The Pilot Pen tennis tournament may be no more, but thanks in part to Yale, professional tennis in New Haven just got a reprieve.
Starting next August, the city will welcome the New Haven Open at Yale, a womens’-only event sponsored in part by the University and Yale-New Haven Hospital, tournament director Anne Worcester announced in a press conference at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale on Thursday. Aetna and American Express have also agreed to back the tournament for the next three years, joining with Yale and YNHH to replace Pilot Pen’s title sponsorship with four “cornerstone” sponsors.
It’s been a long year for Worcester — after Pilot Pen pulled its sponsorship last November, the tournament courted possible title sponsors, and initially pitched the title sponsorship to American Express in December. But American Express and other potential sponsors turned the tournament down one after another throughout the Spring, and as of this summer the tournament still didn’t have a sponsor. That’s when Levin stepped in, bringing in the first part of the $4.5 million required to put on the tournament.
Levin and Worcester then worked together to develop a plan that would keep the tournament in New Haven. By September, they had already determined that the event would have four sponsors instead of a single title sponsor, but as of mid-month they still weren’t sure who these sponsors would be. A Sept. 30 deadline to inform the United States Tennis Association of the tournament’s fate fast-approaching, Levin “opened doors” at American Express and Aetna, Worcester said, and eventually the two agreed to join on as cornerstone sponsors.
The New Haven Open will bring $26 million in economic activity to the city, Worcester said. Last year, the tournament drew just under 80,000 visitors.
In addition, it will provide an opportunity for community outreach programs, especially fitness and nutrition programming. The opportunity to educate young people about healthy living, Worcester said, appealed strongly to Aetna, a health insurance company. Though details on the community outreach efforts have not yet been nailed down, Worcester said Aetna will sponsor a “Fit Zone” slated to include short court tennis courts.
In its 20 years, the Pilot Pen tournament has consistently brought positive press to the University and the city, Levin said.
“It’s allowed worldwide attention to New Haven,” Levin said. “It shows New Haven and Yale very well off to the world.”
Just as the tournament will give back to the community, New Haven will provide resources for the players. Ten years ago, Worcester and DeStefano collaborated to create the “Mayor’s Passport to Downtown Dining” for each athlete that includes 30 free meals at some of downtown’s top restaurants, including Barcelona, Ibiza and Union League Cafe.
Over time, the Passport has become a staple of the tournament that keeps players coming back; Worcester said that when players see her on the street at other tournaments, they often skip the hello and ask directly whether the Passport will be around for another year.
New Haven’s reputation as a “foodie destination,” Worcester said, along with its “walkability” and access to the Yale campus, is one of the main ways she pitches the tournaments to potential athletes.
Above all, Worcester said, the New Haven Open provides an opportunity for players to prepare for the U.S. Open, held the week after in New York.
“It’s the same surface as the U.S. Open, the same climate as the U.S. Open, the same time zone as the U.S. open,” Worcester said. “Word in the locker room is that New Haven is like the calm before the storm of New York.”
The tournament takes place entirely on Yale property, and some side matches are played on Yale courts, Levin said. It will run from August 19 to August 27.