When Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem aren't on the court winning matches at the 2020 US Open, the German and Austrian have ensured their unique opportunity inside Arthur Ashe Stadium hasn’t gone to waste. Both Zverev and Thiem have frequently been spotted, often while getting a suntan, enjoying a VIP look at their peers. It’s proven to be a winning arrangement for the pair of major contenders, as each has reached his first semifinal at Flushing Meadows.

Their vantage point is more than a premium birds-eye view from the largest tennis venue in the world. With it comes privacy, personal space, room service and the all-important private bathroom. The personal touch, offered by USTA to seeded players and former champions in lieu of fans attending, has given competitors like Zverev and Thiem a taste of how luxury-suite holders experience the hard-court major.

Yet, the lack of fans inside Ashe extends well beyond the loss of crowd energy and ticket revenue. Take marketing veteran Jeremy Steindecker, who for just the second time in 32 years is not fueling himself with Rice Krispies Treats over the fortnight to service corporate clients and coordinate appearances with past champions day and night. His only prior absence came for a week 15 years earlier, when his wife welcomed their first son into the world.

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At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

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Steindecker first realized he loved organizing people and events during his stint as the manager for the University of Pennsylvania men’s tennis team, followed by an opportunity with a large sports management company ahead of his senior year. Those experiences confirmed Steindecker’s desired industry of choice and inspired him to launch his own business, Net Results Marketing, after realizing he would approach client-servicing much differently. Steindecker went straight from graduation to his own office and his hustle, plus creativity, led to an early break: Billie Jean King.

“I started working with corporate clients that had involvement with the US Open. At that point, I had already met Billie Jean,” Steindecker tells TENNIS.com. “She helped by introducing me to all of her friends: Martina, Chris, Tracy and the rest of them down the line. She was a huge help and mentor to me getting started.

“When I started marketing the Legends, instead of just calling a company and saying do you want to use x, y or z, I came to them with ideas on how to use them. That’s what really helped get me off the ground, instead of waiting for someone to come to me.”

Over the years, two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin has grown into a regular fixture among Steindecker’s appearances with corporate clients. Whether it’s the traditional meet & greet, photos, clinics with VIP guests or a pre-match “chalk talk” to provide insight into the strategy of top pros, the International Hall of Fame inductee is showcased in a variety of formats. Austin says no matter the setting or the audience, she has never been surprised with Steindecker’s ability to flourish in the competitive sports marketing world for more than three decades.

“It’s fantastic to work with Jeremy. There’s an incredible trust for his professionalism, from both the clients he works with and the legends he works with,” believes Austin. “He’s accountable, pays attention to detail and he’s always on time. That builds tremendous confidence for his clients that he’s going to bring the best product forward.”

In early March, Steindecker, like everyone else, saw plans for 2020 quickly disintegrate. When ATP and WTA tour events began falling like dominoes, he immediately worked to stay in front of his uncertain future. While he spent the rest of the month and early April renegotiating contracts, Steindecker enlisted his colleague, Kerry Schneider, to investigate virtual event platforms.

Schneider, who had worked with Steindecker in various ad-hoc capacities over the past 20 years, only came on board full-time at the start of the year. Though technology solution management was far from the top of her job description, it instantly became the place she could make the greatest contribution in the joint effort to stay afloat. Schneider dove in on research, joining live event groups on LinkedIn and signing up for webinars, before locking in a platform. Steindecker made the investment, and the pair spent several weeks practicing event production before pulling the trigger.

“When we are on-site, that’s something I can do in my sleep. The technology piece was never something that crossed my mind in understanding, but it’s become my thing because it’s what we needed,” says Schneider. “I took it upon myself to start to learn. That’s really what I did in those initial weeks.”

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

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Getting ahead of the learning curve was a game-changer. Though it took Steindecker’s clients a few weeks to consider their options, it didn’t take long for them to realize how best to move forward. For the virtual world would ultimately help them stay top of mind with their own clientele. And when USTA announced they were moving forward with the US Open, Steindecker was reinvigorated with a wave of exuberance.

“The US Open is really the foundation on which I founded my business. Although I’ve diversified a lot over the last five, six years especially, it still is the bread and butter,” he says. “Once it was confirmed to happen, there was only four or five weeks to plan everything from scratch. Talking to my clients, presenting ideas for virtual luxury-suite experiences and then executing the events to perfection, we had to plan in a different way, in a condensed time frame.”

The pivot has been tricky—yet rewarding—for both Steindecker and Schneider, who has spent a sizable chunk of time heading up technical video rehearsals with legends such as Austin, King, Jimmy Connors and Andy Roddick. Every nuance, from audio delays to how the client engages, is reviewed. Like a tennis player, the two have focused on becoming experts in the fundamentals, refining the process after every production, and upgrading competencies over time.

“Jeremy has a 30-year plus reputation with most of these legends. So there was no way that was going to be different this year,” says Schneider. “I feel that we had to really up that attention to detail and make them feel comfortable so that they wanted to do these virtual events with us. I’m in their homes so to speak. I’ve enjoyed that time with them and feel like it was helpful in producing a good experience.”

A self-described people person, Austin admits to missing the aspect of walking into a suite and feeding off the group’s energy. It’s difficult to replicate the atmosphere of a cocktail party virtually, but Austin has been encouraged by Steindecker’s undertaking, and is thrilled to carry on interacting with enthused fans seeking an inside perspective of a champion’s take on the US Open.

“Jeremy was very adaptable because a big part of his business throughout the year is setting up these US Open suites. Along with his sense of responsibility, he sends out details with a step-by-step process to make it as easy as possible,” she shares. “There are so many fabulous stories to tell and to be able to move forward in such a trying time is such a positive note.”

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

AP Images

Unsurprisingly given the times, Steindecker notes that business is still significantly down. Nevertheless, with everything he and Schneider have accomplished thus far, he is confident they will continue growing and pushing the creative envelope. As someone who is accustomed to seeing competitors parked in the player lounge, Steindecker has enjoyed watching this year’s field take in the suite experience.

Come 2021, reality will likely hit that the private player spaces were a one-off, and traditional suite holders will regain occupancy. If that happens, Steindecker will be back to stocking up on Rice Krispies and putting in 18-hour days at the grounds named after his first legendary mentor. Until then, he is happy to make time for players like Thiem and Zverev to see another side of the suites.

“Any of them who want to come back and visit any of the suites I manage, they’re welcome to come back and entertain some of our clients,” he said. “It’s been really fun seeing them in there, and all the amenities that come with that. The USTA has done a phenomenal job in being able to put on this event.”

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At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs

At fan-less US Open, one marketing guru pivots clients to virtual VIPs