Westport Sunrise Rotary

Postings from the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club

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UConn Basketball in Bridgeport?

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Weston resident and Bridgeport Sound Tigers President Howard Saffan told Westport Sunrise Rotary on Friday that there may be UConn basketball at Webster Bank Arena.

Hartford’s XL Center holds exclusive rights to both team’s home games played away from Gampel Pavilion. The agreement expires in June, and Saffan believes Fairfield County’s 30,000 UConn alumni present a strong argument for a few – and meaningful – games in this part of the state.

This 10,000 seat arena has hosted early round games in three previous NCAA women’s tournaments, all of which were among the best attended nationally. A fourth, next month, promises to be the same.

Sunrise Rotary recently recognized Saffan as a Paul Harris Fellow for his support of End Polio Now, Rotary International’s major international service program.

For the fourth year the arena is supporting this campaign by discounting center ice tickets for the Sound Tigers – Hartford Whale game on March 3rd and donating a portion of each to polio eradication.

Saffan thanked the club and offered a short bio. He is a bankruptcy lawyer, who built and sold a successful Bridgeport-based home improvement business. Then, at the age of 35, he sought out a “fun job” in sports management. He was told once too often “you’re too old.”

A friend said “grow up… get into real estate development.” He did. Again successfully so.

But the dream dies hard. He lost out on a bid to acquire a bankrupt golf driving range on Long Island. With a partner – Westporter Alan Phillips – Saffan acquired a similar property in Shelton and converted it into the Sports Center of Connecticut, a unique family recreation facility offering a year round golf driving range and ice skating, batting cages, Lazer Tag, a fitness and rehabilitation center – and much more.

The Sports Center, like many other facilities, has two skating rinks. Unlike any other in the world, the Sports Center is a double deck facility featuring two National Hockey League regulation size rinks. It is also the Sound Tigers’ practice facility.
Saffan became a partner of Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, and ran the Islanders two years. But commuting to Uniondale, Long Island, and not seeing his family, made that job “no longer fun.”

Wang named him President of the Sound Tigers in 2005. In 2011 Saffan’s management firm, Harbor Yard Sports and Entertainment, took over management for the City of Bridgeport, the arena’s owner. They soon signed a naming rights agreement with Webster Bank and Saffan began to make the arena more prominent.
He attracted new events, raising its 90 date schedule to “over 140 dates,” with more to come.

On the event side, the arena has attracted Fairfield University’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and it hosts other sports events. It also holds concerts, family shows like Disney on Ice, and the circus, as well as WWE exhibitions and trade shows. Last Sunday, Westport’s Unitarian Church held its annual Chowda Fest to raise money for the Connecticut Food Bank.

He made the arena more visible by erecting a large, new electronic marquee – so the two million cars that pass the arena on Route 95 each week would know it’s there. Then they fought the world’s largest billboard company and won the right to build a huge billboard along Route 95.

New management freshened up the public areas and upgraded and adding luxury suites – all of which now include tickets to every event. And “to get kids’ attention,” they added a blue line to blue line high definition digital scoreboard – the largest in the area – along with an 800 linear foot ribbon display board.

Altogether a new arena – and – hopefully, a site to see UConn basketball in the near future.

Those interested in learning about Webster Bank Arena – or buying Sound Tiger tickets should visit their website: http://www.websterbankarena.com/. Those interested in learning more about the Rotary hockey game are invited to visit: http://www.westportsunriserotary.com/. If you’re interested in the Sports Center of Connecticut, visit: http://www.sportscenterct.com/.

Roy Fuchs

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