Anaheim Council Approves Contract With USA Volleyball Despite Mayor’s Objections

The United States women's national team playing in a tournament in Anaheim. (Photo credit: Jay Metzger/USA Volleyball)

The home base of the U.S. National Volleyball teams will remain in Anaheim for at least the next several years as the City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a four-year agreement with Visit Anaheim and USA Volleyball worth $1.53 million in cash subsidies and rent discounts.

The contract — which passed on a 3-2 vote with Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt voting no — requires USA Volleyball to hold four championship events in Anaheim, host annual volleyball clinics for Anaheim youth, and appear at civic functions up to 20 times a year.

Visit Anaheim, which promotes business in the Anaheim resort district, will manage the relationship between the city and USA Volleyball. The $1.3 million included in contract would also pay for advertising and promotional opportunities for the city on the team’s website, and 30-second commercials for Anaheim during some television broadcasts of both men’s and women’s national team matches.

Anaheim’s decade-long distinction as the host city of USA Volleyball was briefly in question after Tait raised questions at a council meeting in August about whether the city should sponsor a national sports team when that money could go toward services for residents, such as youth sports programs.

That prompted USA Volleyball chairman Lori Okimura to tell The Orange County Register last week that the team would move out the national teams as well as its 2020 championship event out of Anaheim if the deal wasn’t signed.

“Anaheim is now known (globally) as more than just the place where Disneyland is,” Okimura told the Register. “It’s known for volleyball and that stands to be lost if the national teams don’t stay.”

Tait, an outspoken critic in recent years of city subsidies for private purposes, voiced his skepticism Tuesday of whether Southern California Volleyball Association and other groups, as well as volleyball tournaments held at the Anaheim Convention Center, would all uproot and follow the national teams out of Anaheim.

“Everything is a choice…and we have to decide what our priorities are,” said Tait. “My job is primarily to look after the interests of the residents, to provide sporting opportunities for them and facilities where they can become future Olympians themselves.”

Meanwhile, members of the council majority, said the tax dollars spent on USA Volleyball come back to the city through contributions to the community and tax dollars generated from new volleyball events and organizations that have followed the team to Anaheim.

“It’s not a subsidy, it’s been an investment that’s had a return, not just in terms of direct dollars but…in commitments to our schools, particularly to at-risk youth,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray.

Karch Kiraly, the coach of the national women’s team, which won a bronze medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, highlighted the team’s work in the Starlings program, where players help coach underprivileged girls who can’t afford club volleyball fees.

“It’s a real focus of ours to have some of the best players in the world coaching some of the fine young girls of Anaheim, and being mentors to them,” Kiraly said. “They are a tremendous role model for our kids.”

Although the men’s team has trained in Anaheim since 2006, and the women’s team since 2009, the contract approved Tuesday is the first that has required USA Volleyball to host events in Anaheim.

The city claims in a staff report that those events will generate more than 21,000 new visitors and $652,000 in new hotel tax revenue.

The city would also have the “the right of first negotiation” for the boys and girls junior national volleyball championships from 2021 to 2024, which city officials claim could generate $3.9 million in tax revenue, should the city be selected to host the events.

The city has spent, on average, $351,331 a year on its contract with USA Volleyball. The new contract, which includes a $325,000 annual cash payment, would actually save the city money, according to the staff report.

The deal also includes a 50 percent discount on rent for training space (worth up to $150,000 over the four-year term), and up to $82,000 in rent discounts for the 2020 USA Volleyball Open National Championships, to be held at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Some residents questioned why the same investment has not gone toward youth sports, after-school programs and city parks and recreational facilities.

“It’s a hassle just for my own son to play basketball. He’s on the waiting list – for the city I coach in – for YMCA basketball because we need more gyms,” said Alfonso Rodriguez, who has coached at Anaheim High School.

Anaheim Union High School District trustee Al Jabbar suggested the city fund the program through private sponsorships, and instead invest in youth sports programs.

“I’d like to see [the city] ask some of the businesses who received tax subsidies in the past, to come out and support a program like this,” Jabbar said. “Maybe we could consider investing that money into…a partnership between the city and the schools to fund sports – we could make it onto the map that way too.”

Murray rejected the argument that the contract with USA Volleyball takes money away from other programs.

“Pitting USA Volleyball against at-risk youth programs is a mischaracterization and a falsehood,” said Murray. “This isn’t about whether we continue to do all that, or fund this program — this would generate even more revenue without having to go to residents on taxes and fees,”

The $1.3 million cash subsidy would come out of the Convention, Sports and Entertainment enterprise fund.

Although revenue typically flows back into the fund to pay for the operation of the Convention Center, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center, the money in question is not dedicated and could be spent on other purposes, according Tom Morton, executive director of the Convention, Sports and Entertainment department.

Tait said staff’s estimates of the economic benefits of the program – and the potential downsides if USA Volleyball decides to relocate – were based on questionable calculations.

“What if these people stay at one of the new subsidized hotels? There are a lot of assumptions we have [to make] to get to that $650,000” in revenue, Tait said.

“We charge little leagues and basketball leagues and soccer leagues for use of our fields…it seems backwards, that we charge our kids for the sports most can’t afford, and yet we are subsidizing USA Volleyball,” Tait added.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring said Tait was suggesting the city turn down all the benefits associated with hosting the national volleyball teams based on a false premise – that the city could not do both at once.

“This is such a win-win-win, I can’t believe we spent an hour on this,” Kring said.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.