Q&A: Leonard Armato
As an agent, Leonard Armato represented players including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ronnie Lott and Shaquille O'Neal. Now he is creating stars on the Association of Volleyball Professionals tour such as Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
(Posted Feb. 18, 2009)
The Association of Volleyball Professionals Inc., based in Los Angeles, is a top lifestyle sports entertainment company that produces, markets and distributes professional beach volleyball events worldwide. The AVP Hot Winter Nights indoor tour is currently finishing a nationwide tour with stops at Reading, PA (Sovereign Center Feb. 19; Uniondale, NY (Nassau Coliseum Feb. 20); and Charlottesville, VA (John Paul Jones Arena Feb. 21). The AVP Crocs Tour 2009 summer season will launch during spring break in Panama City Beach, Fla., March 27-30. When AVPMisty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won the women's gold medal and Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser won the men’s gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing, it marked the first gold medal sweep by a single country in the history of Olympic beach volleyball. This success has helped AVP attract such marketing partners as Bud Light, Crocs, Cuervo, Gatorade, Hilton, McDonald's, Nautica, Russell Athletic and Wilson. Brooklyn, NY-born Leonard Armato, who has been an agent for such athletes as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ronnie Lott and Shaquille O'Neal, organized the professional tour in 1983 and is now AVP's CEO and commissioner. Armato spoke with NYSportsJournalism.com about the challenges of working with marketing partners to expand beach volleyball and its athletes from niche to mainstream.
NYSports Journalism.com: AVP recently signed a deal to work with Leverage Agency in New York, which handles sports sponsorships and branded entertainment. What will they be doing with AVP?
Armato: We are creating a national footprint covering companies that might be interested in creating marketing partnerships with AVP. We also have a partnership with Wasserman Media Group [Los Angeles] sports and entertainment marketing. So basically we've divided the country, divided the universe, so to speak, based on Leverage's WMG;s vast array of marketing relationships. We manage that network from our headquarters [in Los Angeles] and try to take advantage of the relationships that Ben Sturner [CEO and founder of Leverage] has and the people that he knows who might benefit from being in business with AVP.
NYSJ: Are you still riding the wave of the 2008 Summer Olympics and getting casual and even non-fans interested in beach volleyball?
Armato: No doubt. People might not know this, but on the women's side, more girls play volleyball from ages 12-21 than any other sport at club, high school and college. Recently, the NCAA began an initiative to declare beach volleyball an emerging sport [meaning that is has been sanctioned as a sport but is not widespread enough in at least 40 colleges nationwide to qualify for its own NCAA championship]. It looks as if i will have a majority of votes [to pass] this year and there could be intercollegiate competition in 2010. Participation in beach volleyball among college girls has gone up 35%.Some of that I imagine has to do with the Olympics and how aspirational it is and how many more people have witnessed AVP players such as Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser winning gold medals and world championships. When the men and women won gold medals in the Olympics and it was telecast in prime time on NBC, 47 million people watched. So I have to believe that more fans are aware of our AVP stars and that the sport has gone from niche to mainstream in a lot of ways.
NYSJ: Given the current economy, are sponsorship deals harder to come by or do they have different elements as opposed to previous years?
Armato: There are always going to be people who are interested in reaching their customers in the most effective way. Obviously, there is a lot of fear in general gripping the market when it comes to spending. But everyone who has a product for sale needs to market. So it comes down to how do you do that and how much do you want to spend. What AVP wants to offer is innovative, value-oriented, value-based marketing solutions. that anyone uses would get the best and highest used of their marketing dollars. So we are challenged, like everyone, to provide that value for ROI, for return on objective. And we are always looking at the most innovative ways to approach these partnerships.
"Fans at an AVP event not only see world-class athletes but also get the ultimate beach experience where they are surrounded by sand, water, sun and beautiful people in small amounts of clothing."
NYSJ: It would seem that activating on-site is a big part of what companies are looking for in working with AVP.
Armato: We pride ourselves in offering extraordinary experiential integrations. Whenever someone comes to an AVP event they can expect to see not only world class athletes but also get the ultimate beach experience where they are surrounded by sand, water, sun and often beautiful people in small amounts of clothing. And brands come to life in a way that is creatively compelling.
NYSJ: From your experience, and given some recent headlines, are athletes still believable as marketing spokespersons?
Armato: Yes, but it depends on the athlete. There has been a lot of negative press recently associated with some famous athletes who have been in the middle of controversies. But AVP is a good example of athletes who are good brand ambassadors. They all are college educated, articulate, accessible and really understand the importance of being role models. So we have a good group of athletes as ambassadors. That is one of our strongest selling points.
NYSJ: What protocol does AVP follow when it comes to drug testing?
Armato: We don't do regular drug testing. But many of our athletes are Olympic hopefuls or Olympians who must always submit to regular ongoing drug testing. That's why AVP doesn't have a need to do our own drug testing. Misty May-Treynor, Kerri Walsh-Jennings and everyone else who is in the Olympic program - and most of our top athletes are - continually and regularly submit to these kinds of drug tests.
NYSJ: When you talk about well-known athletes such as Misty May-Treynor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, both whom appear in new Gatorade commercial, they never seem to be associated with harmful situations and never seem to be in the middle of a career-altering controversy.
Armato: That is something I stress and something I believe in. But it also is part of the culture of the sport. Our objectives include growing the sport, going into the communities and helping people, being healthy and staying healthy and drug-free. The culture of the beach volleyball community is to make a positive impact on society.
NYSJ: You have represented and worked with great athletes such as Kareem Abul-Jabbar, Ronnie Lott, Shaquille O'Neal. Are there any current athletes who could someday be included in that group of being legendary?
Armato: Kobe Bryant is almost the next-generation Michael Jordan in a lot of ways from a standpoint of competitiveness, being a physical specimen, a guy who understands the right things to say. LeBron James is someone you have to look at as being special and making his mark in a positive way. Peyton Manning always seems to be in the right situations. Misty May-Treynor and Kerri Walsh are certainly right up there. They are both incredibly talented, charitable, well-educated, and the greatest beach volleyball team ever. So as time goes on more people will look at them as role models, especially for women who aspire to be great athletes and women who are respected.
NYSJ: What are your goals for AVP in 2009 and beyond?
Armato: We would like to establish a couple of flagship events that people circle on their calendars as must-see or must attend. The AVP Crocs Tour championship and the U.S. championships in beach volleyball would be a good start for us. We also want to become more mainstream and more part of pop culture. Bringing the sport to more people, which we have been doing with the current Hot Winter Nights Tour where we play beach volleyball indoors during the winter. And continuing to make sure that people and potential marketing partners understand what we stand for with world-class athletes and activating fans experientially in a way that gives them a fully integrated sports experience. And that is how we will continue to build our sport and our fan base. Back to Home Page