While ice fishing will probably never catch on in Southern California, the beach volleyball tour is betting that its bikini-clad stars will be a big hit this winter in the country's Snowbelt.


AVP Inc., the Los Angeles-based tour owner, and Anschutz Entertainment Group have partnered to launch a 20-stop indoor tour in January and February that will make stops from Portland, Ore. to Minneapolis and even out to Albany, N.Y.


That means trucking in 200 tons of sand for each arena at a time when the outdoor temperatures will likely be well below freezing in most cities.


"We are hoping to capture the beach lifestyle and bring it into Middle America," said Eric Stevens, AEG president of events and media. "We will bring the flavor, music, sound and environment indoors at a time when people desperately need it."


The move comes just as AVP is being acquired by Burbank-based Shamrock Holdings Inc. The private equity firm led by Roy Disney and Stanley Gold purchased the public company in a deal valued at $36.9 million that is expected to close shortly.


AEG, the Los Angeles based sports and entertainment company, was one of the original investors in the AVP and will be responsible for promoting the Hot Winter Nights Tour. A majority of stops will take place in the AVP's top 20 television markets.


Those areas have a surprisingly large fan base due to the popularity of traditional indoor volleyball. For example, the stop in Columbus, Ohio will coincide with a volleyball tournament that will have 350 teams competing.


Many of the beach tour's top athletes will be featured on a rotating basis during the winter with four athletes per gender competing at each event. Those athletes include 2004 Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh on the women's side and top ranked men Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers.


It is hoped the talent showcase will generate added interest for beach volleyball as the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games approaches. NBC, which owns the broadcast rights to both the AVP Tour and the Olympics, announced that it will be showing beach volleyball matches in primetime live from Beijing.


As for this winter's tour, fans may bundle up on their way to the arena but may find it a bit hot when they get there. After all, beach volleyball is played with little clothing.


"I can imagine us turning up the heat in the arenas during the event," Stevens said.

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