U.S. women's indoor professional volleyball league to play in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The top women's indoor volleyball players in the United States will be calling Nashville home for their new professional league.

Athletes Unlimited, in partnership with USA Volleyball, had been looking for a city where the new league can play. Jon Patricof, co-founder and CEO of Athletes Unlimited, told The Associated Press that they evaluated several cities around the country.

The league will play games at Municipal Auditorium, which seats 9,700, from Feb. 26 to April 4. Alliance Volleyball Club at TOA Sports Performance Center in nearby Franklin will be the league's training partner.

"I think there's a huge opportunity around professional women's sports in this country and around the world," Patricof said on a Zoom call Thursday. "I really think volleyball is the biggest opportunity that exists. We plan to have national television partners and a number of significant commercial sponsors."

The league is prepared to play without fans, but will wait to see what conditions will be like in February with the pandemic.

Jordan Larson, who helped the U.S. win Olympic bronze in 2016, is among those who will determine the 40 players invited and are helping set rules for the league. Four captains will choose teams, with a points system to determine captains for the next week.

This league allows Americans the chance to stay at home at least part of the year and compete professionally. Larson said she has been playing professionally for 12 years and noted Americans want to stay in the U.S.

"The fact that we can have this opportunity to play in the States," Larson said Thursday on a Zoom call. "I can't even tell you. I have so many conversations with little girls, and I'm excited for the future for them and for us."

Patricof said he is confident the league can succeed financially because it has a different format, including having all 40 athletes in one location to avoid travel costs, and having a shorter season that lasts six weeks.

"We went into this very much eyes wide open," Patricof said. "I came out of Major League Soccer. I understand how challenging it can be to be even a start-up league that's now in its 25th or 26th season, and still the financials aren't necessarily massively profitable.

"That's why we thought it was important to have a different model. The mistake we think is made often by new start-up leagues is they just try to replicate what's been done before. For us, the important part is to try to chart a new path. We're not trying to sustain a league with 20 teams flying back and forth around the country."

Athletes Unlimited's first league, a pro softball league, is set to start Aug. 30 through Sept. 29 in Rosemont, Illinois, with no fans in attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press and ESPN's Mechelle Voepel contributed to this report.