Pro volleyball expected to give NOLA economy a bump

AVP coming to Coconut Beach Memorial Day weekend

The Association of Volleyball Professionals announced this week that it will begin its 2015 Pro Beach Volleyball Tour with the AVP New Orleans Open Memorial Day weekend at Coconut Beach Volleyball Complex in Kenner.

It will be the first time the AVP has come to the region in 16 years. However, David Philastre, Coconut Beach’s volleyball director, said the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation and the City of Kenner are working with the AVP to make the New Orleans Open the league’s annual start to its season.

“This is their first tour stop, and we want to make it a recurring event and travel destination for people from across the world,” Philastre says.

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The three-day tournament, to be held May 22-24, is expected to attract the best and brightest stars of beach volleyball, including the biggest star in the sport, three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings (2004, 2008, 2012), and several hopefuls for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The New Orleans Open will feature 64 top men’s and women’s professionals competing in main draw play preceded by a one-day open qualifying tournament.

It will be the AVP’s first return to the New Orleans since 1999, and its first at Coconut Beach since the facility moved to Kenner from West End following Hurricane Katrina when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commandeered the complex to build flood gates on the 17th Street Canal. Since then, Coconut Beach relocated to Laketown and built a 100,000 square foot beach qualifying it as the largest sand complex in the United States.

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“Hosting the opening tour stop is going to do wonders for us financially,” Philastre says. “We feel like it’s going to grow the sport and the leagues we provide. Plus, there are a lot of people who don’t know about the move, so this will draw attention. It means a lot.”

While Super Bowls, College Playoff Games and Final Fours are the Sports Foundation’s main attention getters, attracting and landing smaller sporting events to the region has been a major reason for their success.

The AVP will run an amateur tournament in New Orleans alongside the professional tournament. And with no major volleyball events in the region, casual volleyball fans are expected to join in the interest. That means a lot of people will be coming into town and using regional accommodations fulfilling part of the Sports Foundation’s mission.

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“We want to make this a vacation weekend,” Philastre says. “The AVP recognizes and has confirmed New Orleans as a travel destination for players and fans alike.”

“Playing in the New Orleans area should be a lot of fun,” Walsh Jennings said. “I have played beach volleyball in many states throughout the U.S. and countries across the world, but have never competed here, so I’m excited to get the chance to do so. As my partner, April Ross, and I prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics, we can’t wait to get our season started.”

Sports Foundation President/CEO Jay Cicero says, “The AVP New Orleans Open promises to be another world-class sporting event for the area. With the popularity of beach volleyball sure to dominate the Summer Olympics in 2016, and the increased profile of the sport, the timing of this partnership and the event is perfect.”



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