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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

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.
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.”

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

NBA partners are turning to the NBA’s postseason to push products overseas, with what league officials say is a record number of global promotions tied to the playoffs and Finals this year.

“Across the board, we have seen unprecedented activation by our partners internationally,” said Emilio Collins, senior vice president of global marketing partnerships for the NBA.

The overseas efforts include KFC running an in-store promotion in more than 200 of its restaurants in the Philippines, where fans who buy select KFC meals can win a trip to this year’s Finals.

In China, Harbin Beer is running a basketball-themed social media game throughout the postseason on Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ, the country’s leading social media platforms. Additionally, Sprite is launching a spot on CCTV in China featuring Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

In Europe, Foot Locker is running an online sweepstakes for fans to win a trip to this year’s Finals. Friuli Venezia Giulia, the NBA’s official tourist destination in Italy, is running a 30-second spot on Sky Italia throughout the playoffs and Finals.

Also internationally, NBA partner Adidas is using the playoffs to promote the tipoff of its 3-on-3 basketball tournaments that are played in 11 countries throughout the spring and summer.

Domestically, State Farm is debuting new spots tied to its “Assist” campaign featuring Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul across all NBA TV assets.

BBVA has scheduled a new spot to run throughout the postseason promoting its new online banking product, while American Express is offering a ticket promotion to card members for postseason games through its social media channels. The company also is offering merchandise discounts on for card members using its Sync service.

Sprint is continuing its backboard cam promotion, in which fans can access photos from a backboard camera though Twitter handle @NBABackboardcam.

League partner Cisco plans to debut a spot on featuring an NBA player (who was still to be named as of last week), and Disney will promote its upcoming movie “The Lone Ranger” during ESPN’s coverage of the Western Conference Finals.

Taco Bell is running a new in-store promotion selling an NBA-themed Big Box meal, and league sponsor Bacardi is activating a national retail promotion in about 2,000 grocery and liquor stores with a sweepstakes to win a trip to the Finals. The company, in an effort to promote its new Pineapple Fusion product, also is creating a branded video player on that will allow fans to mix in-game highlights.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore was in New York last week as NBC Sports Group announced its coverage plans for the league’s 2013-14 season, the first year of a new three-year, $250 million broadcast deal. All 380 matches during the season, which begins in August, will be carried over NBC’s networks and digital platforms. NBC

Sports Network will have 154 matches on Saturday and Sunday mornings and Monday afternoons. NBC will broadcast 20 Saturday matches, primarily with noon ET starts. Games also will be shown on USA Network and CNBC.
Soccer reporter Christopher Botta spoke with Scudamore about the Premier League, about NBC and about the growth of soccer in the United States, a market he called “crucial” for his league.
“I’m privileged enough to do business in 212 countries,” Scudamore said of the league’s worldwide span. “In China, there might be 1.2 billion people; in India, there may be 1.3 billion. But no country consumes sports like the U.S.”

The NBC Sports Group executives said you pushed them to deliver their best for coverage in the U.S. Can you provide more specifics about your requests of them?

At the media event (from left): NBC Sports’ Jon Miller, Scudamore, and NBC Sports’ Mark Lazarus and Sam Flood.
SCUDAMORE: To be very candid, our rights are sold, normally, to the highest bidder. Besides the economic terms, what was very important to us in the U.S. was the strategic nature of the exposure of our league on the network. The U.S. sports broadcasting market is a crowded place. If you’re going to make strides, as we want to continue to in the U.S., you have to make an impact.
It’s not like we were unhappy with our current partners (Fox and ESPN), but these guys at NBC — I’ve never been as impressed as I was by the strategy they put together with all of the networks. We were knocked out by the presentation they made to us in England about their level of commitment to broadcast our matches.

Your league is seen as strong both financially and popularly, so in what areas does the league need to improve?

We focus first on quality of play: attracting the world’s top talent and making sure our facilities are as good and as safe as possible. The challenge for us right now is attendance. Economic times in the U.K. have not been great, and there’s a large amount of people for whom going to one of our matches is an important part of life. But there are cost constraints, so we’re always looking for ways to fill every stadium.

