ST PETERSBURG - Professional volleyball is heading to St. Petersburg.
Executives from the Association of Volleyball Professionals announced Thursday that Vinoy Park will be one of seven stops in its 2013 beach volleyball tour.
The two-day event will be held Sept. 14 and 15, with qualifying contests for local players slated for Gulfport Beach at a yet-to-be-specified date.
The matches will be professional beach volleyball's first events in St. Petersburg.
Flanked by two professional beach volleyball players, including a silver-winning Olympian, organizers touted the event's potential benefits to the city. They say the increasingly popular sport will draw thousands of spectators to downtown St. Petersburg.
"It's going to put us on the map," said consultant Mario Farias, the local tour director. "We have a televised, nationally televised tournament two hours live on national TV. You can't buy that kind of advertising for our city for any amount of money."
He said the tournament could draw upward of 10,000 visitors, which could bring millions of dollars to the area. The weekend falls shortly after Labor Day during a traditionally slow time for the tourism industry.
The AVP tournament will become one of numerous popular sporting events to take place in St. Petersburg, including the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, the St. Anthony's Triathlon and the Honda Grand Prix, all of which are believed to bring substantial revenue to local businesses.
The press conference announcing the event was much less visually appealing than planned. The idea was to hold it at Northshore Park, which features scenic views of the downtown waterfront. That plan was thwarted, though, when torrential rains from Tropical Storm Andrea forced the press conference indoors.
Professional beach volleyball player April Ross, who won a silver medal during the 2012 Olympics and has played in about 25 national and international tournaments, flew from California for the announcement despite the nasty weather.
"We went to the Olympics, we did better than I expected," she said. "And to come to the United States and have this tour, where we can come perform for the people who were cheering us on, and meet them in person, that's going to be really special for me."
Those who play locally think the local beach volleyball fan base will be big.
"Knowing what the community's all about here, I know it's going to be a successful event," said Raquel Ferreira, a professional beach volleyball player and director of BeVolley Academy in St. Pete Beach. "It's becoming a really big sport in this area."
AVP owner and president Donald Sun said it was partly locals' attempts to attract the event that made the league choose to hold a tournament here.
"It's the sense of community, the backing of the community, that's what really appealed to me when I came in February. When I saw it I just knew it'd be the perfect home for AVP for years and years and years."
A total of 32 teams - 16 men's and 16 women's - will compete during the two-day tournament. Several other Olympians are expected. Ahead of the tourney, an open qualifier at Gulfport Beach will allow local teams - two men's and two women's - a chance to get on the roster. The six other cities that will host tournaments are Salt Lake City, Manhattan Beach, Calif., Cincinnati, Ohio, Atlantic City, Santa Barbara and Huntington Beach, Calif.