An already solid off-season just got a little stronger for the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals.
The AVP has expanded its schedule to 10 tournaments, an increase from seven last year, and will also have more tournaments covered by NBC.
The tour begins April 4-6 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and ends Sept. 19-21 in Carson with an event that will count toward qualifying for the 2004 Olympics.
Three tournaments will be televised by NBC, up from two last year: Manhattan Beach (Aug. 7-10), Huntington Beach (Aug. 14-17) and Chicago (Aug. 28-31). Both the men's and women's championship will be shown live at the three tournaments, a departure from last year's TV schedule that televised only the men's championship live.
Other West Coast tournaments are Hermosa Beach (June 6-8) and San Diego (June 13-15).
The AVP has continued its gradual turnaround since November 1998, when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy because of dwindling finances and popularity.
Last year, fan interest increased amid an aggressive marketing campaign, with crowds approaching 6,000 for some championship matches, most notably the Manhattan Beach Open.
"I'm delighted with the growth," AVP Commissioner Leonard Armato said. "We're growing in a number of events and in our exposure, with network TV appearances that get to millions of people."
The AVP has had a busy few months.
Last month, the world's top women's team, Misty May and Kerri Walsh, ended a two-year standoff and signed with the AVP, strengthening the U.S. tour almost overnight.
Last September, the AVP signed a pact with its longtime adversary, the Federation Internationale de Volleyball, and agreed to avoid scheduling major tournaments simultaneously, a large problem in years past.