State may form sports authority

Four months after Pilot Pen of America announced plans to withdraw its 15-year sponsorship of New Haven’s Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament — putting the city’s most attended sporting event in jeopardy — the tournament’s director is “cautiously optimistic” that she will find a new sponsor for the next few years, she told the News over the weekend.

Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament Director Anne Worcester said companies inside and outside Connecticut have expressed interest in sponsoring the tournament, which is a “positive barometer” for the search’s progress. In a report to the state legislature last week, Worcester and other members of the Connecticut Sports Advisory Board cited the Pilot Pen tournament as the sporting event that provides the most money to the state. The tennis tournament brought more than $26 million to the city last summer, according to the report.

No caption.
No caption.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the tournament will be able to stay in New Haven,” Worcester said.

Worcester added that sporting events constitute an important source of revenue and tourist traffic for both New Haven and the state. With that in mind, the advisory board advocated in the report that the state should create a statewide sports authority. Worcester said the authority would manage existing sports tourism events and work to attract new ones. While a definitive timeline has not been set for the creation of the authority, Worcester said she thinks the process will move quickly and expects the state legislature will vote on the proposal within two months.

“The creation of a sports commission or a sports authority is a no-brainer, and it is long overdue,” Worcester said.

Anthony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, said over the weekend that he is confident that another company will sponsor the event.

“It brings so much value to everyone and I just know that someone is going to strike a deal at some point,” he said.

He noted that the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament helps to bring about 100,000 people to the city by featuring not only tennis but also fashion shows, food tastings and other family-friendly activities. Worcester said the tournament generated 16 hours of ESPN2 and CBS coverage in 2009, in addition to more than 100 hours of television coverage in 170 countries.

“This is not only a tennis event, this is a whole family event,” Rescigno said.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a statement to the News over the weekend that he appreciates Pilot Pen’s relationship with the city and that he hopes the tournament will survive.

Worcester said the sports authority would try to bring in more sporting events that are as popular and successful as the Pilot Pen tournament. Lynn Carlotto, general manager of the Bridgeport-based Arena at Harbor Yard and another member of the advisory board, said Connecticut has the proper facilities to host sporting activities of all types — college athletics, exhibition games, off-field competitions and even Olympic events.

“There is a great number of people who have an interest in sports and also who participate in sports, so it is natural for Connecticut to have a focus on the sports industry and sporting events,” Carlotto said Friday.

Worcester said the advisory has not yet figured out how the authority would be run, but that it would receive outside, not state, funding.

Roughly 25 other states currently have a commission or authority that manages sports tourism activities, providing models for an equivalent entity in Connecticut, Worcester said. The non-profit Massachusetts Sports Partnership, for instance, was set up to work with the state’s tourism bureau, regional chambers of commerce and other community organizations.

State Senate Chairman Gary LeBeau (D-East Hartford) directed the Sports Advisory Board to craft more definitive plans for the structure over the next few weeks, the New Haven Register reported last week. Republican state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-Greenwich) told the Hartford Courant last week that the idea of forming a sports authority was “long overdue.”

The advisory board’s report lists eight events that have already occurred and generated more than $58 million to the state. It also lists two events that will have occurred by August and are expected to raise about $8 million.

Comments