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Luxury Suites, Perks for Local V.I.P.s in $1.3 Million US Open Deal

Tennis-see? Asheville is "Official Sponsor of the US Open"

The US 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 Tourist Development Authority announced last month that it had paid $1.3 million to become an official sponsor of the US 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 US 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.

Victoria Isley, president and CEO for Explore Asheville and the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority

“The events are taking shape over the next several days, and details are still in flux, including attendance,” said TDA President and Chief Executive Officer Victoria “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 US 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 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

A glass of wine for $17, a can of beer for $14, a Diet Coke for $7.50 // photo The Daily Sun

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 US Open Radio.

Which of these names is not like the others? US Open tournament sponsors

Asheville is on a short list of tournament sponsors 

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 Convention & Visitors Bureau 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.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information from Vic Isley.


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. Contact her at skestin@avlwatchdog.org.

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8 Comments

  1. Jerry Hinz Jerry Hinz September 8, 2022

    Imagine – $1.3 million for dedicated pickleball courts – bringing in tourists who do search for places to play before choosing vacation sites. Many drop in players come to the tennis courts where we have to set up our own nets and compete for the use with tennis players. Greenville has at least 3 parks with dedicated courts parking and bathrooms – Asheville has none Imagine – using the hotel tax – pandemic money and even city or county funds to have exercise facilities for the many hundreds who play pickleball and the many who decide to travel to areas on vacation – that have pickleball courts .. we are so far behind ..

  2. Margot Ammidown Margot Ammidown September 8, 2022

    Thank you Watchdog for another important story we wouldn’t get anywhere else. Sooner or later there’ll be a recession, or something, and it will be Asheville’s citizens who’ll be left with the wreckage of this greedy industry.

    • Margot Ammidown Margot Ammidown September 8, 2022

      p.s. ..and it’s laughable to see little Asheville’s name in the shortlist of corporate titans like Chubb, IBM, Moderna. Why don’t they just wave a banner that says “look at how we misspend tax payer money!”

  3. Bert Connelly Bert Connelly September 8, 2022

    The hotel industry would benefit along with the residents of Asheville if the monies were used for needed infrastructure upgrades instead of hyping an already well known destination.

  4. Nick Peters Nick Peters September 9, 2022

    Yes, Asheville’s economy is largely dependent on tourism, and certainly the local businesses and artisans need the influx to survive. But frankly spending $1.3 million on this particular marketing venture seems excessive and unnecessary to me for two reasons: (1) Asheville already has a national reputation as a tourist destination and hardly needs this additional exposure at such an expense, and (2) that $1.3 million could have been to put to far better use on programs to help balance the growing gap between haves and have-nots in our city that the double-edged sword of exploding tourism has created.

  5. Marshall De Bruhl Marshall De Bruhl September 12, 2022

    I watched the matches with a niece and we kept wondering, “Why is that banner up there?” It said simply ASHEVILLE. Now I know. But wish I didn’t.

  6. Perry Perry September 12, 2022

    Disgusting misuse of public funds. A very extreme example of Tourism over Quality of Life for Residents.

    This is OUR MONEY folks.

  7. Erik Erik September 21, 2022

    This article presents large numbers in a scary, accusatory way without context that is irresponsible or just naive.

    Is investing in advertising at the US Open a good idea. Hard to know from the current facts, but the budgets are not outrageous nor is the fact the executives involved required to be present at the event.

    Tourism is claimed to have a 3billion dollar impact on the city.

    The marketing budget is in the tens of millions.

    1.3million in that context is not outrageous and doesn’t justify all of this handwringing.

    Some jobs require people to be present at recreation events. Jobs like tourism marketing. Criticizing them for being on site to do there job is like telling a chef it is unfair they get to sample good foods.

    You all can do better than this.

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