- Associated Press - Saturday, August 21, 2010

NEW HAVEN, CONN. (AP) - Some of the top players in tennis are heading to Yale this week for the final tournament before the U.S. Open _ along with representatives of about a half-dozen companies being wooed in an effort to keep the event alive.

Pilot Pen is dropping its $2 million sponsorship _ and name _ from the New Haven tournament after 14 years, citing the poor economy. Leaders of the tournament, which begins Sunday, are now anxiously courting replacements and hoping this year won’t be its last.

“We’ve gotten a lot of excitement and a lot of good feedback, but in this economy companies are just not expanding their sports portfolio,” tournament director Anne Worcester said. “We’ve gotten so close with some big international brands. But it’s got to be the right time, right place, and it’s got to fit in with their strategy.”

Pilot Pen is one of just four tournaments sanctioned by both the men’s ATP Tour and the women’s WTA Tour. The tournament must let the owners, the United States Tennis Association, know whether it will continue leasing both sanctions or “hand back the keys by the end of September,” Worcester said.

Worcester won’t cite the companies showing interest, only that they are involved in insurance, financial services and consumer goods. Each will get an individually tailored tour next week.

Some will come to see where their logos would be. Others want to know how many mentions they would get on television or in the newspaper; Pilot Pen received more than 300 million media mentions during last year’s tournament, Worcester said.

Others are interested in what the tournament could do to help them entertain clients, she said.

Worcester said her ideal candidate would be an international company based in Connecticut. She said that she is confident someone will step up in the next month, but that she’s also working on a couple of backup plans.

If New Haven can’t get a full commitment, it might settle for a sponsorship that will allow it to keep just a men’s or a woman’s tournament, she said.

It’s also possible that Yale and local corporations could put together a “bridge” sponsorship that would give the tournament another year or two to find a single title sponsor.

That’s something the state’s PGA Tour stop did in 2003 after Canon stopped sponsoring what was then the Greater Hartford Open golf tournament. That led to a sponsorship from Buick, and eventually the Travelers.

“I think we’re going to be looking at every conceivable scenario,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier. “But our ultimate goal is to get a title sponsor, and we want to keep this as a combined event in New Haven.”

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said it’s important for the city and the state to keep the tournament, and not just because of the revenue it brings to hotels, restaurants and retailers.

“The tournament is a significant part of the city’s marketing effort,” he said. “It presents us in a market that we typically do not have access to, and helps our image.”

Worcester said the USTA and the city have been doing everything they can to help her. The state, however, has not been a partner, she said.

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