SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue

IMG, USAV near deal to start beach league

IMG and USA Volleyball are attempting to save top-level pro beach volleyball in the U.S. and are close to an agreement that would see them invest in and jointly own a new, yet-unnamed, nationwide pro beach series. The sports marketing and media company and the governing body hope to launch the series next May with four to six events through September and attract many of the sport’s top players.

Pro beach volleyball was fractured in August when the Association of Volleyball Professionals suspended its season because of financial woes. The AVP filed for bankruptcy protection Oct. 29 (see related story) and various groups have been sniffing around the AVP trademarks, listed in the filing as “value TBD.” But the IMG/USAV venture will not seek to use the AVP moniker, and officials said that while there may be some assets they’d be interested in, the name wasn’t one of them.

“We have a lot of interest in their video and photography library,” said Dave Williams, a former AVP employee who is managing director of beach programs for USA Volleyball.

Sites for the series are undetermined, but it seems certain the first event would be in one of the beach towns where the sport grew in the U.S., like Hermosa or Manhattan Beach, Calif. While no TV agreement has been finalized, officials from both are confident a deal will get done.

The move marks the first investment by USA Volleyball at the pro beach level. “We have always depended upon others in pro beach,” said David Schreff, chairman of the organization’s board of directors. “But this doesn’t exclude any other series that could develop. However, the U.S. dominates beach volleyball, in terms of FIVB events and Olympics, and to maintain that performance we have to keep growing the sport.”

Beach volleyball’s Olympic Trials for the 2012 Games will be in the U.S. for the first time since 1996, and having an elite pro league is likely a prerequisite for keeping those events in the U.S. Operating the tour doesn’t guarantee that IMG will operate the trials, but it won’t hurt its chances.

“Our intent is to stabilize the sport and maintain a glide path to the Olympics,” said James Leitz, who heads action and beach sport for IMG, which stages such events as the U.S. Open of Surfing. “The vision we have is six years long and ends with the Olympics in Brazil, where beach volleyball will be bigger than ever.”

The Leverage Agency, New York, which sold many of the AVP’s biggest deals recently, including Nivea’s title sponsorship, and was listed as being owed $260,314 in the bankruptcy filing, will sell sponsorships for the new circuit.   “The USAV support shows this isn’t something that is going away, so our job is to show the marketing community that pro beach volleyball has now stabilized,” said Leverage President Ben Sturner.

“IMG is a great operations parent and USAV has a lot of key assets with their membership base,” said Ryan Morgan, agent for some of the AVP’s top athletes, including Olympians Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers. “These are two important pieces.  Unfortunately, the sport has a history of low-level operators. Hopefully, this is the beginning of that changing.”

Morgan said neither he, nor his players, had made any formal commitments to the nascent beach league as of yet.

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