Cape Ann’s only professional sports team is no more.
The Boston Lobsters, who played their home matches at the Manchester Athletic Club for the past three seasons, will not be returning for the 2016 season, and will not be a part of the Mylan World Team Tennis league this year, Ilana Kloss, WTT’s CEO and commissioner, announced yesterday.
In a message sent from the WTT league’s headquarters in New York and addressed to “Boston Lobsters fans and supporters,” Kloss noted that the league had taken over operations of the team last July after the retirement of previous owner and Boston-based businessman Bahar Uttam from the sports business after the 2014 season. Uttam had run the franchise since 2005, when he revived the New England team after it had previously folded more than two decades earlier.
“We spent more than a year seeking a local owner or ownership group, but unfortunately we were not able to find the right fit,” Kloss wrote in her Wednesday announcement. “This brings to an end a wonderful run in the Boston area for the Lobsters, as the team will not return for the 2016 Mylan World Team Tennis season.”
The Lobsters, who had been one of the original franchises in the WTT when it was launched in 1974, moved to the MAC in the summer of 2013 after playing their home matches for a number of years at the Ferncroft Country Club in Danvers.
The team played a tightly packed schedule of matches each July on a new court and in a portable stadium that was assembled then taken down each summer on the MAC grounds. The matches brought Cape Ann fans and the MAC, a recognized U.S. Tennis Association regional training center, such world-class tennis stars as Martina Hingis and John Isner. The team also featured appearances in 2013 and 2015 by Billie Jean King, who participated in pre-match receptions and ceremonies honoring women in sports.
Keith Callahan, general manager of the Manchester Athletic Club under first-year owner Anthony Simboli, said yesterday that the MAC had been approached by the WTT to take over ownership of the team but turned it down.
“We just made a decision not to do that,” he said. “It would have taken an enormous amount of resources to take on an operation like that, and we made a decision to commit those resources to improving the business and to making improvements for our members to make the operation better for them and for the community.”
“We’re sorry to see them go, because it was always great to have that quality of tennis here, particularly recognizing our tennis profile as a club in this area and around New England,” Callahan added. “But they were a tenant on the property. They did their own thing.
“We provided them with the space and helped with some of the operations,” he said, adding that he did not think the change would hurt the club financially. “But on the other hand, it was sometimes disruptive to our own operations. We had a number of members who were very supportive of them, but many were not.”
Ken Riehl, CEO of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, said he thought the loss of the Lobsters is unfortunate.
“It’s too bad. It seemed like there was pretty good interest,” he said. “They clearly brought in top (tennis) talent, too. I thought it was a great opportunity for Cape Ann.”
Riehl noted that the Lobsters had joined the chamber and worked with local businesses. A few businesses served up food from a concession tent at the seven home matches per summer. But he added he doesn’t see what more could have been done to keep the team here.
“The location couldn’t have been better, right off the highway,” he said. “They had access not only from Cape Ann, but from throughout the area. It’s just the way it goes.”
While announcing the Lobsters’ exit, the WTT also announced the addition of a New York team for the coming season, with Patrick McEnroe and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick to head up the New York Empire.
The league had operated without a New York franchise for the last two years, since the New York Sportimes folded after the 2013 summer campaign.