Howard Saffan 4/25/13

Howard Saffan, the CEO of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, talked about his career, starting out as a bankruptcy lawyer but always wanting to be associated with the sports business. He tried being a legal assistant for a famous sports agent but couldn’t stand dealing with the large egos of the athletes he represented. At this point he left the legal profession, and started a very successful window business which he subsequently sold for a large profit at age 36. He then bought a major interest in a leading golf driving-range company that was going into bankruptcy. He took over the Shelton, Ct. facility and added a double decker ice skating facility where various local hockey teams could train. This was the only double decker facility at that time. One of the teams that trained there was the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He joined the team as President and after 9 years became CEO. Finally in 2011 he bought the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport which he converted to one of the most successful sports and entertainment arenas in Ct. He features college and professional ice hockey and basketball and includes popular music groups, singers and shows such as Cirque de Soleil. This season the arena had the highest attendance ever and Howard continues to be a very successful entrepreneur.

During Q&A the following points were made:

  • He stated that he was optimistic about the future economic prospects for Bridgeport. After many corrupt mayors and politicians brought the city down, Mayor Finch is helping to restore Bridgeport’s economy by attracting major new shopping centers, rehabilitation of the waterfront area, and attractive new housing and restaurant facilities downtown which are attracting many young people.
  • He feels confident that he can host UConn’s basketball teams at his arena. He is negotiating with UConn at the present time.
  • The arena contains the only existing free-standing dual tier ice rink.
  • Inviting the Boston Pops to play there was not a financial success with only about 60% of the seats being sold. In comparison, Neil Young was a sellout.
  • The big problem with Bridgeport is that it’s tax base is too low resulting in very high taxes. As new businesses move back in this should change for the better.
  • He can host expos and trade shows if they are not too large, say 200-300 booths. He reminded us that the Hartford Expo Center, designed for much larger exhibits was a complete failure.
  • The school system at Bridgeport is a disaster, being run by many incompetent and corrupt people. Mayor Finch is working hard to improve the situation but it is a major problem that is affected by poverty, lack of parental influence and many other factors.
  • The perception that Bridgeport is not safe is exaggerated. As more events are held there and more and more people come to Bridgeport, its reputation will hopefully change.
  • As skaters become faster and bigger, the incidence of concussions are becoming more prevalent and serious. New equipment is being developed to keep pace with the objective of making hockey safer. It is an issue that is continually being worked on.

Thank you Brian for another great speaker.