MIDDLETON — The Boston Lobsters say the combination of a strong tennis market on the North Shore and easy highway access to Ferncroft Country Club will make their move to Middleton a success.
The Lobsters held a press conference yesterday morning at Ferncroft to officially announce the club as their new home. The coed professional tennis team will play seven matches in July on an outdoor court that will soon have stands for 1,600 fans.
Two of those matches will include Martina Navratilova, while another will feature Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.
Team owner Bahar Uttam said he picked Ferncroft in part because there are more tennis clubs in this area than anywhere else in the state.
"This is a very attractive site," Uttam said as snow fell on the golf course outside the banquet room at Ferncroft. "We looked at other areas around Sudbury and Weston, but this really is the dominant area for tennis."
The Lobsters played indoors at Harvard University for the last three years, but Uttam said fans want to be outdoors during the summer. The team averages about 800 fans per match. Uttam is hoping to increase that number to 1,000 at Ferncroft.
Uttam has hired a high-powered sports marketing company, StarGames, to promote the Lobsters. StarGames is led by Jerry Solomon, a Lynnfield resident who was named one of the 100 most powerful people in sports by The Sporting News in 1994. He's also the husband of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan.
Solomon, who attended yesterday's press conference, promoted last week's tennis match between Roger Federer and Pete Sampras at Madison Square Garden, which Uttam called "one of the biggest independent tennis events ever in the United States."
Uttam, a retired technology company CEO, said he's been promoting the Lobsters by himself for the last three years, with the help of a part-time staff.
"To take this to a higher level, it needed the experience of someone who has lived and breathed major events," he said.
Uttam has also hired Tim Mayotte as the Lobsters' coach. Mayotte is a former top 10 player from Springfield. His brother, John, is the team's general manager.
The new owners of Ferncroft Country Club are also hoping the Lobsters will boost their business. The 287-acre club, located at the junction of Route 1 and Interstate 95, was bought by Affinity Management of Virginia in February 2006. Affinity has spent more than $2 million in renovations at Ferncroft, according to the company's Web site.
Affinity's managing director, Damon Devito, said Ferncroft has always been known as a golf club.
"We want to get it back to a full country club with a family focus," he said. "To be honest, Ferncroft has not been known for tennis. This is the kind of jump start that we love."
Devito said the Lobsters will have no trouble selling out its three "marquee" matches, the ones that feature Navratilova and Williams. The other four matches will have various promotions, such as free tennis racquets for kids, he said.
Uttam said he does not worry about competing for attention in the Boston sports market with the likes of the Patriots and Red Sox. He said he would be satisfied with attracting 1,000 fans per match.
"It's a different group of people that go to Red Sox games," he said.
The Lobsters have signed sponsorship agreements with two local businesses, Beverly Hospital and the Sheraton Ferncroft Resort. Beverly Hospital will provide the Lobsters with massage therapists and physical therapists.
The Lobsters will choose their players at the World Team Tennis draft on April 1 in Miami. The season runs between July 2 and July 23. Ticket prices will range from $10 (for children) to $60.