Luxury suites, perks for local VIPs in $1.3M US Open deal

Explore Asheville ad
Explore Asheville is an official sponsor of the U.S. Open. Graphic courtesy of Asheville Watchdog

By Sally Kestin, Asheville Watchdog

The U.S. Open winds to a close this weekend in New York, and among those attending in the luxury suites at the tennis Grand Slam event will be more than two dozen Buncombe County VIPs – courtesy of the public tourism board and $1.3 million in local tax money.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority announced last month that it had paid $1.3 million to become an official sponsor of the U.S. Open and touted benefits, including signs promoting Asheville, television spots and an Asheville Night on Sept. 7.

Not mentioned were some of the other benefits the TDA received, according to the sponsorship agreement:

  • A luxury suite in Arthur Ashe Stadium for two sessions to be selected by the TDA. “With the suite will be included 20 suite admission tickets, two host passes and three VIP parking passes.” The TDA also agreed to purchase a minimum of $1,800 in food and beverages (not counting gratuities, service charges and taxes) from the official U.S. Open concessionaire for each session.
  • Invitations for four TDA executives and one guest each to the President’s Suite for one session. “Invitations are for the exclusive use by BCTDA executives and their guests and may not be re-sold or otherwise transferred,” the agreement said.

Mystery guests?

Asheville Watchdog asked the tourism agency for the names of the executives and their guests in the President’s Suite, the identities of the 22 guests invited to the luxury suite, and who paid for their travel and accommodations.

TDA officials initially declined to provide specifics.

Vic Isley
Vic Isley, president and CEO of the Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau. Photo courtesy of Asheville Watchdog

“The events are taking shape over the next several days, and details are still in flux, including attendance,” said Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau President and CEO Vic Isley. “No elected officials are in attendance this week. … We can provide additional information, including travel expenses, at the conclusion of the events.”

Later Wednesday, Isley emailed additional information, writing that she and members of the marketing and sales staff were at the U.S. Open, including the senior vice president of marketing, director of sales, director of public relations and the meetings marketing manager.

“Tonight we are hosting a variety of media ranging from representatives from Travel + Leisure, Afar, film producers as well as freelancers who contribute to publications such as Condé Nast, Washington Post, New York Times, Essence and Travel Noir,” she wrote. “Meeting and event planners who decide where to hold conferences and corporate gatherings for companies such as Barclays, Helms-Briscoe and TikTok will be guests tomorrow evening. “

Each night, Isley said, one TDA board member would also be in attendance: Matthew Lehman, general manager at Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville, and Brenda Durden, chief operating officer at South Asheville Hotel Associates.

The tournament concludes Sunday, Sept. 11. According to the ticket broker StubHub, prime tickets for marquee matches sold last week for as much as tens of thousands of dollars each. The average ticket price was about $250, StubHub reported. A can of beer costs $14.

Asheville is one of nearly two dozen official partners of the US Open, along with American Express, Chase, Cadillac, and Moderna.

Paid for with hotel occupancy taxes, the sponsorship is intended to promote Asheville as a “creative, vibrant community for leisure travel, business groups and sports events,” Isley said in announcing the deal.

The $1.3 million cost included on-court signage, television spots on ESPN, and marketing messages on and U.S. Open Radio.

Asheville Night included video messages and public address announcements in the stadium and the opportunity to distribute promotional items to spectators, according to the agreement. Staff from Explore Asheville are in New York this week for meetings with travel and lifestyle media representatives and event planners, Isley said.

“At our board meeting last week we shared that one of our objectives is to convene and educate media, influencers and meeting planners about Asheville,” she said.

The only people the TDA publicly acknowledged as attending the US Open were two teens from the Junior Asheville Tennis Association who were invited to escort the coin-tosser on court and attend the match on Asheville Night.

Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. Sally Kestin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. Email


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18 thoughts on “Luxury suites, perks for local VIPs in $1.3M US Open deal

  1. Taxpayer

    Sounds a lot like the Ellen Frost VIP table at the Equestrian Center.

  2. indy499

    Graft is the norm in sponsorship deals. If you were the 100% owner of an enterprise there is little likelihood you would spend $1,300,000 for the exposure. When its not your money and you get a freebie to the US Open, sponsorship deals get struck.

    The reporter should follow up with the TDA over the next year and inquire as to how much incremental business was generated from the non TDA guests in attendance. That’s how a business would post evaluate a major sponsorship such as this.

  3. Voirdire

    This is prima facie evidence that the TDA needs more oversight… a lot more oversight. I love how the TDA was “asked for the names of the executives and their guests in the President’s Suite, the identities of the 22 guests invited to the luxury suite, and who paid for their travel and accommodations. TDA officials declined to provide specifics.” Folks, this isn’t how your local government -with your tax dollars- is supposed to work. Not even close.

    • North Asheville

      The TDA money isn’t really “our” tax dollars. It’s paid by tourists staying in local hotels. We the citizens of Buncombe County are not paying those taxes, unless we stay in local hotels.

      • kw

        Well, sort of, but…we pay for the infrastructure and work to protect the natural assets that bring tourists here to stay in local hotels and Airbnbs–thousands of which could serve as long-term affordable rentals for people washing dishes and serving beer to–you guessed it–tourists.

        • North Asheville

          Tourism is a significant contributor to Asheville’s economy:
          Visitors spent $2 billion, generating $3.1 billion in economic impact and supporting 27,240 jobs, as reported by esteemed research firm, Tourism Economics. Tourism is the third largest employer in the area, and a significant driver of the Asheville economy.

          • kw

            Right, but those dollars could and should do so much more for those who live here and keep the place from lurching off a cliff into the polluted river…

  4. Robert McGee

    Meanwhile, concerned citizens who don’t go flying off to tennis events on the backs of tax payers were meeting to discuss river quality, positive and negative impacts of tourism, contemptuous developers, homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, climate crisis events, how to retain teachers and law enforcement, which forests to save, traffic, quality of life, where to raise funds for elementary playgrounds, and on and on…

    • indy499

      Is that a humble brag you slipped in there? 2-3 concerned citizens solving the world’s problems?

  5. SpareChange

    And thanks to Mountain Xpress for carrying articles by Asheville Watchdog, while the local Gannett outlet goes about the important business of running 10 year old columns, and calling them “classic,” just to fill space.

  6. rwd

    Darn…this has a funny smell to it !! Yes it is a different pot of money…BUT THE STORY IS THE SAME…SOME UNDERHANDED TRICKERY GOING ON HERE…AGAIN ! ! While the getting is good…I need a couple thousand to fix my old truck…how about it ? ! ? !

  7. kw

    Is it really wise to bring more and more guests to a place that’s losing police left and right? Shouldn’t we shore things up before inviting so many? Is there no concern for the safety of tourists as violent crime rises by 31%? Are we at a tipping point? When might the Golden Goose blow up in our face? What then…?

    • indy499

      The city leaders don’t care about citizens, so why should they care about tourists?

  8. North Asheville

    “There are only seven counties in North Carolina which direct some or all of their
    occupancy tax revenue into the general fund to be expended on any unspecified
    “lawful public purpose” as mandated by their legislation: Ashe, Cleveland, Davie,
    Durham, Hertford, Hyde, and Lee. (Note again that this is different from occupancy
    tax revenue specifically dedicated to the construction and operation of civic centers,
    convention facilities, arenas, and other traditional “tourism-related” venues.)
    There are also only two municipalities in North Carolina which collect their own
    occupancy tax and are legislatively enabled to direct money into the general fund for
    any public purpose—Claremont (Catawba County) and Columbus (Polk County).”

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