The first time I went to the Pilot Pen tennis tournament at Yale in New Haven was back six or seven years ago, maybe more with my dad. Two days later I went with my mom and brother. This was a time in my life when I was really into the sport and playing in high school. A year or two later the tournament brought men’s tennis back and it seemed to be at an all-time high for attendance and buzz in the state.
James Blake, Marcos Baghdatis and some of the other top players in the world loved coming to the New Haven tournament, the grounds were buzzing and I even remember hearing a guy at the ticket window one year walk up and say, “I want to see Blake.”
It’s not like that anymore.
Two or three years ago the event lost it’s title sponsor and it became known as the New Haven Open. The men’s tournament also left and so did some of the better women’s players. Caroline Wozniacki won the tournament four years in a row and was #1 in the world, but she didn’t really have any competition. She’s back this year along with Sabine Lisicki, Sara Errani, Petra Kvitova and other’s, but they still don’t have the top player in the world.
The Williams sister’s used to play in New Haven; over 10 years ago and they won’t ever be back. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic will never play in Connecticut, it just doesn’t have the pulling power.
When I walked to the ticket window today, I paid $34 for the cheapest ticket possible and didn’t even get to see anyone special. Yes, I saw Kvitova in the Stadium Court, but even the box seats aren’t right on the court. If you want sideline seats, you have to fork over $84 PER PERSON.
I understand tennis is a “rich person” sport, but it has casual fans that want to see their favorite players and they can barely do that here. A 20-something guy walked up to the ticket window next to me and asked how he could get a ticket just to walk on the grounds and see the matches on the side courts? $34 for a box seat. He couldn’t believe it, walked away and thought about if it was worth it before turning around and finally buying the ONLY ticket available.
In the past, the three or four side courts always had matches being played and you could pick wherever you wanted to go to watch a match. Today there were two courts, the stadium and grandstand courts. The grandstand showcased four doubles matches, none of which were very entertaining and the stadium, about 10% to capacity showed some early round singles competition.
It was hot.
A large bottle of water cost $5 and food is even more outrageous.
You can tell the tournament is trying to make it more fan-friendly. After a couples of matches, the winners were brought out to the green area to sign autographs and play ping-pong against the fans; which is cool, but it’s not going to last.
If the tournament doesn’t figure out a way to attract the top players in the world and more fans, they will not last. The sponsors will continue to leave the way Pilot Pen’s did. They need to bring in better tennis. They need to make it affordable for the casual fan, like myself. I don’t think this will happen. I know it was a Tuesday, but the attendance seems way down. I’ll see what it’s like this weekend, but I expect it to be some of the lowest ever.