CARLSBAD — In less than two weeks, the eyes of the tennis world shift back to the city once again.
Two years after the departure of the Women’s Tennis Association’s Southern California Open relocated to Japan, a new tournament is taking hold.
The Carlsbad Classic commences Nov. 22 through Nov. 29 at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort as the new tournament shoots to become one of the top destinations in professional tennis.
Tournament Director Ben Goldsmith said his goal for the tournament is to become one of the top draws on the circuit and, eventually, lead into the Indian Wells event. He said the Indian Wells tournament is the largest in the world “by volume” and, with an aggressive approach, the Carlsbad Classic would be an ideal warm-up tournament for the WTA’s top talent.
“We are one of three tournaments in California,” Goldsmith said. “We have no intentions of staying small … but we have to impress the WTA with our attendance numbers. We know we have a built in fan base.”
Finally, Goldsmith said the plan is to include men’s and doubles formats.
But first, Goldsmith and Director of Ticket Sales Kyla Brown are focused on spreading the word in addition to managing the final preparations for the inaugural event.
The main court is currently under construction as a brand new surface is being installed. The temporary facility will have a capacity of 2,200.
Ticket prices, meanwhile, are where Goldsmith and Brown said they hope to drive up attendance. Daily prices are $40 for box seats (Nov. 23 to Nov. 27) and $20 for general admission. Box seats for the semifinals (Nov. 28) and finals (Nov. 29) run $50.
“We have everything right here at the venue,” Brown said. “Yes, we are starting out smaller, but we have a base here in San Diego County. We are not going anywhere.”
The weeklong event kicks off Nov. 22 with a VIP gala hosted by TV personality and former American Idol contestant Kimberly Caldwell.
As for reaching the fan base, Goldsmith and Brown said a grassroots effort has been underway for months. The two have reached out to numerous tennis clubs, local businesses and talking with people about the event.
“We’re starting from scratch,” Brown said.
“We’ve spent a lot of money on advertising and hit every club in town once a week,” Goldsmith added. “TV ads, radio ads, we’ve done the gamut.”
Despite all the logistical obstacles of building an event from the ground up, tennis fans have been spurned twice by pro tournaments that have come and then left the area.
Goldsmith stressed his tournament is staying put as the venue and partnership with the Park Hyatt will allow the event to become one of the most successful on tour.
“We are building a better relationship with the fan base because they’ve been bitten twice,” Goldsmith said. “We are here to stay. A lot of talking individual to individual.”
Another challenge has been to find a title sponsor. Goldsmith said he is currently working on prospective sponsors for next year, which would allow the tournament to increase its purse and additional revenue to get the top players in the world.
Currently, the 32-player singles draw features numerous players ranked in the top 120.
Goldsmith said the tournament begins the WTA’s points season, although it is the last event in the calendar year. Also, those players sitting outside the top 100 are fighting for an automatic qualification for the 2016 Australian Open, which means a good result in Carlsbad could push one or several players into the first major.
“Sponsorships are tough,” Goldsmith said. “It’s tough to run it without a title sponsor. You just don’t have the capital that you need to impress people. You got to get the fans here, then woo them with what we have here at the grounds. We have a better venue than La Costa, we’ve spent a ton of money on a new court, fixed the grounds up. We plan on spending more money next year to attract the top players.”
As for the timing, an honest Goldsmith said Thanksgiving week gives the tournament a selection of ball kids since they are off from school. However, another aspect is Carlsbad and San Diego County is a holiday destination for families, which he and Brown are targeting to get into the stands.
For ticket, parking and other information for the 2015 Carlsbad Classic, visit cldclassic.com or call (760) 795-9105
Steve Puterski covers Carlsbad and Vista. For tips or story ideas, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @StevePuterski.