Bridgeport Sound Tigers President, Howard Saffan, discussed his background, running the Sound Tigers, and why he left running the day to day operations of the Islanders several years ago.
Saffan took some time out to talk about his career and what it takes to
lead a staff in managing Sound Tigers and the arena under the umbrella
of Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment.
Q: How did ownership of the sports center turn into presidency of the Sound Tigers and the Webster Bank Arena?
A: The Sound Tigers came into being in 2001. Alan Panzer, CEO of U.S. Surgical, knew I was a hockey fan. He encouraged me to see the Sound Tigers. In the suite next to us was Mike Milbury,
general manager of the Islanders. I introduced himself, and I said we
were building hockey rinks less than 10 minutes away. I was introduced
to the owner of Islanders, Charles Wang,
and two months later, I was at their practice facility in Syosset, L.I.
He asked me to comment on what they should and shouldn't be doing. It
led to me becoming partners with Charles Wang at Ice Works at Syosset.
Two years later, the Islanders purchased -- took over the assets of -- the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Charles asked me be president. About five years ago, Charles asked me to help him run the business
side of the Islanders and oversee the Nassau Coliseum, which I did for
approximately two years. But I was reverse commuting from Weston every
day, and I told him I wasn't having fun. Those are the magic words for
Charles -- not having fun.
I told him I have a great idea -- why don't we become partners in the
Arena at Harbor Yard? I believe we can turn it around. On March 30,
2011, we purchased it from CenterPlate. We've invested millions of
dollars into the facility. We've taken what I foresaw becoming the next
New Haven Coliseum and bringing it back to the jewel status that it
Q: What are the pluses and minuses of being president of both the Sound Tigers and the arena?
A: A plus is flexibility of scheduling with 365-day control of the calendar. We can be mobile. Example, Elton John
wanted to practice and wanted to play a date here, but the date was
blocked by a Sound Tigers game. I called the president of the other
team, and we changed the date. Elton John was a sellout and a huge
success for the city of Bridgeport. That was a huge get. The minuses --
aggravations 365 days a year. When hockey season is over, whole other
series of issues arise.
Q: Are the Sound Tigers and arena profitable?
A: When we took over the Sound Tigers, they were losing quite a bit
of money. Charles has been extremely patient, and the fans have come
out. The team does well in the American Hockey League. But in Fairfield
County, people have the means to go to Madison Square Garden, the Nassau
Coliseum and the Prudential Center. It's challenging, but being part of
the community is critical in what we do. It's substantially better. Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment is a
profitable venture. Both entities have been turned around.