EVENTS & PROMOTIONS;SOLOMON'S VALLEY;AVP HITS BEACH WITH NEW IDEAS FOR INVOLVING SPONSORS, FANS

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The No. 1 men's beach volleyball group is spiking its past and serving up a new future.

Losses of sponsors and crucial broadcast time due to a flawed marketing strategy have forced the Association of Volleyball Players to refocus under the leadership of new CEO Jerry Solomon. Mr. Solomon joined the Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based AVP as executive director in July, abandoning his president's post at sports marketing agency ProServ and taking a leave of absence from P.S. StarGames, his start-up entertainment marketing company.

"In my opinion, the competition is too much of the focal point," Mr. Solomon said. "We've gotten away from the lifestyle aspect of beach volleyball, which is a major draw for both hard-core fans and fringe fans. That's how we can grow the sport."

Already, Mr. Solomon has beefed up the AVP's marketing staff and overseen the inking of a four-year deal with Liberty Sports, which allied itself with Fox Sports last month to create a nationally branded cable TV service.

The deal ensures consistent weekend TV exposure plus radio coverage for AVP games, which begin in February and will feature beach volleyball legend Karch Karaly.

The shared-risk deal with Liberty means the AVP won't get a rights fee. Instead, the AVP and Liberty will share ad revenue.

The AVP could improve its on-screen image. NBC cut the group's TV exposure to 17 viewing hours this year from 20 in 1994, and for '96, NBC will trim further to accommodate Olympics-related programming. Sponsors like Bausch & Lomb, Ford Motor Co. and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Old Spice also exited AVP programming in recent years.

Kodak now in the picture

But the AVP has applied a blue chip tourniquet by signing Eastman Kodak Co. to a national sponsorship. Kodak will use the AVP as a grass-roots vehicle to market FunSaver disposable cameras. The deal is believed to be worth upwards of $1 million a year.

More significantly, the AVP has changed the way it manages events. Previously, the AVP was sole owner of its events, but Mr. Solomon has implemented a unique franchising strategy in which events will be locally owned, organized and marketed. National sponsorship dollars will be shared with event owners.

New "vested interest" in events

"Instead of rolling in and rolling out of a market with limited pre-promotion and follow-up," he said, "we will have a permanent local ownership that has a vested interest in making their event as profitable and marketable as possible."

The AVP has sold 10 franchise licenses, at an estimated $150,000 each. Buyers include several sports marketing agencies, such as Pro-Serv and P.S. StarGames, as well as 5-S Group and Sandball Sports. The AVP Players Association has also purchased a franchise license, leaving the AVP with eight events.

Heublein's Jose Cuervo continues to own four other events.

Main marketing partners NBC Sports and Miller Brewing Co., now in its 16th year with the AVP, are encouraged.

"We're really excited with the changes and innovations Jerry has brought to the AVP," said Mark Abel, Miller's sports marketing public relations manager.

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