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AVP AIMS TO EXPAND FAN BASE FROM SUBCULTURE TO MAINSTREAM

     As the AVP begins its Miller Lite Tour schedule and looks
toward the '96 Summer Games, beach volleyball faces the dual
challenge of maintaining its core audience while trying to build
on its early success and become a prominent player in the
international sports market.  THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY recently
spoke with AVP President Jon Stevenson about the state of the
Tour and the job ahead.
     GROWING PAINS?  Stevenson responded to some critics'
assessments that the sport has "peaked."  Noting that exposure on
NBC has been critical to the success of the Tour and will help
the sport grow, Stevenson said that ratings for the "AVP on NBC"
may have flattened last year because of weaker lead-in
programming than in previous years.  Last year on NBC, the Tour's
10 events pulled down an 2.0 rating and a 6 share.  This season,
NBC has scheduled the AVP eight times from June to September,
with other events on Prime and ESPN.  Stevenson:  "We established
a solid rating to be able to sell the sport.  One of the keys to
our growth strategy has been to establish the solid network
partnership, and I think we have done that."  Stevenson said they
now have to expand the audience from their "subcultural" niche
with roots in Southern CA, to a more broadbased core.
     THE PLAN:  To be successful, the AVP has a "several- pronged
attack" based on NBC's quality production, with the aim of
continuing to create brand recognition in different markets and
build identity for the top players.  AVP will also employ a
grass-roots program, "Spike-it-Up," similar to the NBA's "Hoop-
it-Up" program -- a partnership between NBC Sports and Streetball
Partners.  New sponsor Fila will have a presence in "Spike-It-
Up."  Stevenson:  "Right now we are at such a critical time where
if we don't do the right things right now, our hard work could be
for not."
     NEW SPONSORS:  In addition to Fila, the AVP Tour has gained
new support from Kodak and Foot Action, all of which have signed
on as sponsors of the summer schedule.  Foot Action signed a deal
for one season, and has partnered with Fila to produce tour-
specific apparel.  Foot Action is also developing a TV campaign
for NBC events and will work on an in-store promotion with both
the AVP and Fila.  Rod Rens, Special Events Coordinator at Foot
Action USA, said they hope the deal will bring in returns for the
spring, summer and fall.  Rens:  "Young males are our strongest
sector, and we are happy that is the AVP's demographic, but we
also feel that the sport has a far reaching appeal to other fans.
Beach volleyball is an alternative to major league sports."  Fila
leverages their AVP sponsorship through their Vendor Support
Marketing Program.  Howe Burch, Fila's VP of Advertising and
Communications, calls the AVP an emerging sport with strong
ratings reaching an audience Fila wants to penetrate.  Burch:
"We have always had a strong appeal among the tennis crowd with
our apparel, and strong in the inner cities with our shoes.  This
could capture a young suburban audience."  Burch also said their
sponsorship is an opportunity to be affiliated with one of the
AVP's marquee players -- Kent Steffes.
     STAR APPEAL:  Fila is planning an ad campaign around Steffes
to run during NBC's coverage, despite Steffes' recent shoulder
injury, which will have him out for an indefinite period of time.
Burch said Steffes' injury is "not something we are happy about,
but it won't change our plans with him or the AVP.  He may be
back by the time of NBC telecasts, and he is such a presence on
the Tour."  Asked about the loss of Steffes, Stevenson said, "No
one player is going to spell the ultimate success or the ultimate
doom of the sport." But he acknowledged the impact, noting that
Steffes was one of the sport's ambassadors.  Stevenson said the
AVP is "trying to build an awareness of the stars of our sport,
and the personalities of our sport by building credibility for
the sport as a whole. ... We want to exemplify the fact that AVP
players are as good at what they do as any athlete in any sport."
     BEACH VOLLEYBALL GOES OLYMPIC:  In Atlanta in '96, beach
volleyball will make its debut as a medal sport.  While the
Olympics could serve as a great opportunity for the sport,
Stevenson is critical of the player selection process, noting
that the AVP "has no say in any phase of the Olympic process,
much less how the U.S. athletes are picked."  The FIVB -- the
sport's international governing body which sets the standards for
Olympic qualification -- has its own 18-event summer schedule.
Stevenson charges, "The Olympic Games are being used to leverage
the AVP players to leave their tour."  Stevenson points to the
No. 1 team of Steffes-Karch Kiraly, who were faced with playing
in FIVB special events, which would make it easier to qualify for
'96, or staying on the AVP Tour.  AVP players have a better
chance to qualify as one of the three U.S. teams in Atlanta by
playing in the FIVB events.  Still, Stevenson said he would not
stand in the way of his players' Olympic opportunity.  Stevenson:
"That is something early on we said we weren't going to do.  So
for Kent and Karch, the policy is 'go for it.'"  According to
Stevenson, Steffes' injury will likely force the top pairing to
wait and qualify for '96 through Olympic trial events next year
(THE DAILY).
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