DOUBLE TAKE | Finding sponsors for tournament

After sponsorship for the annual professional tennis tournament in New Haven was in doubt for 11 months, University President Richard Levin courted sponsorship from friends at American Express and Aetna to keep the tournament in New Haven. This year, the tournament will no longer include men due to financial and logistical considerations, said the tournament’s director Anne Worcester.

“The financial model for holding a combined men’s and women’s tournament the week before the U.S. Open simply did not work,” she said. “By eliminating the men, we were able to eliminate expenses such as prize money, hotel, food and linesmen.” She said she is excited for the tournament to return to its roots as a solely women’s event.

Worcester announced in an Oct. 21 press conference that the New Haven Open at Yale would be sponsored by Yale, Yale-New Haven Hospital, Aetna, Inc. and American Express, replacing the 15 years of sponsorship from Pilot Pen of America. Pilot Pen dropped its title sponsorship last November, citing financial difficulties in the pen industry during the economic recession, Pilot Pen’s President and CEO Dennis Burleigh said in a statement last year.

Levin is on the board of both American Express and Aetna.

Levin said Sunday that he was not actively involved in obtaining the sponsorship from American Express and Aetna. “I only made the connection and let Anne Worcester and the team deal with the marketing team at American Express,” Levin said.

He added that the tournament is not only an advertising opportunity for the corporations, but also “an attractive possibility to do some useful public service.”

“The tournament runs all kinds of youth programs to promote youth participation in tennis,” Levin said.

Ward 7 Alderwoman Bitsie Clarke, who is in charge of New Haven’s downtown district, said Yale’s choice to sponsor is wonderful since it is an example of Yale seeing the needs of the city as it own. She added that the tournament brings nationwide publicity to New Haven and drives its economy. She said if Yale and the hospital had not decided to sponsor the tournament, Aetna and American Express probably would not have followed suit.

Yale-New Haven Hospital’s decision to sponsor the tournament grew out of its long-time support of the tournament, said hospital spokesman Vin Petrini. Aside from the tournament’s benefits to New Haven and Connecticut, it is also an opportunity for the hospital to raise its national profile. Additionally, the sponsorship is part of the hospital’s community investment program, Petrini said.

Levin said Sunday that tournament promoters, operators and sponsors collectively decided that the tournament should be female-only this year. He added that in the last few years, the male tournament has not attracted as many big names as the female tournament.

The fact that the tournament is one week before the U.S. Open is “a bigger deterrent for the male players,” Levin noted.

Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said he believes the only-women tournament will be successful.

“We are all excited about the tournament as it writes its next chapter and returns to the format of a women’s event,” he said. “That format has proven very successful in previous years and the 2011 event will offer world-class competition that showcases our world-class city at its best.”

In 1998, the New Haven tournament originally included men and women, but became a women’s event in 1999 until men were included again in 2005.

For their part, Yale’s own tennis coaches said they support Yale’s decision to sponsor the tournament. Alex Darato, the men’s tennis coach, explained that since it brings around $20 million to the New Haven community, it is worth Yale’s investment. The tournament provides benefits to New Haven youth through its grassroots tennis program, Darato added.

Danielle Lund McNamara, the women’s coach, said Yale’s efforts to continue the tournament are beneficial to the University and the New Haven community, bringing fans not only to the courts, which gives Yale and the athletic teams exposure, but also to the city’s downtown.

The New Haven Open at Yale will be held next year from Aug. 19 to 27.

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