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Tourney Staying In Town—In State Hands

by Paul Bass | Oct 11, 2013 6:44 am

(22) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Sports

Paul Bass File Photo The governor announced Thursday that the state plans to buy New Haven’s annual summer tennis tournament for $618,000 to save it from being stolen by a tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) still has to vote on the plan, at its Oct. 17 meeting.

The New Haven Open at Yale tennis tournament has been played at a state-built stadium next to the Yale Bowl for over two decades, under various names.  It used to include both men’s and women’s tournaments; now it’s just a women’s tournament. Attendance has plummeted from a one-time high of 100,375. Attendance this year was 45,000, according to tournament director Anne Worcester.

Enter the Malloy administration. The governor, who is running for reelection in 2014, had his staff negotiate to buy the tournament and fend off a threat from another unidentified “region” to win the rights to stage the tournament from the United States Tennis Association.

The tournament’s most recent “cornerstone” sponsors—Aetna, American Express, First Niagara, Yale, and Yale-New Haven Hospital—have all agreed to continue supporting the tournament under state ownership, according to the state.

The current staff will continue running the tournament, including director Anne Worcester, according to Ben Barnes, who spearheaded the deal as head of the state Office of Policy and Management. Barnes and Worcester discussed the deal in a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

“The state has asked me to stay on as tournament director. I’m happy to do so. I feel very lucky to be the director of a tournament that has done so much good for the city of New Haven and the state of Connecticut,” Worcester said.

The United States Tennis Association previously owned the tournament and leased it to a not-for-profit based in New Haven. It decided this year to sell the tournament. It had a tentative deal to sell it to a men’s tournament in Winston-Salem, Barnes said. Then that outfit failed to get approval to merge the women’s tournament into the annual event. The USTA gave the state a “window” to match the offer to buy the tournament and keep it in New Haven, which it then did, Barnes said. Barnes argued that Winston-Salem would have soon obtained the approvals needed to grab the tournament.

He said the $618,000 for the purchase will come from Manufacture Assistance Act money that had been repaid to the Department of Economic Development from loans for previous projects. Only the CRDA must approve the deal; legislators do not vote on it.

State Sen. Toni Harp, who’s running for mayor in New Haven, took credit for paving the way for the deal—by previously pushing legislation that allows the CRDA to be involved in statewide events, not just those in Hartford.

“It was the New Haven tennis tournament that I had in mind when we expanded the authority’s reach,” a campaign press release quoted Harp as saying. “The tournament is great for the economy of New Haven and the entire region. We had to do what we could to keep it. Fortunately, the forethought to allow CRDA to become involved in New Haven is paying off.”

Barnes was asked in the conference call if Harp played any specific role in the negotiations to save the tournament over the previous months.

Barnes replied that he kept the entire New Haven delegation abreast of the developing negotiations. Asked if she played any specific role, he repeated that she was responsible for the original CRDA policy change that paved the way for the deal.

“She clearly supported our efforts. She clearly has another little thing going on, so I didn’t expect her to be involved in a lot of little meetings. But she has indicated her support,” Barnes said.

Barnes dismissed criticism from State Rep. Larry Cafero that the state shouldn’t be in the sports business. He said the state would not run the tournament; it will continue to lease it to a local not-for-profit.

He said the state needed to act to protect the economic lift the tournament gives the New Haven area. He cited a 2008 “economic impact” study that alleged that the tournament created $25 million in spin-off economic activity. He acknowledged that he takes the “econometrics” of such studies “with a grain of salt.” But he added that “clearly the tennis tournament has an enormous economic impact.”

Barnes was asked if he could name another state government in the U.S. that owns an athletic tournament.

Not “exactly this way”  in the U.S., he replied. “In other parts of the world, it’s common for governments to own tournaments.” He added that the U.S. has a “long history of governments heavily subsidizing sporting events” by financing sports venues. New Haven’s tennis stadium, for instance, was built with $18 million in state bond funds.

Click here to read about the last time the tournament was saved, in 2010.

The 2014 tournament is scheduled for Aug. 15-23. Don’t be surprised to see the governor there addressing the crowd.

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posted by: westville man on October 10, 2013  3:26pm

Correction- the Plummet was to about 45k for the tourney in attendance, not the 3900 figure.  That was the championship match attendance.

