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VOLLEYBALL

AVP tour makes over Manhattan Beach Open

It returns to its birthplace with more teams, dancers and a 'legends' match. Ticket prices are cut too.

July 16, 2009|Bill Brink

The Assn. of Volleyball Professionals tour returns to its birthplace for the Crocs Slam Manhattan Beach Open, sporting a new format and new look that includes some older faces.

With 64 teams, the main tournament will be double the size of the next-largest AVP event. There are 48 automatic entries, with the other 16 spots decided today during qualifying rounds.

As for the new look, the event will mark the debut of the AVP Dancers -- the group includes former NFL cheerleaders as well as an ex-Laker girl -- as well as a six-on-six "legends" match.

"These were ideas we've had and we wanted to do some things to increase the vibe around the tournament," said Jason Hodell, chief executive of the AVP. "The Manhattan Beach Open is arguably the most famous tournament on our tour and it seems fitting to have some special outreach programs."

The tour has cut ticket prices up to 50% for some court-side seats, and general admission is free. The AVP also lowered prices for the Hermosa Beach Open in August.

"Given Southern California's long-standing and ardent beach volleyball community, we consistently anticipate full stands for these two marquee events," Paul Tedeschi, chief marketing officer of the AVP, said in a news release. "However, remaining sensitive to the current economic situation, we saw the opportunity to offer our fans a break and we're happy to take it."

At Manhattan Beach, the fifth-place matches, semifinals and finals will take place Sunday. The legends match will be Sunday before the finals. Olympic medalists Mike Dodd and Eric Fonoimoana are expected to play, along with former greats Tim Hovland, Randy Stoklos, Sinjin Smith and Linda Hanley. Stoklos and Smith combined to win 114 AVP events as a team.

The Manhattan Beach tournament comes at a time of recent upheaval on the tour. Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rodgers, three-time Manhattan Beach champions and Olympic gold medalists, have lost twice in a row to John Hyden and Sean Scott. Hyden and Scott won in Atlanta on May 31, then again in Ocean City, Md., on June 21.

With those victories, Hyden and Scott earned the No. 1 seeding in the next tournament, the Coney Island (N.Y.) Open on July 5 -- where they lost to Ty Loomis and Casey Patterson, who won their first title.

In women's competition, Carrie Dodd and Dianne DeNecochea, the second-seeded team at Coney Island, won their first title of the season over Jennifer Fopma and Brittany Hochevar, making their first finals appearance.

This week, the top-rated men's teams of Dalhausser and Rodgers and Jake Gibb and Sean Rosenthal, plus the No. 1-ranked women's team of Nicole Branagh and Elaine Youngs, return to the AVP tour after missing the New York stop because of their participation in the international volleyball championships in Norway.

"Undoubtedly it's going to make it even bigger," Hodell said, referring to the Manhattan Beach event. "Having the stars return is always huge."

Attendance at the earlier events this season was low, with rain keeping some fans off the sand. However, Hodell is optimistic about the future of the tour, noting that AVP added Johnsonville Brats, Malibu Rum and Kentucky Grilled Chicken as sponsors this season and also received a $1-million infusion from lead tour investor RJSM Partners, LLC.

"It's a tough sponsor environment," he said. " . . . The fact that we've brought in three new sponsors in this environment says a lot about our sport."

Hodell also is enthusiastic about a budding partnership between the AVP and Microsoft that will allow AVP matches to be shown in high definition over the Internet.

"They stream the Olympics, they stream Wimbledon, their focus is on streaming very high-quality events in HD," Hodell said. "User experience on the PC is just fantastic."

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william.brink@latimes.com

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Manhattan Beach Open

Today-Sunday,

near the south side of pier.

Today: Men's and women's qualifying, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. (approx.).

Friday and Saturday: Men's and women's main draw, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.

Sunday: Men's and women's main draw begins at 8:15 a.m. with fifth-place matches followed by semifinals and finals. (women's final at 3 p.m.; men's final at 4:30 p.m.) Saikley Memorial six-man tournament at 11 a.m. "Legends" tournament at 2 p.m.

Tickets: All-session pass is $70; court-side Friday is $25; court-side Saturday-Sunday is $40; general admission is free.

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