Charles Wang's President In Bridgeport Howard Saffan Says Arena Profitable

New York Islander Fan Central | 3/07/2014 03:18:00 PM | | |
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 is today.

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.