There are hundreds of people building, directing, planning, executing, and delivering to make an AVP tournament happen. Some workers are hired locally, some work all year round, and some are contracted for each individual event. People like DJ Roueche and Mark Schuermann, our two photographers Mpu Dinani and Robert Beck, and Producer Kelly Reed.
Kelly and I met years ago in the DJ Booth. She’s charming and funny, super smart and really good at her job. She’s from Chicago, a die-hard Cubs fan with a South Side accent that I’d been missing since my college days in Pilsen, Illinois. Kelly’s my kind of people – a lot of fun and smart with a fair bit of trouble. Ever since Hawaii 2018, when Mark Schuermann finally shared our contacts (we assume he waited because he worried we would get into too much trouble… We didn’t…), Kelly and I have been great buds.
Kelly’s an AVP OG; she’s been producing the Tour since 2006 with her production company, Van Wagner. She was an indoor volleyball fan but didn’t know much about beach volleyball production. “I had no clue what I was getting into,” she admits. But 14 years later – Kelly’s a staple on Tour. “It’s one of my babies because it is work, but it’s fun.”
Kelly’s other events span the sport’s gamut. She’s been with the Kentucky Derby and Pac-12 for six years, the Rose Bowl since 2015, the NFL Pro Bowl off and on since 2007, and the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championships since 2006, among others. Most of these clients are multi-year shoe-ins that have cultivated a relationship based on trust in Kelly’s proficiency as a producer. But the AVP is rival to none.
“I love the ownership in Donald and Steph [Sun],” she says. “They let us do us. They let me try things that others might not be so willing to… We have fun, and I think the fans can feel it.” Before I officially met Kelly but knew who she was, I was sneaking a peek at Mark up in the DJ Booth and caught Kelly all-out dancing (not in rhythm; sorry, Kel) to DJ Roueche’s beats.
That’s why an AVP event is so fun and unlike any other – the staff are just having as much fun as you are. “I’m fortunate to have a team that goes along with my shenanigans,” Kelly says. “From Mark and Jeremy (DJ Roueche) to interns and sponsors and Amazon Talent. We’ll get everybody involved. That’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with it for the last 14 years; they let me be me and try anything. That’s where I’m best.”
In a typical live sports producer role, everything is scripted down to the second. Along with being a more relaxed environment in general (with half your fans wearing bathing suits and all your staff sporting bare feet), AVP days are long, offering plenty of opportunities to get what you need in. “I love the format,” Kelly says, “because I thrive in one that’s not so structured. It’s fly by the seat of your pants.”
There are things Kelly just intrinsically knows from her 14 years of experience. Like which sponsor ad to play before a match because one of their athletes is on Stadium. Or which media day shenanigan she should run when the crowd is restless. Or when The Wave will be the most fun. It’s based on gut.
While the AVP is her longest and dearest client, Kelly loves all the events she does. Mostly because she’s made them her own. “I have somehow whittled my clients to the ones I work best with, so basically the ones that let me be me,” she laughs. “Which includes the Derby. When I started, they didn’t have a video board or producer. So I got to invent the entertainment there. I got the bugler to do “Name that Bugle Tune,” and he’s off playing Taylor Swift and Jason Derulo.
“Even the football and basketball games I produce,” she continues, “the clients allow me to be creative and come up with stuff. The Rose Bowl is the most traditional event I do. And I’ve still gotten them to loosen up a little bit and trust me. I gravitate towards the clients and events that are willing to take creative risks.”
The AVP is an unstructured environment, but it’s not unorganized. Kelly manages it better than most fully-scripted events. She is so impressive on-site, simultaneously talking to the TV truck and Mark while the Cubs play on her laptop somewhere nearby while still having a full conversation with me. Her brain is a jungle gym of knowledge and multitasking like I’ve never seen.
Here’s the list of Producer Kelly’s responsibilities
- Her company,Van Wagner, shoots and edits all video board content and graphics from intros to shenanigans to sponsorship.
- Kelly plans and executes all court games, typically for sponsorship. Like Drake’s Dizzy Bat or the Shark Week Dance Off. Basically, all the entertainment apart from the actual volleyball is Kelly’s brain.
- Every tournament, Kelly gets two interns, whom she lovingly dubs minions. She teaches them the ins and outs of producing. They see her more technical job, but they also learn how to make decisions on the fly, handle talent, and choose fans from the audience to participate.
- From an administrative perspective, Kelly’s team includes DJ Roueche, and Mark. Though she’s technically supposed to be the boss on-site, Kelly, Mark, and Jeremy have been together for so long, everything is mutual and they rely on each other for advice and direction. They are the Dream Team. They see each other as equals. Their mutual respect works more like thirds of a whole rather than a hierarchy.
- Producer Kelly is the link from the DJ Booth to the TV Trucks to the Amazon Prime Booth. She’s on headset talking to NBC and Amazon, keeping DJ Roueche apprised of the next segment and cueing Mark to start intros at the precise moment. This is the most technical part of her job – when she’s on headset talking to five groups of people, and her cues take us live on NBC.
- A bunch of other stuff that is too numerous to enumerate.
Kelly’s ability to juggle all this while still being creative distinguishes her from the crowd. “Because of her flexibility,” Announcer Mark Schuermann says, “she’s the best live sports producer in the world. Most producers aren’t used to doing that.
“What makes her so good,” he continues, “is that ego isn’t a part of it; she does what’s right for the moment. And she tries new things and realizes that more good can happen than bad.”
Mark is also impressed with Kelly’s people skills. “Her ability to work with all different types of people – personalities, language, everything – is key. And she’s just so nice to everybody, but still does what she needs to do.”
This is a skill that’s landed Kelly in jobs all over the planet. Pre-Covid, Kelly traveled more days than she didn’t. Places like Switzerland and Thailand, Hong Kong and Rio. In fact, Rio has to do with one of her favorite AVP memories.
“One of my favorite days ever was during the AVP Chicago after Rio,” she says. “We were on such a high.” Mark, Kelly, and DJ Roueche were all a part of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. “I remember I was on headset, trying to make a call on what we’d do for the next timeout. I was mid-sentence when I heard Jeremy play one of the songs from Rio. And I go, ‘Everybody, stop! We are dancing!’ I got the entire DJ booth to pogo.” Mpu, the AVP photographer, caught this on video; it’s the perfect visual representation of the party-like atmosphere that’s routine for the DJ Booth residents. “But it’s so hard to pin down one memory because we have so much fun.
“It’s a travel family. It’s work, but it’s social too. Out of all my clients, it’s the one I wouldn’t give up.”