MLS has a stated goal of being one of the top soccer leagues in the world by 2022. What is your view of MLS, and do you believe that goal is reachable?

Richard Scudamore
SCUDAMORE: I’m a big admirer of (Commissioner) Don Garber and Major League Soccer. To me, you can see the strides they’ve made in the last few years just by watching their matches. The quality of play on the pitch is often superb — a big leap from the league’s earlier days. I believe Don and his team can definitely reach their goal, and I know the Barclays Premier League would welcome that. In fact, if MLS or any of the other leagues become more successful than us, that would be fine with me, too. What’s good for soccer is good for all of us.

There is a feeling in the U.S. that after a few starts and stops, the popularity of soccer as a spectator sport has finally taken off. Do you agree with that?

SCUDAMORE: Yes, and it comes from various directions. There are now a lot of middle-aged adults who played soccer as kids in school. That makes the interest wider. The success of the U.S. women’s team internationally has made a big impact. The commitment of many of the broadcasters, including NBC, Fox and ESPN, to show the World Cup qualifiers, MLS matches and many of the world’s top leagues plays a role, too. It all goes into the melting pot that has sparked interest in the game at levels we’ve never seen before in the U.S.

Sports broadcasting in the U.S. over the last decade has brought a lot of increased access: microphones on coaches and players, and cameras in team meeting rooms. Your league, for the most part, has held the line. Do you ever see that changing?

SCUDAMORE: I cannot honestly say that you will see cameras in our locker rooms. We leave it up to the discretion of the teams to decide what they will allow. Keep in mind that we have hundreds of broadcast partners with our games. If we open the doors to one, like NBC, we can have quite the problem on our hands with the others. But there’s another thing: There’s still a mystery to what goes on in our locker room, and I think there is something special about that.

NBA Commissioner David Stern recently returned from his first trip to India. The twofold mission of the trip: Help grow the sport of basketball in that country and help develop the NBA’s brand there as well.

NBA Commissioner David Stern reached out to Indian children at a clinic.
Stern’s public agenda included an April 8 NBA Cares event in Mumbai held in conjunction with television partner Multi Screen Media. Also on April 8 he met with the six full-time employees working out of the NBA’s Mumbai office. The following day, Stern took in an IPL cricket match, appearing on a world television broadcast from the match. On April 10, he spent much of the day doing one-on-one interviews with top Indian media outlets.

Throughout the trip, he met with current and prospective business partners. He also visited such historic sites as the Gateway of India landmark.

Stern shares here his take-aways from the April 7-11 trip — about the country and about what he sees as the NBA’s opportunities there.

This was your first trip to India. What were your impressions?

STERN: The people there are unfailingly interesting and proud of their heritage. They were very pleased that somebody from an American sports league was visiting them and interested in the development of our sport in their country. They are in the third-largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. Their growth has slowed down a bit — it is only at 5 percent — [but that] is a number that the U.S. and other countries would like to emulate. Their private sector is focusing on becoming an important part of the world economy.

Stern visited landmarks like the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
Why did you go now, and what was your goal?

STERN: We have a six-person office in India that we formally opened in 2011. It now works to support three NBA games a week that we broadcast on television in India. It works to support clinics and it works to support [league partner] Adidas, which has a couple of hundred stores there. And it works on bringing current and former [NBA players] to India.

I was there for a clinic event with an outfit called Magic Bus, which is a non-governmental group that uses sports to teach life values to kids. I also spent time with our Sony Six [television partner] people and other potential partners both for the website and sponsorship relationships. And I got the opportunity to go to an IPL game.

The other thing we did was meet with private-sector representatives who are very anxious to see India’s young population engaged in activities that contribute to exercise, fitness, better health and teamwork. There is a great amount of interest in basketball as one of many things that can be helpful. We have restored eight courts and are engaged in 500 Indian schools, but being frank as I can be, a drop in the bucket overstates it. The size and opportunity are so large, and we have to figure out a way to approach it in a systematic way. It has the capacity to be a very important NBA market.

