| By Brian Coleman

Long Island will once again play host to professional tennis when the New York Open makes its debut at NYCB Live, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in February of 2018. Thanks to the partnership between GF Sports LLC and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the famous Memphis Open has found a new home in Nassau County.

“We conducted an exhaustive eight-month national search to find a real growth opportunity from both a corporate sponsorship and ticket buyer standpoint,” said Josh Ripple, Executive Vice President of GF Sports LLC and Tournament Director for the New York Open. “In the end, we were fortunate to capitalize on our GF Sports Board’s relationship with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment and the realization that the newly renovated Coliseum could be interested in having a solid event anchor tenant so to speak. A casual conversation turned into a win-win proposition for both of us, and the partnership affords us the chance to help build tennis in the New York-metro area and offer Long Islanders an annual world-class professional sports property to support.”

The Memphis Open was one of longest running American tournaments on the ATP Tour, dating back to 1976. In 1977, it was designated as the U.S. Indoor National Championships, and tennis legend Bjorn Borg captured the title that year. The tournament was acquired by GF Capital, two years ago, along with the BB&T Open in Atlanta, and both are now operated by GF Sports LLC.

While Memphis possesses a strong and passionate tennis fan base, as time went on, the market shrunk with attendance dropping and sponsorship interest on the decline.

“Memphis is an historic tennis market with savvy tennis fans,” said Ripple. “But the tournament itself became victim to the macro changes in professional tennis, meaning many of the sports top players were no longer Americans and more and more tournaments were exiting the U.S. With that evolution, the event became pretty limited to a small core base of passionate tennis fans and not many others. With attendance dwindling, the interest from sponsors in that market also became limited.”

Ripple continued, “When GF Capital purchased the tournament, it was our mid- to long-term goal to relocate closer to the New York area. When we learned that Nassau Coliseum had gone through a change, we thought we had a great opportunity to move this event closer to our home base and reside in a newly renovated state-of-the-art arena. It became a no-brainer. When all the stars lined up, we knew we could have a potential winner by moving it to the Nassau Coliseum.”

The move is one of many that GF Sports looks to make as it wants to bring its event assets closer to the company headquarters, and the New York-market presents a unique opportunity to grow the tournament exponentially. 

The company is making a major investment and betting on the New York Open, as well as other events that it is bringing to the area. One of those events is the American leg of the Longines Masters, an Equestrian event that has been held in Los Angeles for the last several years and will be moving to the Nassau Coliseum next April. In conjunction with Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the partnership is set to build on its various event series with a strong and strategic marketing campaign.

At the heart of that is the tournament that has brought excitement and intrigue to tennis fans in the Long Island and New York communities who have been starving for a professional tennis event outside of the three week-long U.S. Open.

Ripple and all involved have stressed that they want the New York Open to be more than just an ATP 250 Series tennis tournament, incorporating various lifestyle extensions that will help create a festival-type atmosphere throughout the week that the tournament is in town. That marketing strategy is something he learned and was able to help execute during his time at Life is Beautiful, a Las Vegas-based inspirational content and music, food, art and learning event company, where he served as Chief Operating Officer.

Ripple will serve as the New York Open Tournament Director and brings a wealth of experience in the field of event marketing and the business which encompasses it. He is also a former tennis player himself, having played his college tennis at George Washington University where he was roommates with now ITF President David Haggerty.

“Our overall strategy must never forget our core tennis base, but perhaps more important, it must cater to the general entertainment-seeking consumer,” said Ripple. “While it may take a few years to get it right, the goal is to offer the players, fans, sponsors and media something unique that differentiates ourselves from the rest. That fundamental approach was pounded into me in recent non-sports roles at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas and then at Life is Beautiful. An old boss used to preach to me that is was our mission to differentiate ourselves in a sea of sameness, and that philosophy will be applied to what we do here with the New York Open.”

Ripple has been encouraged by the feedback GF Sports has received from the local community, and he says, in addition to USTA Long Island and USTA Eastern, there are so many people in the tennis world around here who want to do what’s necessary to have the New York Open become a successful platform to help promote the sport.

“It is clear to us over the last few months that we have made the right decision to be here,” Ripple said. “The tennis community is truly excited over having an annual winter tennis event on the calendar which will allow players, club owners and teaching pros, and even the media like Long Island and New York Tennis Magazines, programming to look forward to in the early part of the year.”

Kathy Miller is one of those club owners who has collaborated with GF Sports and the New York Open team. Miller is the Club Manager of Carefree Racquet Club in North Merrick, which will serve as the practice facility for the players during the tournament, and is located just about four miles from Nassau Coliseum.

The player field for both the singles and doubles draws come February is expected to be improved over what Memphis has had in recent years. New York and Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum will be more attractive to players because of the market and the new arena. One of the early commits is current world number nine Kei Nishikori of Japan, who won four straight titles in Memphis from 2013-2016. Ripple expects that the majority of the top Americans, as well as up-and-coming U.S. stars, will be in the field as well which should create excitement amongst the fans in attendance.

There will be a qualifying tournament leading into the main draw, and there have been discussions of creating something of a regional wild card tournament, where local players will have a chance to compete for a spot in qualifying.

While there is no word on how long the agreement between the tournament and Nassau Coliseum is, Ripple assures that the New York Open is here to stay for a long time, and will attract tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike.

“This will be a professional sports franchise for everyone, not just for tennis people,” Ripple said. “In order to be successful, we need to attract a diverse audience, and the way to do that is to create something extraordinary on Long Island in the winter time. With the entertainment powerhouse Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment as our partners, we have the right combination of sports and entertainment acumen to create memories for a very long time.”

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com