Memory has served Donald Sun well.
Sun worked as an executive for a multibillion-dollar technology company started by his father that develops, sells and supports memory products for computers and hand-held devices.
Sun is a volleyball player and a fan, and he has great memories of going to watch AVP tournaments on the beaches of Southern California.
Those memories inspired Sun to buy the AVP Tour. He’s bringing the tour back to Santa Barbara Friday through Sunday for the $225,000 AVP Championships at West Beach.
Twelve men’s and women’s teams will be playing for a first prize of $25,000 — $47,000 if the champions go undefeated.
Among the players competing are London Olympics gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings (with her partner Nicole Branagh, a 2008 Olympian), London silver medalists and last weekend’s AVP Cincinnati Open winners Jen Kessy and April Ross, 2008 Beijing Olympics gold medalists and East Beach locals Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser and Cincinnati men’s champions Sean Scott and John Hyden.
Tournament pool play begins at 10 a.m. each day. The finals are Sunday at 10 a.m. for the women and 11:30 for the men. Admission is free, although there are reserved courtside seats available at $35 and a shaded lounge area for $50.
After the AVP went bankrupt in 2010 and lead investor Nick Lewin and his ownership group tried unsuccessfully to bring it back in 2011, Sun stepped in and bought the tour last April for $2 million. He resigned from his job of at Kingston Technology Co., after 13 years and started his own company, AOS Group. Kingston was founded by his father, David Sun.
For Donald, 37, a graduate of UCLA, buying the AVP was a chance to run the sport he’s long admired. He played varsity volleyball at University High in Irvine.
“I grew up playing volleyball in high school and I followed the AVP religiously when I was younger, so volleyball was always in my blood,” Sun told ESPN. “When I heard this opportunity come up, I did my due diligence and realized it’s a challenge, but at the same time it’s the AVP. I know getting the right people in place to make it profitable is key, but it’s something that, from a passion point of view, you don’t get these opportunities very often.”
Sun said despite its absence the last year, the AVP brand was still out there. All you had to do is go to a sand or grass court anywhere in the country and you’d see a Wilson AVP ball being served, set, spiked and dug.
In an interview with 1996 Olympian and former Stanford volleyball star Beverly Oden of About.com, Sun said he was cautioned about buying the AVP.
“I did think about it and evaluated and decided that it felt right,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t quantify it. Sometimes you can’t ever do a case study on what you should and shouldn’t do. After all of the numbers that I’ve seen both good and bad and going through my own thought process, coupled with the fact that I wanted to do a different thing, I decided to do it.
“And it is sports, a sport that I know and love,” he added. “When that is presented and you have the resources to be able to do it, it becomes kind of no-brainer. You’ve just got to try. You’ve just got to do it. I think it is going to be fun. I’m going to be able to shape beach volleyball and hopefully make a lot of fans happy that it’s back. Hopefully, I’ll make the players happy that there is hope.”
Before the collapse, the AVP ran as many as 31 events nationwide and had an annual revenue of nearly $25 million. When the economic downturn hit in 2008, the tour lost sponsors and eventually folded.
Sun initially wanted to wait until 2013 to start the new AVP, but he thought it might be better to whet the appetite of beach volleyball fans by scheduling a couple of events following the London Olympics.
His first event was last weekend in Cincinnati. The tournament received a big boost when Walsh, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, agreed to play in it.
“I feel compelled to make a statement; make a splash,” Sun told the Associated Press before the Cincinnati tournament. “We could have waited until next year to do everything, but we really wanted to establish ourselves for 2012. We wanted to get points on the board and make sure people don’t forget about us.”
He’s received praise from the volleyball community.
“The re-emergence of the AVP bodes well for the growth of the sport throughout the country, “said Doug Beal, the CEO of USA Volleyball. the national governing body for the sport.
“For us as pro players, this news is huge – both in the short- and long-term,” said Olympian Jake Gibb. “To have two major pro beach events appear out of nowhere on the schedule this season, as a follow-up to the Summer Games, it not only adds much-needed prize money to the mix, but also media exposure and sponsor opportunities.”
Sun has a vision for the AVP.
He’d like to see a season shaped around four major tournaments, like tennis and golf. Each one would have its own special characteristic.
— The AVP Classic, which Sun would like to see a return to some of the sport’s original rules like sideout scoring and a bigger court.
— The Open, where any level of team would be eligible to qualify.
— The AVP Players Tournament would allow the players to decide on the format.
— The AVP Championships will bring the best teams from the season together for a tour championship.
“Other tour stops would fill out the entire season, culminating in the AVP Championships, which is like the Super Bowl for beach volleyball,” Sun told Sports Illustrated.
Sun reached out to the fans once took control of the AVP. In a letter from the owner, he said:
“… You, the fans, are an extremely important element to the success of the AVP, and we recognize that. Without you and your undying allegiance to beach volleyball, we have nothing.
“Our long-term focus is on 2013 and beyond. This will include a number of changes and restructuring that should help make beach volleyball even more intriguing and exciting. Bringing back the soul of the sport is what it’s all about. We’ve got much to work on, so I only ask for your patience while we begin the rebuilding process. In the meantime, check back at avp.com for updates.
“Can’t wait to see you on the beach”— Donald.
Sun’s AVP is also working with the Surfrider Foundation on an environmental initiative called AVP Serve and Protect America’s Beaches.
“For players and fans, their office is on the beach,” Sun said. “We want to call out that this is something important for the AVP, but it’s also important to the world and we want to do our best to maintain and serve and protect its beaches, for not only our players but for everybody.”