Grassroots Membership Program the Key to AVP Turnaround

AVP

The Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) is a 36-year old brand with a storied history, but one that had fallen on tough times (particularly after the 2008 economic downturn). Donald Sun (a lifelong fan of the sport) acquired the company in 2012 with the intention of “building it back to what it was” – a profitable business endeavor. Sun explained that under previous ownership “the AVP turned into a big roadshow. It was sponsorship based – if you build it, hope and pray they will come – and of course that didn’t work. To build a sustainable sports league you need to build a fan base and to do that you need to provide opportunities for those fans to be associated with the brandOver the last seven years we’ve worked to grow the sport at the grassroots level (there are now over 2,000+ outdoor volleyball events nationwide flying under the AVP flag) and have begun to develop that cult following.

Howie Long-Short: When Sun bought the AVP back in ’12 (for $2 million), the brand hadn’t turned a profit in 14 years (it did manage to file bankruptcy twice). Sun explained that the last ownership group was always “chasing dollars”, so he wanted to build a business around recurring revenue streams – like memberships – that would provide long-term stability. They’re off to a good start, there are currently “hundreds of thousands” of participants and supporters alike paying a $20 annual fee to be a member of the organization.

Ticket sales, sponsorships and licensing (think: ball deal with Wilson) are the other key revenue streams for the AVP. Ticketing revenues are up +15%-20% YoY since 2012. Sun attributes the growth to consistency in the schedule and the efforts the organization has made to improve the game-day experience (think: kid zone, food trucks, beer gardens). The AVP managing director said he hopes to be able to build up the brand’s merchandising and content arms “over the next few years”, but acknowledges they’ll “have to increase the size of the fan base first” to draw interest. The tour has broadcast deals in place with both NBC and Amazon, but it’s difficult to believe that either is impacting the top line.

Amateur events are not a revenue play for the AVP (i.e. they’re not collecting registration fees). In fact, the AVP isn’t even putting on most of the 2,000+ tournaments referenced – they’re often done in partnership with a local promoter looking to leverage an affiliation with the brand. Instead, the AVP sees these tournaments as a member benefit. Players participating in AVP branded tournaments are required to be members of the association.

Fan Marino: The AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour will make its annual stop in Manhattan this weekend (at Pier 52 in Hudson River Park) for the 2019 New York City Open. The tour has a few recognizable names within volleyball circles (think: Phil Dalhausser & April Ross), but the most familiar face in sand will be that of former basketball player Chase Budinger. Budinger (who spent 3 years at the University of Arizona before playing 8 seasons in the NBA) led La Costa Canyon to 3 state volleyball championships and was named Volleyball Magazine’s National Player of the Year as a high school senior – so he can play, but Sun made it clear that the AVP would welcome any elite athlete that wants to try their hand at the sport; even ones without a volleyball background. He half-joked that if Kevin Durant were to sign with the Knicks and wanted to play in 2020 NYC Open “we’ll issue him a wildcard [entry] and see what happens.” As much as casual fans may want to see an athlete of Durant’s stature give the sport a try, one must believe the terms of his NBA contract will prevent his participation.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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