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.
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.
“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 USOpen.org 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 email@example.com.