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 10, 2013  3:29pm

So, who gets the dough, and how much?

Does Anne Worcester get a vig????

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 10, 2013  3:42pm

Stick a fork in it, it’s done.
I am glad New Haven is not wasting all it’s own money, now the whole State gets to share in this loser. Even if Westville man is correct with the attendance, this is a huge waste of money.
Start booking Bonnie Rait and Jame Taylor in that venue again, that would fill the joint.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 10, 2013  4:27pm

a campaign press release quoted Harp as saying. “The tournament is great for the economy of New Haven and the entire region. We had to do what we could to keep it. Fortunately, the forethought to allow CRDA to become involved in New Haven is paying off.”

$618,000/45,000 viewers = $13.73/seat in state tax dollars. Nice job Ms Harp I am sure all your constituents in Newhallville will appreciate that. -Oh did I say Newhallville? I meant to say your constituents in Madison & Westport.

posted by: mrsvenable on October 10, 2013  4:30pm

Can someone speak authoritatively as to why the stadium is not used for other events? Concerts, etc.? It sits empty 97% of the time when it could be used in decent weather to better effect. All I have ever heard is that nearby residents were opposed, but that’s an unsatisfying reason to keep the stadium empty.

posted by: Razzie on October 10, 2013  4:39pm

Excellent save for New Haven by Sen Harp! Bringing jobs and real economic benefit to the City, not just talk!

posted by: MamaBear on October 10, 2013  8:15pm

Does that mean all the local jobs will be union? Senator Harp will New Haven see any jobs from yhis or only current state workers?

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on October 10, 2013  9:33pm

I live in the area and would love to see the stadium used for concerts. I think it’s time to re-visit the issue

posted by: Walt on October 10, 2013  11:35pm

I note that the tournament is for 9 days.  and assume the 45,000 attendance means an average of 5,000 folk per day ,not 45,000 real people watching tennis for 9 days straight (How many seats in the tennis stadium?.

—-And is that 5,000 per day even   legitimate or should it be divided by the number of matches   each day i.e.  5,000 per day divided by 5 matches or an average   of 1,000 per match or even less with the many empty seats mentioned in the article re the previous bail-out to which we are referred below?

The tennis stadium looks as though it could never fit the claimed total, even if you chased out the players and filled the   court with seats.

I suspect, but do not really know, that the estimates of benefits to our area are grossly   inflated, even if you count the   ball-chasers who are freebies I think,  not really employees—-and if   benefits are as great as claimed think that the money-making beneficiaries like hotels and restaurants should be kicking in rather than Joe Taxpayer who, like me,  will never be inside the stadium  

Looks like a horrible boondoggle to me. Am I wrong?

posted by: 32knot on October 11, 2013  7:34am

I heard a concert promotor say during a radio interview that the stadium was purposely built with very narrow doors onto the playing/concert floor to prevent concerts from being booked into the venue. This apparently was done to pacify th neighborhood and get local support after some wild cncerts in the Yale bowl.

It is a very bad idea for the State to ” own” an athaletic team/event. Are they going to bail any of the other PRO organizaions in the state when they have money troubles??? 

I agree with the fork comment, without paying large appearnce fees to draw the big names this tournement is done. Is the State going to pay appearence fees????

posted by: Noteworthy on October 11, 2013  7:35am

It Takes Balls Notes:

1. Only hubris and arrogance would allow Toni Harp to claim credit for “saving” the tennis tournament via her barely hands on history. Whatever diminutive effort she put forth didn’t do any of us any favors.

2. The tennis tournament should have moved to North Carolina - that has a long and storied history of successful sports promotion from college to commercial.

3. Attendance at the tennis tournament has seriously eroded and it has accelerated across the last several years.

4. Connecticut has a sorry history of sports promotion and sustainability, and frankly so does the public. If we supported it, they would be here. We don’t and they don’t. And that means the economic impact gets smaller each year. There were virtually no food vendors there this year. Why? No fans.

5. Handing off the tennis tournament to a non-profit? And the non-profit will have the exact same problem as this year - attendance, sponsors and lack of interest, some of which are that no big names play this tournament anymore. How will any of this change now that the state “owns” it?