What was your message to the staff at the league office?

STERN: I told them what I told them when I hired them — that is, that the NBA is committed to international growth and that our game travels so well. It distinguishes us from many other sports. … What I told them was that some number of years ago, we had nobody working on international, and now we have several hundred people working on international, and it can only go in one direction because revenues will continue to increase. We would not staff an office there unless we were committed.

Talk about your experience at the NBA Cares event. Were the kids you visited with at that event well-versed with the NBA? Did they know who you were?

STERN: Absolutely. The kids on the court were wearing all kinds of NBA counterfeit [merchandise]. They were crowding in and knew exactly who they were pushing around — and it was great fun. The people were well aware that the head of the NBA was there.

How was your IPL experience? Had you seen a cricket event before?

It was great; 50,000 people in a vibrant stadium to cheer on the Mumbai Indians against the Delhi Daredevils. It was my first cricket match and it was a blast. The sport has been reformulated by the IPL and it is now a match that goes for three hours instead of five days. It gets record television ratings, and there were other activities that I recognized, with shooting smoke and fog, cheerleaders, loud music, and large video boards. It is a totally engaged fan base with record numbers watching on television. The good news from our perspective is that our games are on the same networks as the IPL.

Stern, with CEO Matthew Spacie (left) of the nonprofit Magic Bus and Manjit Singh, CEO of Sony-owned Multi Screen Media, launched an NBA Cares program in India on April 8.
Talk about India within the global economy. Is there capital and deal flow there?

STERN: There is capital and deal flow. They have a robust movie industry in Bollywood. The Times of India is the largest circulation newspaper in the world. But the retail environment is challenging, from what I can read. There are 200 Adidas stores, whereas in China there are 6,000. We see that as an opportunity. E-commerce is very slowly developing. Television is beginning to hit its stride, with 140 million households out of a population of 1.2 billion. The Internet is growing in adoption but there isn’t bandwidth to keep up with the interest, and huge investments are being made to increase capacity. Cell phone adoption is accelerating, and now they need the 4G capacity to go with the acceleration. It is not unfamiliar to us based on our experiences in China, Africa, even in Europe and Southeast Asia.

What about the overall technology and the state of the work force there?

STERN: Bangalore is a huge center of technology. There is an increasing investment in the technology sector. There is a strong sense that it is an economy that they very much want to put on a global stage. Car sales there did not keep pace from previous years, and there is some concern about that, but from my experience, that is not exactly a horrible thing given the traffic. There are aspects that are first-world and second-world, depending on the partial stages of development. There is a strong sense that as an economy, India very much wants to take its place on a global stage. There are some complaints from citizens about gridlock in their government, but all I can tell them is that I feel their pain.

What’s your take on the IMG Reliance partnership in India [with an effort to develop basketball at all levels in the country], and how does it impact the NBA’s effort in the country?

STERN: I met with representatives from the relationship to talk about ways to grow the sport. My focus is, how do we grow the sport? It is not slapping together a league. We know firsthand how difficult it is to have a successful league on a global basis.

What about facility development?

STERN: It is absolutely undeveloped. There is no arena infrastructure. There is a cricket infrastructure with large stadiums, and there will be some for soccer — but for us, there are small gymnasiums. The private sector came to us and wanted to talk about arena development. Our preference is to talk about game development at the youth level.

Do you see NBA teams ever playing a preseason game there?

STERN: We have had some suggestions that given the increased size of our NBA Development League that maybe there are squads we could send that would showcase how exciting our game is. But right now, we have no such plans.

How will the NBA continue its grassroots basketball development efforts there?

STERN: It needs to be scaled and it needs to be scaled in a hurry because the opportunity is so large. This is an area where I will spend time when I step down as commissioner [in February] because the growth of the NBA on a global basis is something I am committed to now and will always be committed.