Yale pitches in to save tournament

Vendors at this year’s Pilot Pen Tournament distributed marketing materials to passersby. The tournament brought $26 million to New Haven in 2008.
Vendors at this year’s Pilot Pen Tournament distributed marketing materials to passersby. The tournament brought $26 million to New Haven in 2008. Photo by Sarah Guzick.

This year’s Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament comes to an end tomorrow night, but the rally to keep it in Connecticut for future years is heating up.

Since the Pilot Pen Corporation of America announced it would drop its sponsorship of the tournament last November, the tournament’s director, Anne Worcester, and city officials have been working to ensure the competition finds a sponsor so that the United States Tennis Association does not move it from Connecticut. Worcester said she remains “cautiously optimistic” that a new title sponsor will be found for 2011.

Yale, meanwhile, has increased its own efforts to find a title sponsor: This summer, University President Richard Levin wrote letters to companies such as American Express, on whose board of directors he sits, asking them to support the tournament. Levin, along with University Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65, sent a campuswide e-mail encouraging members of the Yale community to attend the tournament.

Still, even though Yale’s current position is host sponsor, which entails, among other things, that the University offers its facilities for use by the athletes, Yale will likely not become title sponsor, Worcester said in a June e-mail to the News.

“It would be highly unusual for an academic institution to purchase a commercial sponsorship at the title sponsorship level of any sporting event,” she wrote.

University spokesman Tom Conroy did not respond to an e-mail request for comment Thursday afternoon.

Over the last week of play, Worcester and her team have wooed at least 10 different companies by having them visit the event and convince them to take on the role of title sponsor. Worcester said all of these companies fall under the categories of “financial services, insurance and consumer goods.” She added that some are based in Connecticut, some are nationally recognized brands, and the rest are international. Negotiations with companies will begin after the tournament ends.

Twelve fans interviewed at the tournament this week said they would hate to see Connecticut lose the tournament.

Nancy Clark, a mother who attended Pilot Pen for the third year in a row last Tuesday, said it would “break my heart” if the tournament moves out of the state.

Pilot Pen president and CEO Dennis Burleigh said in a statement in November that the effect of recession on the pen industry forced the company to drop its 15-year sponsorship of the tournament. Pilot Pen covered nearly a third of the event’s $4.5 million cost, so operating “without a title sponsor is not a viable option,” Worcester said at the time.

In 2008, the Pilot Pen tournament generated a gross profit of $26 million dollars for New Haven and attracted more than 80,000 spectators, according to a February 2009 study conducted by George Washington University researchers. In 2009, more than 75,000 people attended. In a February report to state legislators, Worcester says the tournament brings more money to the state than any other sporting event.

Comments