6. And that means local taxpayers will continue to be soaked for the $100K or so we give the tournament every year. It’s doubtful Toni Harp even knows we pay into it. But she supports it.

posted by: westville man on October 11, 2013  8:32am

Yale let the New Haven Ravens go which brought in many more local families to the games throughout the summer. Shameful.
The reason why the tennis center and Yale Bowl sit empty 95% of the time is a severe case of Westville NIMBY.  Too many cars, drinkers, partying, etc.  Like the stadiums weren’t there when you moved in!  Just like Morris Cove where many of the residents want to close the airport. New Haven at its worst.

posted by: SSSS on October 11, 2013  8:35am

I’d love to echo the questions posed by mrsvenable and NewHavenTaxTooHigh.  Did you know that this stadium is tied as the fourth largest tennis venue in the world by capacity?  And it sits empty for 51 weeks a year.  Can NHI do some digging on this?  I agree that neighbor objections are not a satisfactory explanation.

posted by: Walt on October 11, 2013  9:02am

Real capacity   of this venue is apparently 15,ooo, so obviously the claimed figures are manipulated   as indicated above to mislead us and the State

posted by: Westville420 on October 11, 2013  9:14am

I live right next to the stadium and I agree, open it up for concerts, theater, comedians, graduations etc.  Most concerts in CT end by midnight anyway, and the majority of my elderly neighbors have moved out of New Haven.

posted by: Noteworthy on October 11, 2013  12:18pm

It’s my understanding there is a separate board of directors that runs the tennis venue. I don’t know about NIMBY and at this point, I don’t really care. The venue will not be able to service those bonds if it doesn’t generate income. The facility should be open to whatever will generate money as long as the street is not closed down like it is for weeks before and after the event.

posted by: PH on October 11, 2013  12:20pm

Does the state own the stadium, or did it just fund the construction?  It sounds like it just bought the rights to the tournament, not the building.  Who decides if other events can be held there?

posted by: TheMadcap on October 11, 2013  12:35pm

mrsvenable has a good point I’d to know as well. It is a big stadium that could be used for a lot of things.(including perhaps the chance for us to compete for big name concerts). Even if not concerts, there has to be other things it can be used for.

@Walt
It’s not manipulated. They probably measure by ticket sales as events usually do, if 45,000 tickets are sold, it’s a good indication that near 45,000 people attended the event at least one day.

posted by: westville man on October 11, 2013  1:10pm

Back in the late 90’s, the tournament grew each year.  With players like Williams, Capriati, Hingus & Davenport, the stadium was filled pretty regularly.  We had tix there for 10 years. Since 2009 or so, when alot of folks, including us, stopped going, the tourney started its downward spiral. Many reasons for this but suffice it to say that familiar names either werent coming or getting “injured” before the finals to get ready for the US Open the next week.
Also, for those that dont remember or werent here, the tennis center did hold a few concerts before they stopped them in the 90’s and i went to MANY concerts at yale bowl until they stopped those in the 80’s.  It’s was a clear case of NIMBY, with some westville big-wigs putting a halt to it.

posted by: Walt on October 11, 2013  2:13pm

Madcap

Your math proves nothing.  It is more likely that many hundreds or thousands attended multiple events.  Just is more impressive to the State or City   so they will toss in more money

Westville Man

Maybe you are right if Bowl concerts were held after my involvement,

Earlier concerts (_Johnny Mathis, Benny Goodman ,  Harry James etc.)  were sponsored by the Jaycees, and were eventually stopped not because of NIMBY but because the artists raised their fees so high that they were no longer profitable

posted by: Bill Saunders on October 11, 2013  8:48pm

Exaggerating Attendance and Economic Development Impact is the Raison D’etre of all of these organizations that suck on the public teat.

Consultants get paid big money to do this work, and it is always a self-fulfilling prophecy—LOOK—ANOTHER BANNER YEAR.

I say get rid all of these quasi-public organizations whose purpose is to primarily provide entertainment for their own exclusive social class.

Let let’s build something new and vibrant together that represents the culture and values of New Haven and it’s citizens..
.
The old guard is dead.

posted by: Stylo on October 12, 2013  2:03pm

This does seem like a huge waste of money when you could use the venue for concerts and entertainment and actually make a profit and draw more people to the area on a regular basis.

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