Asheville US Open sponsorship will cost $1.3 million in taxes

This story has been updated.

ASHEVILLE — Officials at a public tourist board have made the city an official sponsor of one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world, at the cost of $1.3 million in local taxes.

Asheville’s name is on display at the US Open in New York along with other sponsors such as ESPN. Interest in the US tournament, one of the top four Grand Slam events including Wimbledon, Australian Open and French Open, has increased this year with the American player’s upcoming retirement revolutionary Serena Williams.

The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, which has a $46 million budget paid for through hotel taxes and uses the money to increase hotel business and tourism in general, announced the deal Aug. 2.

In a press release, the TDA highlighted what it said was the success of Asheville’s Billie Jean King Cup matches between the United States and Ukraine in April, but did not elaborate. on US Open sponsorship costs or potential benefits. Before this tournament, in 2018, Serena Williams and her sister Venus Williams played in Asheville for the first round of the Fed Cup.

On August 30, TDA President and CEO Vic Isley initially declined to answer questions about the deal, saying the information would be available at a TDA board meeting on August 30. August 31, which will be held at 9 a.m. at the Center for Craft at 67 Broadway St. . downtown.

But Isley later in the day came back with details, such as the cost and where the potential tourists are coming from: New York, Washington, Las Vegas and other markets.

“Explore Asheville is proud to elevate its relationship with the USTA and Asheville’s reputation as a creative and vibrant community for leisure travel, business groups, and sporting events,” she said. declared.

Isley said the one-year, $1.3 million deal was “in line with other national media buys such as Facebook” and was 16% above what the TDA said was awarded direct spend. at the Billie Jean Cup.

Those games generated $8 million for Asheville businesses and “created opportunities for community engagement,” the organization said.

The group said the events also raised more than $225,000 in donations for Ukraine.

Prior to joining the Buncombe TDA, Isley worked for the Bermuda Tourism Authority. According to the publication NS Business, which the North Atlantic island tourism organization paid $500,000 in 2019 to sponsor the US Open. In an email, Isley said that amount was incorrect and linked to a press release about that sponsorship. But this ad did not provide any cost.

The US Tennis Association is a partner in the deal, although it is unclear what financial obligations it will have.

The spending has come under criticism from residents who said taxpayers’ money did not need to be spent on increasing tourism in the face of other pressing public needs including a lack of housing .

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Beth Pedrotti, manager of the downtown Wall Street Market convenience store, said that at some point tourists who came to Asheville would have a “blowback” after seeing the many advertisements and the town’s name. in the top 10 lists.

“They come in here and literally every corner smells like a port-a-potty and every doorway is filled with trash and people,” said Pedrotti, who moved to Asheville in 1993 but recently said he moved to Candler due high housing costs.

Recent state legislation adjusted the amount of the TDA budget that must go directly to advertising, reducing it from 75% to 66%. The rest goes to projects intended to increase tourism, but may also have public benefits such as greenways and sports fields.

Officially called the “occupancy tax”, funding historically came from hotels. More recently, other accommodation facilities such as short-term vacation rentals provide an increasing share of the TDA budget.

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After: Less money for Buncombe tourism advertising after council tax bill passed by North Carolina Legislature

Pedrotti called the reduction in the marketing portion a “small step”, but said it would be better to abolish the TDA altogether.

“Asheville doesn’t need tourism development. We’re developed,” she said.

But TDA member Andrew Celwyn, often the only member of the body to criticize marketing spending, called such sponsorships from the TDA’s marketing arm, Explore Asheville, highly effective.

“I think the folks at Explore Asheville and the marketing agencies they work with are pretty savvy,” said Celwyn, owner of downtown herb and tea shop Herbiary.

“They spend money bringing people to Asheville. They do a good job with that, and I want to give them credit when they do a good job,” he said.

Some, like Ben Williamson, an organizer with rural worker activist group Down Home North Carolina, have criticized spending money on the largely white sport of tennis, saying it goes against the TDA. declared to “push towards diversity and attract tourists from diverse socio-economic and racial backgrounds”. backgrounds.”

But Celwyn said this tournament could be different with more people of color tuning in to watch Williams, one of the sport’s most notable black players.

“I think it’s great for Explore Asheville’s mission, where they’re trying to reach more underrepresented communities.”

Some details about the agreement

More details, according to Isley:

  • The evening session on September 7 will be designated “Asheville Night” and will include additional promotion for the Asheville community at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
  • Explore Asheville is sponsoring Kiran Kudva and Jia Hind, two members of the Junior Asheville Tennis Association, to travel to New York and escort the coin tosser onto the court and watch the match.
  • Kiran, 13, attended the Junior Champions tennis camp last June and served as the flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the 90th annual Asheville Open. Kiran was part of the first ball for the inauguration of Court One for Lewis Issac at Aston Park.
  • Jia is 17 years old and is a junior board member of the Asheville Tennis Association. She has volunteered for all of the ATA’s community outreach programs and helped recruit other volunteers. She sits on the ATA’s Diversity, Equity and Belonging Committee.
  • Explore Asheville and the Asheville Tennis Association will co-host an Asheville Viewing Party on September 7 for their respective partners and members at the Funkatorium.
  • Members of the Explore Asheville sales and marketing team will work with “members of the travel and lifestyle media” at Arthur Ashe Stadium on September 7, followed by meeting and event planner clients on September 8 september.

Which tourists targeted?

Some of the marketing information provided by the TDA:

TV Coverage: Over 100 hours of live coverage in the US, Canada, UK and around the world. The top 10 US markets for the 2021 US Open, based on market scoring, were:

  • New York
  • washington d.c.
  • Vegas
  • birmingham
  • Los Angeles
  • richmond
  • philadelphia cream
  • San Diego
  • Austin
  • denver

Live event: 700,000 fans in two weeks at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center; Average of seven hours on site for participants.

Balanced gender distribution (women make the main travel decisions).

Ethnic breakdown based on site surveys: Caucasian: 64%, Asian American/Asian: 14%, African American/African: 13%, Hispanic: 9%.

81% domestic fans; 56% are residents of the tri-states.

Household income of $182,000 and average age of 42.

82% with a university degree.

Joel Burgess has lived at the WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Do you have any advice? Contact Burgess at [email protected], 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this kind of journalism with a subscription at the Citizen Times.

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