NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For every Rafael Nadal or Venus Williams pushing for break points during the U.S. Open, there's a suite full of suits in the stadium above them pushing for deals. Let the games begin.
From Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, will host some of the toughest competitors in the world for its annual end-of-summer rite.
Some of them will be in $10,000 to $65,000 suites at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where sponsors including
will be serving wine and cheese and setting up contracts. As
CEO Howard Stringer once said, it's a great place to get business done.
Venus Williams, left, of the U.S., and her sister Serena reach to hit a shot during the women's doubles championship at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York last September.
"The U.S. Open is a unique business event," says Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the USTA. "It's two weeks, it's at the time of year when summer's ending and the new season is beginning and it's based in the corporate capital of the U.S."
It's also one of the many in-demand events routinely circled on the corporate calendar, as regional vice presidents all too familiar with the Pareto Principle (80% of sales come from 20% of your clients) try to impress their most valuable vendors. Jacob Turnage, co-founder of and vice president of marketing for Atlanta-based sports-hospitality company EB Corporate, routinely puts the Super Bowl, the Masters Tournament, both tennis and golf's U.S. Open and the Kentucky Derby on his customers' annual to-do lists.
While he doesn't receive a yearly budget from clients including
, the companies will pay anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000 a head for packages including private tents and suites to $12,000 to $30,000 per person for more luxurious offerings.
"If we say we have a baseball game on a Tuesday, the guys aren't going to go," Turnage says. "But if we say we've got a great package for the Masters that's turnkey with an onsite staff and a great return on investment, they always go."
The event organizers know it, too, as the USTA spent $60 million on its Training Center Hospitality Pavilion that opened 2008 and already sold out its $150 to $2,250 per person sessions for this year's tournament. That same year, the USTA opened a wine bar created by Chicago restaurateurs Tom and Cathy Mantuano -- who also run the Obama family favorite Spiaggia -- to beef up the Open's offerings and help fend off advances by other events and even the local sports teams.
"It's a hypercompetitive market for sports and for New York sports in particular," Widmaier says. "You have the New Yankee Stadium,
Field and the New Meadowlands Stadium all going on line within a few miles, so you can't get complacent."
The corporate fan dollar is increasingly valuable this year, as suites at Arthur Ashe Stadium remained unsold days before the 2009 tournament as sponsors cut their budgets and turned away from lavish displays. Turnage says his clients invited "just the big guys" to events last year and stripped away both spending and signage amid promises of more business in better times.
"It's like somebody turned off the faucet in 2009," he says. "Last year, people told me they loved the service and the product but just couldn't do it because of perception: 'We just laid off 10,000 people, we can't go to the Masters this year.' "
Both Turnage and Widmaier say the games are back on in 2010, as the Open's suites sold out weeks ago and Turnage has been brokering deals at Churchill Downs for Kentucky Derby rights and with Intel to woo some of its Chicago clients when the Ryder Cup arrives there in 2012. The benefits are back, too, as Widmaier says the USTA will be opening its business center and board room to its sponsors -- who often cash in on other perks, like JPMorgan's naming rights for the "Chase review" instant-replay challenges. That's great news for businesses, whose winnings from a day at the Open can be far more substantial than a gilded cup or plate.
"I had a client at Pebble Beach close a $1.7 million contract on the course while entertaining a client," Turnage says. "The guy gave me a hug when he was done, and it was his first time using us."
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.