The Braidy Industries $60,000 Women’s Tennis Classic is another victim of recent corporate upheaval in northeastern Kentucky.
The pro-tour tournament, contested at the Ashland Tennis Center each of the last two Julys and annually before that from 2004-08, will not return for an eighth iteration this year.
The loss of financial backing from the tournament’s two biggest sponsors — title sponsor Braidy Industries and presenting sponsor Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital — made it impossible for the tournament to meet its $274,000 budget, tournament director Dr. Jack Ditty said.
“One after another after another,” Ditty said Friday, with a rueful chuckle, of the recent economic blows to northeastern Kentucky. “Like being served one point after another, never getting a serve back into the court.”
Braidy Industries contributed $40,000 to be the tournament’s title sponsor each of the last two years and had also provided “a tremendous amount” of manpower and volunteer work up to the committee level, Ditty said.
OLBH gave $20,000 each of the last two years as the presenting sponsor. It had been the title sponsor for the five years the tournament was in Ashland in the first decade of the 2000s.
But the tournament’s two biggest backers disappeared in a span of mere days in January. Bon Secours Mercy Health announced on Jan. 21 it would close OLBH within the year. Seven days later, the board of Braidy Industries removed founder Craig Bouchard as CEO and chairman. Ditty said all communication with Bouchard was effectively cut off at that point.
Bouchard “was the number-one supporter” of the tournament, Ditty said in an email Feb. 1 to members of the tournament committee that he provided to The Daily Independent on Friday. Braidy conducted a sponsors party and the tournament’s opening and closing ceremonies and sponsored 12 interns during the tournament, as well as encouraging other sponsors, Ditty said.
A request for comment from Braidy Industries spokeswoman Kaylee Price if the company considered continuing its sponsorship of the tournament after Bouchard’s departure was not returned by press time Friday.
Ditty also cited the loss of about $10,000 worth of housing for 28 tournament officials from King’s Daughters Medical Center in the email as a contributing financial factor.
KDMC spokesman Tom Dearing said the hospital’s Hospitality House was unoccupied last year and allowed KDMC to offer the space to the tournament, but that it is now being used for patients, so KDMC could not make the same offer in 2020.
Within the week that news of the Bouchard-Braidy standoff, which continues in court in Delaware, broke, Ditty had emailed the tournament committee to express intent not to sign this year’s contract with the United States Tennis Association.
“It was a tremendous disappointment,” Ditty said of the cancellation. “I’ve been involved with tennis for all my life, and I was hoping that the tournament would continue for years into the future.”
With that off the table, Ditty doesn’t anticipate that Ashland will be able to attract the pro tour for a third time.
“What I realized was, if we couldn’t do the tournament, we weren’t likely to get a tournament back ever,” Ditty said. “There have been very few times that somebody has given up their tournament, and we were lucky to get it in the first place.
“I just had to make that decision, and at that point we had had such a tremendous outpouring of support for this tournament, in terms of people turning out in the community and ball kids and all of our volunteers on the committee and sponsors. It was very, very disappointing.”
The tour date has gone to Springfield, Massachusetts, Ditty said, although it is unlikely to be played this year. The International Tennis Federation has shut down all events until at least July 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We couldn’t have had the tournament anyway under any circumstance, as it turned out,” Ditty said, “which is just a realization that we’re part of the rest of the world, like everybody’s jobs that were shut down. It’s been a tragic thing for the entire country and the economy.”
Ditty called the tournament “just a tiny blip on the big screen” within that context, but remains proud of what the tournament accomplished in its two stints. He said about 390 players, along with their trainers, coaches, family and fans, came to Ashland during the seven tournaments.
“There was a lot of activity that we brought to Ashland with that, and a lot of excitement for the kids growing up here who got to see the professional players here,” Ditty said. “A lot of the players who had played in our tournaments back in 2004-08 came back and played again. So it was like welcoming old friends back to Ashland.”
Ditty, a dermatologist, worked in close concert with OLBH for decades before the hospital closed Thursday. His practice remains across the street from its shuttered campus.
“Life goes on,” he said in response to recent events in northeastern Kentucky. “Our community is resilient. People are resourceful. They’re very dedicated, committed people, and it’s an extraordinary family community that we live in, and life will go on and people will make their lives happen. We need to look to the future and just focus on what we can do for all of our family and children.”
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