SBJ/April 22-28, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Back to the beach as AVP relaunches

A year after Donald Sun acquired the rights to the AVP, the son of a California billionaire is resurrecting the tour with five stops featuring some of the top athletes in beach volleyball.

The tour will visit Salt Lake City; Cincinnati; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach, Calif., between August and October. It will feature top men’s players such as Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers and top female players such as Kerri Walsh and Olympic silver medalists Jennifer Kessy and April Ross. The players have already committed to participate, according to AVP Chairman Dick Carle.

Jennifer Kessy (left) and April Ross, and — bottom photo — Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser (diving) are among the players who have committed to the tour.
Photos by: GETTY IMAGES
Sun, a California businessman and son of the billionaire founder of the tech company Kingston Technology, has hired Wasserman Media Group to manage event operations and sponsorship sales and to do strategic consulting. Volleyball maker Wilson is the tour’s only existing sponsor, but sources said the agency is looking for sponsors in several categories and asking for $200,000 to $400,000 a year.

In addition to looking for sponsors, sources said AVP organizers have been in discussions with CBS Sports Network about broadcasts. Carle declined to comment on the AVP’s media plans but said he hopes to close a deal with a broadcaster in the coming weeks.

The five-stop AVP tour is the most concerted effort yet to bring beach volleyball back to the U.S. The AVP was founded in 1983, and its popularity surged after beach volleyball became a marquee Olympic sport in 2004. By 2008, it held more than 30 events and generated annual revenue of nearly $25 million. But the tour folded in 2010 and filed for bankruptcy protection.

While the AVP sat in bankruptcy, USA Volleyball and IMG collaborated to launch a volleyball tour with title sponsorship from Jose Cuervo, and the National Volleyball League was launched with backing from Molly Menard, daughter of John Menard, founder of the Menards home improvement chain.

Sun’s company, AOS Group, reportedly paid $2 million for the AVP name after bankruptcy procedures ended. He hosted an event in Santa Barbara last year after the Olympics and promised to hold six events this year. Carle said that instead they will start with five and look to double and possibly triple that ahead of the Rio Olympics in 2016.

“Our goal is to popularize the sport and increase the amount of people that have an interest in it,” Carle said. “That’s going to be an evolutionary thing. It won’t happen overnight.”

Bringing the AVP brand back won’t be easy. In the wake of its bankruptcy, long-standing sponsors said the brand was too tarnished to be revived. John Paul Mitchell Systems marketer Julie Solwold said, “I don’t think sponsors will buy anything owned or managed by the AVP.”

Carle said the tour will try to overcome that by offering sponsors “branded content” opportunities that weren’t available for sponsors of the previous iteration of the AVP. As for the public, he thinks most are unaware that the AVP wound up in bankruptcy a few years ago. He added that the tour has the financial support from Sun necessary to rebuild and attract fans who forgot about it in recent years.

“We have a very passionate owner who loves the sport and is looking to grow it over the long term,” Carle said. “He has the financial background to enable us to not do what yesteryear’s AVP did. We don’t have to chase money. We can make investments aimed at the long term rather than satisfy shareholder concerns.”
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