Downtown St. Petersburg 2013 is a long way from the 2012 Olympics in London, but fast-moving, crowd-pleasing beach volleyball will soon link the cities. The Association of Volleyball Professionals has chosen Vinoy Park as the site of one of five tournaments in its upcoming Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.
Organizers estimate that 30,000 people will be on hand to watch professionals such as gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings compete in the sand Sept. 13-15, according to Mario Farias, the local consultant who courted the AVP on behalf of the city.
"All the best players in the world will be here, including American players, of course, since we won all the medals in the Olympics," he said.
Six temporary courts will be built to professional standards in Vinoy Park. The center court will seat 5,000 to 10,000 people, while five others will hold 500 to 1,000 fans, said Farias, managing director of Farias Marketing Group.
The final matches of the tournament will be broadcast on national television. Farias and Chris Steinocher, head of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, declined to say which network will air the event until the AVP makes its official announcement in coming weeks.
"It's a national network with three letters," Farias said, hinting strongly that the tournament and views of St. Petersburg will be aired on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.
"It's another one of those world class events (like the Grand Prix). It will give us that opportunity to showcase our waterfront," Steinocher said.
The audience for beach volleyball is wider than that for auto racing, Farias said.
City spokeswoman Beth Herendeen and Kevin Smith, director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, also called the tournament a big coup for the city.
While it seems a done deal, the AVP hasn't applied for or received permits from the city.
The four other host cities are Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, and Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach, both in California.
The tournament will have 18 two-person male teams and 18 two-person female teams There will be slots for a local, amateur male and female team to qualify.
Welsh Jennings and partner Misty May-Treanor helped fuel the surge in the sport's popularity last summer when they won their third consecutive gold medal in London. Nielsen reported that 29 million people watched their final match.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.