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New women's pro volleyball league just doubled its funding, thanks to famous investors

League One Volleyball has signed U.S. Olympians such as (from left) Justine Wong-Orantes, Jordan Thompson and Jordyn Poulter. The three are seen here during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where they won gold.
Toru Hanai
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League One Volleyball has signed U.S. Olympians such as (from left) Justine Wong-Orantes, Jordan Thompson and Jordyn Poulter. The three are seen here during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where they won gold.

More and more people are putting more and more money into women's sports. Need proof? League One Volleyball just brought in $35 million in its second round of fundraising — more than doubling the money invested in the startup league.

Investors comprise a roster of bold-face names, such as Amy Schumer — who played high school volleyball — and Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum. The league's earlier series A funding round, which included tennis legend Billie Jean King, raised some $16.75 million.

It's the latest sign of growing momentum and interest in women's professional sports, particularly volleyball. Two months ago, more than 92,000 people watched the University of Nebraska women's volleyball team play at the school's football stadium — setting a world record for attendance at a women's sporting event.

Women's volleyball is seen as a ripe business opportunity: Despite producing elite athletes and competing at the highest levels internationally, the U.S. is an outlier because it doesn't have a women's full-season pro league, compared to other top countries such as Brazil, Japan and Turkey.

Big-name investors have bought in

Along with Schumer and Tatum, recent investors in League One Volleyball, or LOVB, include alpine skiing legend Lindsey Vonn, WNBA superstar Candace Parker and Linda Henry, who is a partner in the Fenway Sports Group.

Also taking part are comedian and actress Chelsea Handler and NBA star Kevin Durant, who increased an earlier investment.

Since unveiling LOVB two years ago, the new league's founders have been building it from the ground up, starting with the sport's youngest players and the pros: LOVB's youth operation currently includes more than 1,100 youth teams and 43 clubs, in 21 states.

League One Volleyball will start play next year

The league's players include a number of Olympians, such as Tokyo gold medalists Kelsey Robinson Cook, Jordyn Poulter, Jordan Thompson, Haleigh Washington and Justine Wong-Orantes.

The new pro league is set to start preseason play in November 2024 — months after U.S. women's volleyball will get a chance to shine at the Summer Olympics in Paris, where they will be the defending champions.

Six pro teams will compete in LOVB, with one unnamed city set to join Atlanta, Houston, Madison, Wis., Omaha, Neb., and Salt Lake City.

The full season will begin in January 2025, with a championship final set for April of that year.

LOVB is one of several new women's pro leagues

Athletes Unlimited Volleyball was first out of the gate among several new pro indoor volleyball leagues. It follows an unconventional format, where team lineups shift and organizers diverge from traditional rules to inject excitement into the competition during a brief tournament-style season.

Other volleyball leagues are being built to run more like existing pro sports. That includes the Pro Volleyball Federation, whose big-name signings and prominent investors make it the main competitor of LOVB.

The Pro Volleyball Federation is set to start playing early next year in Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Orlando, Fla.; San Diego; and Omaha. A team in Dallas is set to join for the following season.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell
Bill Chappell is a writer, reporter and editor, and a leader on NPR's flagship digital news team. He has frequently contributed to NPR's audio and social media platforms, including hosting dozens of live shows online.
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