BEIJING (Reuters) - Beach volleyball’s popularity has created something of a love-hate relationship with television.
The highly-photogenic sport has been a winner for broadcasters at the Olympics, where according to the International Olympic Committee it accumulated 3.5 billion television viewer hours during the Athens Games.
In turn that has raised the profile of beach volleyball, inspired more countries to build up teams, and lured in sponsors.
The downside is that broadcasters start to demand games be played to fit their schedules and in a style that makes better television.
In Beijing, the semi-finals and finals will be played in the morning to catch the all-important evening prime time viewing in the United States and Brazil, where beach volleyball has a wide following.
This year, officials have also tightened up the enforcement of a 1999 rule that players must serve within 12 seconds of the last point ending - a decision some players put down to broadcasting needs.
“It’s a very dynamic sport and the international rules have been changed for television,” said Australia’s Natalie Cook, who has competed in every Olympics since beach volleyball joined the Games in 1996 and won the gold medal in Sydney.
Quicker turnarounds make for faster-paced television but are not easy on the players, particularly in Beijing.
“The more time you have between points, the more you can recover from the last point and get some water. It’ll be tough on the players in such hot and humid conditions,” said Brazil’s Renata Ribeiro.
For all the time pressure television piles on, players also hope that their moment in the media sun will help bring in more cash for courts, training and prizes as well as educate people about the sport.
“There’s still an element of people thinking it’s all about bikinis,” said Cook. “But once they actually watch a match, they realize how dynamic and athletic it is so they stay and stop talking about sex.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury