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August 18, 1996

Jim Westhall


JIM WESTHALL: I think we're all sort of winding down, if we haven't already just about had it with the game of tennis, because of all the wonderful action that's been going on here for the past week. I for one want you to know that I went out and planned this whole thing. I decided I thought I'd give a wildcard to somebody that would get into the finals, and I thought if we could program it right, it would be a hell of a story. Here we are. I don't know how we could have ended up with a better story when you take somebody like Alex O'Brien and he comes through as he has, just about knocked off every seed to get here, and is our new champion of the first Pilot Pen International. I happened to be down the other night when he walked off the court and said, "Congratulations." He said, "Thank you, very much. I'm awfully sorry I knocked off one of your seeds." He's a very modest person. I think he's going to be a great champ and a great player. When I was having dinner the other night with Rod Laver, he emphasized the fact that he is one fine player. I saw Rod a little while ago, as a matter of fact we're going out to dinner in a little while. He said, "That was one fine match." I leave it up to you people as you write your story as to whether or not you agree with Rod Laver that this was one fine match. We have a great champion, someone who is really going to I think start to power his way up in the rankings. I'm very pleased. I know Jan Siemerink, while Alex was parading around with the Pepe Herman trophy, when he came up, he said, "I wish you'd quit hot-dogging running around the stadium. I'm tired, I want to get a rubdown." Kidding each other. Nice to have the kind of players we've had here, the kind of week we've had here. I know certainly there are a lot of things written about rain, but I think this has been two years in a row where we have not lost a single session. So maybe all the dark clouds that some people have been writing about is no longer around. We're out in the clear and ready to roll for all the years that we have ahead of us.

Q. Even without rain, the attendance was still down. Are you disappointed or do you figure we got a great story out of it, who cares?

JIM WESTHALL: I think certainly the first thing you have to have here is a great story. Attendance is always something that we like to crow about I think when you really think about it, compare us with the rest of the world, especially on the ATP Tour. Maybe I just reached too high, like Bud Collins wrote about Rod Laver a long time ago, that Rod Laver never played against an opponent, he always played against himself. So maybe sometimes the bar may have been pushed too high for us, for anybody. But you have to remember that a qualifier, we had almost two qualifying days, we had almost 15,000 people. That's an amazing thing when you get qualifier weekends and you have 15,000 people. No, I'm really pleased. We averaged must have been, what, about 8,000 or 9,000 for each session, including the qualifiers, so I think we have something we're really pleased with. Certainly Tuesday, if you pull that Tuesday out where it did rain and we didn't start till about 2:30, I think we have done almost as well as last year, which is 148,000. That was the second best year we ever had here. We we'll push the ball up again, go for it. I really feel there was a spirit here that I have never seen before in all the 26 years I have been in the business. I know some people are saying that I should think about the field rather than pansies. I think what we're trying to put together is something that complements great tennis. I think we're getting very close to that.

Q. Jim, you had five wildcards. A hundred guys out there that probably wanted them. Why did you give Alex O'Brien a wildcard to begin with?

JIM WESTHALL: Alex was on our short list from the very beginning. He did win the Pilot Pen, the last Pilot Pen that was played here I think in 1993. He's a fine player. He was on our short list, as I said a moment ago, from the very beginning. I just thought that he deserved one. As we looked over the wildcards or the players that were asking for wildcards, it just made a lot of sense to include Alex O'Brien. We've seen him play and we thought he could put on a good show. I guess maybe I should look in the mirror and say, "Great job, Jim. You pulled the winner out of the hat here."

MODERATOR: He won the Pilot Pen open here in 1991.

JIM WESTHALL: You're right.

Q. You were holding one out for Chang. If Chang decides he wants to play here, does Alex O'Brien not get a wildcard?

JIM WESTHALL: I think Alex was not the No. 5 choice, he's probably about No. 4. I can't remember how we lined them up.

Q. Do you remember who your first choice was?

JIM WESTHALL: Traditionally we go with Stan Smith and the USTA. They just about automatically get one from their stable of players that they're trying to groom from the American team, American group of good players.

Q. Being a local kid?

JIM WESTHALL: We felt that certainly looking at the way the thing was shaping up, we felt that Lou deserved one. He got one last year. We just felt that it would be a nice idea to give him one again. I thought he played a fine match the first time out. He drew a tough player.

MODERATOR: What happened was we allocated wildcards. When it came time to do our draw, the entry list cut line dropped below them. They were automatically in; they didn't need wildcards. We had two more wildcards than we anticipated having available. That's how it came about. They had originally been announced as wildcards, but they didn't require them. We had basically Luke Jensen as the only wildcard who needed one.

JIM WESTHALL: Played a pretty good match, too.

Q. Did the attendance this week being down and such beautiful weather make more resolve than ever to have a separate week?

JIM WESTHALL: I don't think they're tied together. We had a good week here. I mean, once in a while I have to sit down and reflect on what we have here. We have a great week. We have great players. Would I rather have my own week? Certainly I'd rather have my own week. I just think it would be nice to have. I think what it does is just sends us back to the drawing board to say, "Okay, this is what we did this year. How can we improve it for next year?" This isn't an easy business by any stretch of the imagination. You're always out there trying to do better. As I said before, we put the bar up, no one else puts the bar up for us. We put it up ourselves. Perhaps sometimes we're reaching on it from our tiptoes here.

Q. Can you put your finger on why the attendance dropped? Is it the name change?

JIM WESTHALL: I don't think the name change -- if it had anything to do with it, I think it would be very, very minor. I was pleased with it. It was almost a seamless transition from Volvo to Pilot Pen. Certainly Ron was a very active spokesman for this tournament. He does a very good job, continued to do it throughout the week and prior to the week. He went out there and bought a lot of time for the tournament. He's a very good partner. I don't think it was Pilot Pen and the transition from Volvo to Pilot Pen. Certainly anytime you have the threat of rain here, once in a while, it's just going to impact on your gate. We had that Tuesday, which was not the best thing that we could do, and rain is therefore a problem. Certainly, if I could control the media, I would certainly say to you all, "Do you really have to emphasize the fact that we've lost three players?" That gets up in the big headlines. I think quite frankly you guys are very influential. As a result, people when they read what you're putting out there or see what you're putting out there or hear what you're putting out there, it has an effect on our gate. I've got to tell you, without you guys, I wouldn't be here. I'm pleased to have the kind of a showing from the media that we do get. With that, you guys are going to write sometimes things that if I had a choice of writing your story, I would write it perhaps a little differently. I think it does have a bearing on the attendance.

Q. If had you a 10,000 seat stadium out there and put 9,800 people in it, we'd write about that. Because you have a 15,000 seat stadium and you put 11,000 or 10,000 out there, we put there's 4,000 empty seats. Do we harp too much on that?

JIM WESTHALL: Once in a while you could back off a little bit. You're absolutely right. We have the third largest outdoor tennis tournament stadium in the entire world, the largest on the ATP Tour. That puts a lot of pressure on us to get people in seats. There's a lot of pressure to begin with, and any little thing can knock it off the track. I think this is what is happening. Yes, you're absolutely right. If we had a 10,000 seat stadium, we had 9,800 filled, we would have a waiting line to get in. We have a big stadium. A lot of things have impacted us over the years here. Certainly the economy hasn't been our best ally. I think we're beginning to get a good feel and a good sense of what this market is all about. I think people are beginning to feel more comfortable with us every year. We're going to go out there and hustle a little harder. You've seen our recreational vehicle, maybe you haven't. But we have a 30-foot recreational vehicle out there that is our mobile billboard. On one side it says Pilot Pen, we'll have to change that to 1997. Alex, come in here for a second, I need help. I was just telling them how I sat down one day and said, "If I give Alex a wildcard and move the things around a little bit, I might very well come up with a winner." I dipped into the hat and ended up with a winner. I'm very pleased that you won and let's do it again sometime.

ALEX O'BRIEN: I'll have to second that. I think the opportunity to have a chance to play is awesome, appreciate it.

JIM WESTHALL: I was telling them, I don't know a couple of times I was with Rod Laver, most recent time a little while ago, he said, "That was one heck of a match." I was having dinner with him the other night, he said, "Alex can really play tennis. A good player." People may say that he came in as a no name, but thanks to you guys he's going out as a star.

ALEX O'BRIEN: That's the truth. I think also the tennis here, just because like Agassi and Sampras haven't come, has been excellent tennis the whole week. I think you guys have been out and watched the matches. It's been quality tennis. Hopefully people will start to realize it's not just Agassi and Sampras that play quality tennis, there are some other people out there playing some good tennis and winning some good matches.

Q. Both Alex and Jim, along those lines, is name recognition still the most important thing, though? You talk about us harping on the three players you lost coming in, maybe that affected tennis.

JIM WESTHALL: I'm not harping on it, just putting it out there for discussion.

Q. For three days at least people have been writing stories about what a great story Alex O'Brien is and still didn't fill up the stadium. Is it because they don't know who he is?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I think probably a lot of it is name recognition. I think tennis suffers in a way because in golf if a guy like myself comes through, he wins a tournament, all they do is say, "Gosh, this guy is a great player. He chips well, he putts well, really on top of his game. He's the future of golf, he's really come into his own." Whereas in tennis, I think, especially in America, where it's three or four guys that people think are the only guys that can play tennis. I think this week has proven that -- Philippoussis and I played an unbelievable match to a packed stadium the other night. I think the fans loved it and they really got into it. They got behind the personalities of the players. I think that sells tennis as well. Hopefully you guys can help relay the message that there's not ten guys in the world that can play. When he loses people like Becker or Stich, they're not the only guys that can play tennis. You watch the tennis this week, there's been some great stuff.

JIM WESTHALL: Must be a little frustrating to go out there week after week, Alex, and find that people don't really realize or focus on the fact that you're a hell of a tennis player and there are a lot of other great tennis players alongside of you.

ALEX O'BRIEN: Hopefully this week will kind of tell people that there are some great tennis players out there besides the main, big men.

JIM WESTHALL: What's interesting, about 20 years ago I wrote an editorial to the ITW, International Tennis Week, I said, "Look, let's not just focus on two or three ticket sellers, four or five ticket sellers. There are a lot of great players out there. Let's start the focus on building personalities who can play tennis as well." Obviously I didn't get my point across too well because we're still talking about this and probably will forever. Again, Alex, I agree with you. You look at what is happening in golf, it doesn't matter who wins, everybody is a great player out there.


JIM WESTHALL: A lot of new faces are showing up. I think it's good for the sport of tennis.

ALEX O'BRIEN: It is good for the sport of tennis. There are a lot of new faces showing up. Philippoussis is a great example of a new guy coming up. I think people start appreciating it more, especially when things like this happen. I played some great tennis this week. It wasn't a fluke that I came through and won the tournament. Hopefully we can kind of, I don't know, build a week at a time and show people that that's the case.

JIM WESTHALL: I have a challenge here. Linda Pentz is the best media person in the business. If we can't fill this stadium, maybe you people can start to write stories and help us show that there are great players, a lot of great players out there. All you have to do is come and give them a chance and you're going to be very pleased with a day out here of tennis. These guys can really play the game of tennis. They're just not walking through saying, "Hey, let me play." These guys are guys that can really play the game of tennis and they really go out there and give you a great show. I think that's what happened here. We've had a great show this week. Here is one example of how great the show has been. I hope when you do write your story, you're going to help him become a star.

ALEX O'BRIEN: That's right. I need the help (laughter).

Q. Alex, how was the crowd for you this week? You travel all over the world. How many tournaments did you play this year?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I'm not sure. I played quite a few, though.

Q. Compare these crowds this week?

ALEX O'BRIEN: These crowds are great. Obviously from, say, two years ago the crowds are down a little bit. I think the crowds are awesome. More importantly is the fact that they know tennis and they come out here and they have fun. They get into the matches. I think that's awesome. You can feel the energy when you're out there. I mean, this stadium is a humungus stadium. You say the stadium is not filled. The other night with Philippoussis, it sure seemed like it was filled. There may be a few spaces here and there, but I could feel the stadium was going.

Q. (Inaudible)?

ALEX O'BRIEN: For sure. Outside of Grand Slams, this is one of the top events of the year. It's easy probably to get down on it because a few less people are showing up this year, but this is great. It is a great turnout, people do get into tennis here.

Q. Are you staying tomorrow?

ALEX O'BRIEN: I'm going to take it easy tonight and just kind of have a beer and kick back.

Q. Leaving tomorrow morning?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Yeah, leave tomorrow morning. It will be nice just to kind of sit back and drink a cold one.

Q. Alex, you were very subdued it seemed like after you won the thing. First big title. Were you just too tired at that point?

ALEX O'BRIEN: Probably, yeah. I just ate some food so I'm feeling a little better. I was just tired. It was a hot day. I've played a lot of tennis this week. I'm also mentally a little. It's tough. I've been working hard out there, trying to win each point. I was just a little tired. I'm much happier now.

Q. Jim, you talked about this market. You say you have a better feel for it now than you did years ago. When you look ahead to what you're going to do with three events in the area, with the doubles thing coming in, and return of the women's, how do you look at that all right now? Is it going to be able to handle three events, this market, be able to support it?

JIM WESTHALL: I think it can. We're going to be cross promoting which is a very valuable opportunity for us.

ALEX O'BRIEN: I'm going to take off.

JIM WESTHALL: Thanks for coming.

ALEX O'BRIEN: Didn't want to take over your press conference.

JIM WESTHALL: Thanks for coming in. I was in trouble for a while.

ALEX O'BRIEN: I don't think so. Thanks a lot.

JIM WESTHALL: Have a good run down at the Open. Hopefully this will start it going a bit. I think there's a great opportunity for us to cross promote. Our market for the most part has seen the Hartford area, which is a tennis area, and Springfield, has about 11 and a half percent, sort of stuck on the needle, likewise down in Fairfield County, now we're going have to the opportunity with our doubles event to sell not only the doubles event but turn around and say there is a great tournament, because we're going to have a presence for the Pilot Pen in '97 in Hartford as well. The people in the Hartford area are going to I think see something that they haven't had a chance to see, for whatever the reason, they have not come down here. They're going to see we can put on a pretty good tennis event and recognize Jewell Productions can put on an event they can enjoy and therefore why not come down in the summertime to see some great tennis. I don't want to put any pressure on Linda, but she's got to go up there and do one hell after job for us. We're going to need all the help we can get as a new event. We have a big stadium up there, great sponsor in Phoenix, they have already put together a committee of 52 who are responsible for helping us sell this, the chamber of commerce is going to be behind it, downtown business council is going to be behind it, and there are a lot of people who are going to be working very closely with us to make us a great success. The greater success we experience up there, I think the spillover is going to be better for down here. It will be cross promoting in a big way. That's one of the benefits in doing the three events. We have a great staff here who can really just go up there and turn that place upside down and in the course of events just head them back this way at the end of the doubles.

Q. When will you know about the women's event for next year?

JIM WESTHALL: We just got an expression from Linda two or three days ago when I was going through the hospitality tents, and she said that they had made a decision that they do want to sponsor the event again. Now, the question is for me to go down and hopefully in the next few weeks be able to start to put this one together again. We were not quite sure where SET was on this question, but they assured me they want to come back. That was good news for us. Now it's up to us for us to find a way to put it together.

Q. Next year?

JIM WESTHALL: Hopefully for next year.

Q. How does the WTA feel about it?

JIM WESTHALL: The WTA wants to do something here. They've always expressed that. Their calendar is very tight. They have to look at it in that light. We've got to convince them that I think we can help sell their brand of very good tennis. I think we certainly gave them every reason to want to work closely with us with two record years, last year and the year before. We had some great tennis. We had 13,500 people just about all three sessions. Ended up with 36,000 for the first year, 34,000 the second year. I think that's remarkable. I think also what we've done here this year is very remarkable. Again, with your help, I think we're going to go out there and really knock them dead. If we have to go out there and put a rope around each -- we're only about 15 to 18 percent down. You've heard me say that quite a few times. If we have to go out there and rope each one of those to make 15 or 18 percent, we're going to do it. We are really focused on bringing people to this stadium to have fun.

Q. In retrospect, would you build a 12,000 seat stadium instead of a 15,000 seat stadium if had you the choice?

JIM WESTHALL: What would happen when we filled that 12,000 seat stadium, I'd say, "I wish I had 15,000." I guess so. It's nice to have a full stadium. When you have a full stadium, people want to get in. That's the best of all worlds. That's what we had up at Stratton. We were sold out in advance. We had 11,000 seat stadium. Maybe that's the answer. We didn't have night play. Maybe that's the answer. We have a tiger by the tail here. It's a challenge that I'm delighted to have. I'm going to be bored if we fill that stadium so early in our career. We'll just have to go out there.

Q. Yesterday we talked and you said traditionally you weren't that concerned about being in the same week. Do you think this week has done anything to change that in their mind? They've had a pretty high profile final.

JIM WESTHALL: Who won? We don't know. Well, again, their feeling, we had a lot of discussions on this, is that a double-up week is good, again for the reasons I have stated many times. That is the best players in the world are here to play. We have to do our best to get half of the top seeds, and they've always felt that they were very comfortable with it. I think we have a great advantage. We're in a far bigger market than they are. We have a far larger stadium than they do. I think their numbers have been not as good as they were a few years back. They are a charity. They are not quite putting the numbers of people in the seats that they were before. They're beginning to feel things tightening up. They have a commitment to their charities. They feel maybe there's something in a double-up. We've been talking about, What is that thing? It's not that easy to solve. Every time we thought we were getting closer to some resolution, something else crept in and said, "You have to solve this one before we can move forward." We're not there, but we will continue to look at every conceivable way of doing something that will allow us to have our own week or some combination that the media will be happy with.

Q. You said you established the bar very high.

JIM WESTHALL: Numbers-wise.

Q. Have you changed the bar in weeks and years? Have you had to change your mental placement of the bar?

JIM WESTHALL: When I first came down here, all I thought I had to do was come down with the show from Stratton Mountain, to be quite frank with you. "If you build it, they will come." I think we've built a great stadium and they have come, they just haven't come in the numbers that I thought I would be able to do in the initial stages. Sure, in that regard we're rethinking. The bar is going to be up there and we're going to put that bar up higher on our own. We're developing a team here that I think is one of the best, if not the best in the world. We'll just put a little pressure on the team to say, "Let's get going. Let's do everything we've been saying." We have two bars. One is certainly attendance and one is what we put out there in the form of a great product. I think we have given in the last seven years a wonderful, wonderful product for the public to enjoy. I think in that regard we're awfully close to the bar we've established. There isn't a day that goes by that we don't want to be better than the day we were before. I know that Linda bugs me all the time on that issue.

Q. (Inaudible) from that dream you've had of putting a men's and women's event together?

JIM WESTHALL: It is a dream that we should put men and women together. We're certainly talking about that for the doubles event. We've had preliminary discussions on that. Maybe it starts up there. I say it all the time, Once we fill this stadium, they will come. You say, Who are they? The powers that be will come to us and say, "What can we do to be a part of your show?" I think what we're doing here is showing the rest of the world and thereby helping the ATP as well as the WTA to showcase their product, which is something that we keep telling these people, "Gosh, we're in the best market in the world, the biggest market in the world, and we have one of the biggest stadiums in the world. We're allied with Yale University, we have a lot of things going for us. We just feel that, Come on, ATP Tour, join us a little more than you have in the past." They're getting a lot better. They have a lot of masters to serve. The WTA, we want to get as close as possible to these people and have them help us show the world that this is a major league city and a major league state. Again, I think this is a window of opportunity for New Haven, a window of opportunity for Connecticut. We reached 90 to 100 countries with our television program, have 500 media here. It's a week of saying nice things about this event in the City of New Haven and the State of Connecticut. I think it's of value to all of us to get behind it and push harder to make this thing what it should be and what it will be, maybe not as fast as I had first anticipated. I'm optimistic. I'm the eternal optimist. If we get 6,000 pansies, I call them flowers, maybe we can get 9,000 next year. Then you know what's going to happen, the damn bees will show up (laughter). Now what will happen? You'll write about the damn bees (laughter).

Q. You've been playing this song every year.

JIM WESTHALL: There we go.

Q. The same song every year. It hasn't changed.

JIM WESTHALL: What hasn't changed? I'm sorry.

Q. You're still getting X number of people, you're still looking at the bar. All of the things you are saying about putting on -- trying to put on a quality product hasn't changed.

JIM WESTHALL: Dave, that's not true. Last year we had 148,000 people. In 1992 I think it was we had 156,000 people. There are going to be some ups and downs in this business. All you have to do is throw a little rain in the equation and you're scrambling to hold on to the numbers you had before. All have you to do is lose three top players, as we did. And I think given the scenario that we were handed, I wish you guys would stand up and say, "Jim, one hell of a show." Damn it, that's the way I feel about it. I feel we put on one hell of a show. I think the people did turn out. You guys have to get out there and say some nice things about us once in a while. Hey, no matter what happens, it's a great show, get up here, come see it, bring your friends. Thank you.

End of FastScripts….

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