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Flex on the beach

Donald Sun

Eighteen months may seem like a long stretch of time in many aspects of life but in the business of sports, time often seems to pass quickly.

That’s why in the Southern California offices of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, we’re heavily focused on the next year and a half, intensely determined to make the most of the run-up to the 2016 Rio Olympics and the Games themselves.

As the premier professional beach volleyball tour in the United States and a sports property with more than 30 years’ history behind us, we have come to understand just how unique a position we’re in and the extent to which we can capitalize on the excitement surrounding the beach volleyball competition in Rio. Ever since it debuted on the Olympic stage at the 1996 Atlanta Games, beach volleyball has been one of the most popular and well-attended events every four summers, with television viewership numbers through the roof. American stars have largely dominated – players like the legendary Karch Kiraly and Dain Blanton have passed the torch to Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, and of course Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor – who thanks to their three consecutive gold medals are undoubtedly the most recognizable faces and names in our sport, transcending beyond the beach to popular culture and a place as heroes to young girls everywhere.

There is no reason to doubt that interest in beach volleyball will again peak during the Rio Games, and what’s good for the sport at the Olympic level and on the international FIVB (Federation International de Volleyball) Tour can only be good for the AVP. It’s a symbiotic relationship, however – and we feel strongly that the existence of the AVP Tour makes the FIVB stronger and improves the quality of play every four years in the Olympics.

The AVP provides a strong domestic tour for American players to compete on during the spring and summer months every year – not just every four years. With some of the world’s best players filling up our brackets in tournaments across the country, the level of competition is extremely high, which makes those top three or four teams from each gender that play internationally on a regular basis that much better prepared.

Since 1996, the U.S. has won 6 of the 10 gold medals awarded in beach volleyball. Every one of those players who made it to the podium played regularly on the AVP Tour, thrilling fans from Florida to California and everywhere in between. Simply put, the AVP Tour has always been, and will continue to be, the foundation for the overwhelming success of the American teams in the Olympic Games.

The AVP under our ownership is in a unique and enviable situation. We bought the tour in 2012, two years after it had ceased operations during the depths of the worldwide financial crisis, and weren’t immediately in a position to take advantage of the spike in volleyball interest surrounding the London Olympics. But it turned out to be fortunate timing for us, because it allowed us to build the AVP’s foundation conservatively in 2013 and ’14, without feeling the pressure of having to take advantage of the Olympic cycle right away. Now that we’re entering the time period of Olympic qualification and an Olympic year, we’re in position to put in play some strategic business initiatives aimed at capitalizing on the natural increase in eyeballs on our sport.

Over the last two years, we have strived to create a positive working relationship with the FIVB, and it continues to get stronger as we work together to grow the sport. Our common goal is for beach volleyball to be a healthy, sustainable sport not just in Olympic years, but every year. We want to expand opportunities for players within the U.S. and internationally, and we work together year-round to achieve those goals.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the relationship between the AVP and the FIVB in organizing an international tournament in Florida this summer.

Looking ahead, we envision many ways that the AVP can expand its reach and continue to partner with the FIVB. Perhaps one day down the road, the AVP Tour will feature players from all over the world, and fans in New York or Chicago can see Brazilian stars or Olympic medalists from other countries playing in their own backyards.

It’s also not a stretch to look ahead to the 2024 Olympics, with the U.S. bid recently having been awarded to Boston. If the Games are awarded to the U.S., it would mark the return of the Olympics to the States for the first time since 1996 in Atlanta, when beach volleyball made its debut. As the premier professional beach volleyball organization in the host country, the AVP could look again to extend our brand and influence.

That is years down the road, though. For now, we’re laser-focused on the short window between now and next August, working tirelessly to grow our great sport and the AVP Tour.

 

Donald Sun is the Managing Partner of the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), the premier professional beach volleyball tour in the United States.

 

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