Why Tennis in New Haven Won’t Last Much Longer

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.

Connecticut’s Frozen Two

I stand here at the garden center entrance at Lowe’s in Cromwell wishing I could watch the NCAA National Championship Game between Yale and Quinnipiac tonight at 7 p.m. Not because I am a huge hockey fan, I haven’t ever followed college hockey and only watch the NHL during the playoffs, but because the two teams vying for greatness tonight are less than 9 miles apart, door to door.
I grew up playing NHL ’95 on my Sega Genessis with my brother, playing as the Hartford Whalers. We even went to a few games at the Civic Center as a kid (I was a member of the kids fan club).
I remember the day my dad told me the team left for Carolina. I was so upset, but didn’t understand why a team would leave. The Wolf Pack came in a few years later and it was cool having hockey back in Hartford, but it wasn’t the same. When the team was bought and the name changed to the Whale, the entire state thought something great wad happening to the state of hockey in Connecticut, but no. The Whale Bowl, the outdoor hockey festival at Rentschler FieldĀ  in East Hartford was cool…actually freezing cold. I met a few friends there after work, I remember wearing so many layers that I could barely rest my arms down the side of my body.
My friends left after the first period and as temperatures dipped below zero, the football stadium emptied out. I would say less than 500 people remained as the game went into a shootout. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. The game ended and I literally ran almost a mile back to my car. That was probably the best thing I could have done. It got the blood flowing and I regained movement of my extremities.
I’ve been to a few games with my friends at the XL Center the last few years, they’re fun, but its not the same as a major league team or even minor league baseball, which I love.
Tonight at 7 p.m on ESPN, the Yale Bulldogs take on the Quinnipiac Bobcats for the national championship.
What does this mean for Connecticut?
Connecticut hockey is finally back on the map. I don’t have the numbers, but its been about 15 years since anyone in the state actually cared about a hockey game being played. Now the entire country and probably all of Canada is watching as well. I know there are a ton of people who say hockey is a boring sport, but I respect it. The strike a few years ago and then the most recent one didn’t not help the NHL, but hockey is again growing its fan base.
This does not mean the NHL should come running back to the state, but it will prove, if the fans show up and the teams stay contenders year after year, that they should consider it.
College sports have a more dedicated fan base than minor league teams anyway, but if continue to draw and produce NHL quality players at these programs, there is no reason why professional sports can’t make a comeback in the capital city.
I know this is just my thoughts, but believe it or not, tonight’s game is one of the biggest sporting events Connecticut has ever seen and the game is being played in Pittsburgh. Both student sections will be electric…
Oh, and one other thing. My editor at the Middletown Press is a Quinnipiac graduate. We watched the first Thursday night in the office and even though I left when
the Bobcats were up 3-1, I saw Joe freaking out. I have felt the same way about CCSU sports, but those weren’t even playoff games, let alone national semifinal. He was asked by the New Haven Register to go to Pittsburgh for the game tonight, but turned it down so he could sit home and watch the game on television. I don’t blame him. If my alma mater were playing, I wouldn’t want to be working, even though it would be an incredible experience.
I could go on and on about the game, but I’m going to leave it at that and probably listen to the first period on the radio during my break. The life of a retail employee.