Leonard Armato, chief executive and commissioner of AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, has been a sports attorney, agent, manager and entrepreneur for almost three decades. He's represented some of the world's most famous athletes, including basketball stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal. Armato started as an agent with one client National Football League Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. Other more experienced agents tried to lure Lott away during contract negotiations with the San Francisco 49ers, but Lott wouldn't defect. He went on to play in all four of the team's Super Bowl wins. Armato founded AVP in 1983; volleyball and the tour were popular through the late 1990s. The organization then struggled. In 2001, Armato combined men's and women's league play, gaining national network coverage and building sponsorships with high-profile companies such as Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's and Cuervo, among others. With its new success, the tour has expanded throughout the nation and has gone international as well.

Question: Why do you love volleyball?

Answer: I grew up playing volleyball on the beach. When I was in college I used the sport as a good cross-training platform for basketball. I know and love the sport and the beach.

Q: What was your childhood like?

A: My childhood was great. I had two loving parents. My mom was in real estate and my dad was a comparative literature professor at USC; they are still together today after more than 55 years of marriage. They were very supportive of me in everything I did.

Q: Do you have any brothers or sisters?

A: I have a younger brother, John Armato, in the South Bay who's a doctor. I have a younger sister who is a very successful songwriter, Antonina Armato, who has written songs for Miley Cyrus and other Disney performers.

Q: What is your average workday like?

A: I wake up at about 5:30 and come
downstairs to my gym and work out for about an hour. Take a shower. Then grab a quick bite to eat and get to the office around 7:15. I try to get in as much reading as I can; usually business periodicals. Then I focus on our business goals and objectives, expanding our partnership arrangements and our reach. So, I might get on the phone and talk to John Miller at NBC, Bob Thompson at Fox Sports Net or Steve Simpson at Fox Sports West to see how we can expand our platform. Or I may call our sponsors at Crocs, Bud Lite, Jose Cuervo or McDonald's and work out how we can brand their products better.

Q: Where do you do lunch?

A: If I'm in LA, I like to stay close to the beach. My favorite spot to have lunch is Chaya Venice.

Q: Do you go back to the office in the afternoon?

A: Yes, if I'm in town, I spend the afternoon with various members of the staff who report to me and go over company issues and objectives. If I'm out of town, I'll make the rounds visiting our sponsors and our media partners and do some interviews with reporters from other parts of the country to generate publicity for our tour.

Q: How do you round out the evening?

A: When in town I come home to my beautiful house on the beach and have some dinner with my wife, and spend some quiet time reading or doing meditation before going to bed.

Q: As a teenager, did you see yourself becoming a sports agent and commissioner of a pro volleyball league?

A: I wanted to go to law school at the time, to give me the tools to help people better their lives in some way and combine that with the passion that I had for sports.

Q: How did your passion for sports develop?

A: It really started when I was playing basketball in high school at Mira Costa in Manhattan Beach. Then in college, both at USC and University of the Pacific, I played point guard and was an all-conference player.

Q: Did you ever practice law?

A: I practiced business litigation law in San Diego for two years with the firm of Sullivan Jones & Archer. I'm happy to say that I had a trial record of 2-0 and got out of that business before suffering any losses.

Q: How did you make the transition from attorney to sports agent?

A: I had a college coach at USC and the
University of the Pacific named Stan Morrison who introduced me to Ronnie
Lott, who had played football and basketball at USC. Here was one of the greatest players of all time with the wisdom to pick someone to represent him who had absolutely no experience.

Q: What was the biggest challenge of starting out that way?

A: Once I had secured Ronnie as a client, I had to ward off all the predators who were trying to destroy our relationship. So, until I could prove myself to him, it was a challenge just to keep the relationship together.

Q: What were the contract negotiations like?

A: At first it was pretty tough. But every negotiation is different and you have to know just how far you can push it. You have to be willing to lose, to win.

Q: Were you ever concerned that you may do a client more harm than good in a negotiation?

A: During that first contract negotiation with Ronnie and the 49ers I became a little concerned because I had to hold him back from training camp and there were a lot of critics saying that I was inexperienced and didn't know what I was doing; that I would destroy his career. Long story short, we weathered the storm and we got the best deal of any first round draft pick that year.

Q: How did you go about getting more clients?

A: I started representing more NFL players and about four or five who were on the 49ers, including Randy Cross who went on to become a broadcaster with CBS and NBC. I continued to get more NFL players from other teams until I began to focus more on pro basketball, where my very first client was arguably one of the most talented players of all time Shaquille O'Neal.

Q: How did you make the switch from football to basketball?

A: I moved to Los Angeles and started the sports division of the prominent law firm Bushkin Gaims Gaines & Jonas, and I met Kareem Abdul-Jabbar there. He had been going through some difficult times, with his house burning down and having made some poor financial decisions. So, I was rather proud of the fact that we were able to get him back on track. I negotiated one of the largest agreements in the NBA at the time.

Q: What was the most exciting part?

A: Once I was representing two of the top players in the NBA playoffs, each on opposing teams Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon and they were guarding each other. USA Today interviewed me before the game and I said that I won't be rooting for either team but I will be hoping the best for both players.

Q: How did you get into pro volleyball?

A: In the late '70s and early '80s beach volleyball had become a professional sport. A few of my friends came to me and asked me to organize the tour a little more professionally. From about 1985 to the early 1990s, I organized the tour in my spare time as the executive director and helped grow it from a Southern California subculture event to a national tour with major television coverage and national sponsors.

Q: You left the organization in the mid-'90s. Why?

A: I had grown my business from a sports agency to more of a sports management and marketing company called Management Plus. I started to focus on brand building and getting celebrities to move from sports or acting to creating brands; branding their personalities to move them from an equity position to more of an institutional value position.

Q: Why did you come back?

A: AVP was being managed by the players and it had gone into bankruptcy in the late 1990s. It came out of bankruptcy but it was suffering from insolvency in 2001 and I saw this as an opportunity to acquire the tour. We relaunched it in 2001 with a national tour placing men and women under one umbrella organization. We worked our way up to about 15 hours of live sports television on major networks like Fox and NBC.

Q: What motivates you to get up and go to work the next morning?

A: What motivates me is being creative and breaking new ground; being able to utilize my abilities to the fullest so that it is to the benefit of people I'm affecting, whether it's my employees or the athletes. It's also being able to do things that are positive, that promote a healthy lifestyle around sports.

Leonard Armato
Title: Chief Executive
Company: AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour
Born: 1952; Brooklyn, New York
Education: B.A., University of the Pacific; J.D., University of California, San Diego
Career Turning Point: Signing his first client, Ronnie Lott, during Lott's contract negotiations with the San Francisco 49ers
Most Influential Person: USC basketball coach Stan Morrison, who introduced
him to Lott
Personal: Lives in an oceanfront home in Manhattan Beach with his wife, volleyball star Holly McPeak, and two sons, Anthony and Elio, from a previous marriage

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