing professionally without leaving the country.”
Three-time Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist (2004, 2008, 2012) Kerri Walsh Jennings is the Mojo’s co-owner. Walsh Jennings, who recently announced her retirement from playing after recent ankle surgery that she says has been slow to heal, is also an equity holder in the PVF.
Although she lives in Lake Tahoe and is originally from Santa Clara, Walsh Jennings was part of professional beach volleyball tours that annually drew thousands to the beaches of Orange, Los Angeles and San Diego counties.
She said she knows that Southern California has always been a hotbed for volleyball, with San Diego part of that steady fan base.
“The opportunities for indoor volleyball and beach volleyball are just ever increasing and California is leading the charge there,” Walsh Jennings said. “The league definitely did their research and the market research in San Diego. To me, it was a no-brainer because San Diego is such a big city that loves their sports so much.”
World-Class Players, Coaches Across the League
Founded by Dave Whinham and Stephen Evans in 2022 and under the leadership of CEO Jennifer Spicher, the Columbus, Ohio-based PVF calls itself the premier women’s professional volleyball league in North America, touting world-class players and coaches.
Volleyball’s popularity continues to grow in North America as well as around the world. According to the Olympic Program Commission, the sport has more than 900 million fans.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and his parents, Jimmy and Robin Burrow, are founding partners of the PVF. Other founding partners include Orlando Magic chairman Dan DeVos and former National Football League quarterback Trent Dilfer.
The Mojo’s general manager and vice president of operations is Jeremy Waller, a San Diego native with a background steeped in another sport – baseball – and is CEO at Sports Channel Media, Inc.
Waller said tickets will average about $33 per match, but the plan is to keep prices “at a competitive price point – we don’t want to be cost prohibitive.”
“You find that for a lot of professional sports teams and leagues, the average ticket prices are climbing up there,” Waller said. “And so for us, we are new, but we definitely want to make sure that the ticket prices aren’t going to create a barrier for entry for our fan base.”
Walsh Jennings said the league expects to draw fans from Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside counties. She also said the club hopes to draw fans from Mexico.
“Mexico loves volleyball, they absolutely love it,” Walsh Jennings aid. “That would be a dream come true, for that community to come out to support us from south of the border. I would love that and I think that’s a natural, authentic fit as well.”
Community to ‘Take Ownership and Fall in Love’
Walsh Jennings said she and Waller are looking for the community “to take ownership and fall in love with this team.”
Waller said the team has received “a lot of interest from corporate partners” who understand that the PVF has a clear shot at reaching females in sports. He said the LPGA and WTA offer individual athlete approach, with the WBA and NWSL growing more successful in the team sports sphere.
“I think now you have volleyball and you have different audiences,” Waller said. “We present another option for corporations and businesses to dive into and really find… where are the women? Where are these sporting enthusiasts that you know they’d like to get their products and services in front of?”
Walsh Jennings recalls making $1,000 a month when she was an Olympian, with a raise the last three months “and I think I was getting $1,250 a month, and they took care of my housing.” She remembers the days of teaming up with Misty May-Treanor on the U.S. AVP Tour and internationally on the FIVB World Tour.
“You get no salary, you get no guarantees,” she said. “You live and die off your prize money and after you make a name for yourself, after you win, like Misty and I were so fortunate to do, that’s when the brands show up.”
Things will be different for the PVF’s athletes, who will be encouraged to seek outside sponsorships and advertising opportunities. Jennings said that the annual base salary for Mojo players will be $60,000, with two of what are considered to be its more elite athletes getting an additional amount, likely between $20,000 and $40,000 more.
Additionally, PVF officials say its players will also be able to gain additional compensation based on achievement and postseason advancement, and notes that it is the first-ever professional league to share league revenues with players.
“There’s a big economic benefit and financial benefit for the athletes playing in this league,” Walsh Jennings said.
The PVF’s other clubs are in Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Omaha, Nebraska; Orlando and Las Vegas. The collective season gets underway in late January 2024, with the Mojo starting play Thursday, Feb. 1 at the Gas South Arena in Atlanta and then Saturday, Feb. 3 at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
San Diego’s first home game is set for Friday, Feb. 23 against Grand Rapids. Waller said the goal is for the team to regularly draw between 8,000 and 10,000 fans per game.
The Mojo’s head coach is Tayyiba Haneef-Park, a retired American indoor volleyball player who competed at the 2004 Olympics. The team’s lineup includes August Raskie, Ronika Stone, Jhenna Gabriel, Hannah Tapp, Nootsara Tomkom, Hana Lishman, Willow Johnson, Katie Lukes, Grace Loberg and Tarah Wylie.
San Diego Mojo
CO-OWNER: Kerri Walsh Jennings
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Professional Volleyball Federation (PVF) team
SOCIAL IMPACT: GM Jeremy Waller said, “It’s important for us to secure this space for the next generation of women that are going to aspire to be the athletes that they’re going to see on the court, and in these organizations and operating (in the PVF).”
NOTABLE: PVF’s PRO Collection, the first line of volleyball uniforms and apparel, is being done in partnership with REN Athletics, the largest volleyball-only apparel company in the U.S.