On August 16, 2010, the Association of Volleyball Professionals folded. For beach volleyball players and fans across the country, it was a huge blow to moral, but for Canyon Ceman, the CFO of the AVP and former top-ranked beach volleyball standout, it meant the loss of his job and his passion.
With a Stanford undergraduate degree and an MBA from UCLA, Canyon thought it would be easy to find another job in sports entertainment. That didn’t happen, so the Manhattan Beach, Calif., volleyball-raised Ceman uprooted his Southern California beach-loving family and moved them to Stamford, Conn., to pursue an opportunity as a bond trader at a hedge fund company. The position didn’t work out, but it did eventually lead to his new job.
Since March 2012, Ceman has been the Senior Director of Talent Development for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Yes, the one that hosts Raw and Smackdown with names like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, John Cena, CM Punk, and The Big Show.
“There are a lot of similarities between WWE and the world of pro beach volleyball,” said the 40-year-old Ceman. “They are world-class athletes with adventurous spirits, who are pursuing a passion and an unconventional life.”
Ceman now travels to major athletic events like the Olympic Games, the World’s Strongest Man Competition in Los Angeles, the NCAA Wrestling Championships, or the National Track and Field Championships to “look for big, strong, athletic, and charismatic men and athletic and attractive women with big personalities that can become sports entertainment stars.”
He hasn’t recruited anyone yet from the volleyball world, but he said he is looking. If he was going to pick from the current pro stars, Ceman said the ones that stand out are Sean Scott and Austin Rester. “They have the strong, athletic bodies and fiery personalities necessary to be considered to be part of the WWE.”
Ceman, a collegiate All-American setter, led Stanford to the 1992 NCAA Finals and was the 1993 National Collegiate Player of the Year. After college, he spent 15 years on the AVP tour. He ranked in the top 10 for 10 years, won eight times on the pro tour and completed his MBA in 2005 with a specialty in entrepreneurial studies and finance.
Ceman said he owes his WWE talent job to his wife Kimberly, who he met on a Las Vegas March Madness basketball party weekend in 2004 where Stanford alumni and friends gathered each year. In Stamford Kimberly met a woman named Jane Geddes at the day care center where the Ceman children, Cayenne (5) and Caden (3) attended, along with Geddes’ children with partner, Gigi Fernandez, a former professional tennis player. Geddes, a former professional golfer, had moved to Stamford for her new job as WWE Vice President of Talent Relations. In casual conversation, Geddes mentioned to Kimberly that she was looking for a talent development executive to join her team, and of course, Kimberly immediately thought of her husband who wanted badly to get back into sports entertainment.
Kimberly’s friendship with Geddes led to an interview with the WWE and Ceman’s current position. In his short time with the WWE Ceman has been amazed as to what goes into being a successful professional wrestler. Particularly, the needed footwork and timing that goes into every match. “Our athletes have to be able to think on their feet and have the intelligence to handle so much more than the average person realizes,” he said.
Through the job, he now acts more like a collegiate athletic director. He helps oversee an 80-person WWE training program in Florida, which includes six to eight coaches, to develop talent so they will be ready to appear at WWE events across the globe.
While Ceman hasn’t met the legendary Vince McMahon, he does work regularly with Triple H and his wife, Stephanie McMahon, who is Vince’s daughter. He is also involved with famous wrestling names like Dusty Rhodes, Jerry Briscoe, Jim Ross, and William Regal in his role of helping find the best talent to go onto being WWE stars. He wondered whether the WWE brass would be interested in his background and says he has found so much in common with the various administrators.
After being Southern Californians all their lives, Ceman and his family are enjoying the change of pace moving to the East Coast has brought. “Our family loves Connecticut. We have really strong communities and schools, beautiful waterfront scenery with trees everywhere, and a passion for sports. We enjoy exploring our new surroundings,” he said. “On any given night or weekend, I can take a 45-minute train to New York City or drive a few hours to Newport, Rhode Island or Cape Cod or Washington D.C or the Jersey Shore. It’s all new and exciting.”
While Ceman misses being part of pro beach volleyball management, he has still found time to play in a couple of pro tournaments during the summer. He played at Belmar Beach in late June with Vincent Robbins and took 17th place, and came home in August to play Manhattan Beach with Mark Kerins.
“If you ask me the biggest difference between the AVP and the WWE, it is the AVP averaged 300,000 unique web hits a month, while the WWE gets more than 13 million,” said Ceman. “Everything else stems from the size and passion of the WWE audience – $500 million in revenue for WWE, $13 million for AVP. WWE worth $700 million, AVP bankrupt.”
Pretty soon some of Canyon Ceman’s world-wide talent finds will be part of the WWE story lines for the future. Perhaps he will even find a WWE champion from the international volleyball community.
Originally published in January 2013