Balloon Sponsorship Soars At Nation's Balloon Festivals

By Denise A. Collins

A far greater number of corporations are joining hands to form partnerships with their communities to keep their products and services in the public eye. Sponsorship has grown in popularity since the middle eighties because it offers companies a way to gain visibility, create product awareness and enjoy stronger community relationships.

Sources agree that most corporations now have sponsorship programs that represent ten to twenty-five percent of their overall marketing budgets. "Statistics show that event sponsorships generate more than $3.7 billion annually for sponsors", according to The International Events group, Chicago, Illinois. The trend is expected to rise as corporations search for new ways to stretch promotional dollars.

Balloon festivals offer a mix of majestic memories that appeals to sponsors with products for children and the young family market. In events that track the northern hemisphere from the Pacific Northwest to Northeast, from Arizona to Greenville, South Carolina, balloon festivals have become a prime vehicle for national and local companies to create brand name awareness, build mailing lists and sample product.

The Boise classic in Boise, Idaho entering its sixth year, took place this June 27-30. It offers and outstanding opportunity for logo display to corporate sponsors and does the job so well according to Scott Spencer of Lighter Than Air, the company responsible for creating and promoting an event that is free to a public of 125,000 - 140,000 spectators, the Boise river Classic has never lost a sponsor.

Scott Spencer comments, "Kodak and United Van Lines have been involved from the beginning." A balloon pilot for 25 years, Scott adds, "It is not like it was years ago. Corporations do not have unlimited budgets. Now we must justify the cost per exposure factor for events like this." Sponsors include REMAX, Wells Fargo Bank/First Interstate Bank, Model T Casino, and J105 Radio among others.

Working with a budget of just $31,000, it is the 3,000 volunteer and 600 sponsors that make the price for admission just right for spectators. And the opportunity for exposure, a dream come true for sponsors. All corporate sponsors for the event must have a promotional balloon, not just a balloon banner. A special showing of corporate balloons gives sponsors a full hour of logo display on the launch field without competition. A first class event for balloon pilots as well, balloonists receive two-room suites, all meals and special events and socials just for the pilots. There is a waiting list of 235 balloon pilots from as far as Australia and Germany who think Boise is the place to be. In just four days, the event generates 36.5 million dollars in revenue activity in the city.

On a summer weekend in August, the sky above Hunterdown County, New Jersey is filled with dozens of hot air balloons. Companies like Walt Disney Entertainment, Kellog's, Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile and Brut Faberge send promotional balloons into air as sky high billboards. Their messages are intended for 60,000 spectators of the annual Magic of Alexandria Balloon Festival that draws its constituency from the central New Jersey market of well-heeled consumers with one of the highest per capita incomes in the nation.

Overall, New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state, has 60 million consumers with a purchasing power punch of $800 billion. Sponsors contributed $140,000 to the Magic of Alexandria Balloon Festival. According to the International Events Group in Chicago, corporate sponsorship of community events has soared from $180 million in 1982 to $5 billion a year. Bruce Skinner, President of the International Festivals and Events association in Washington State says, "The change in corporations utilizing festivals occurred in 1984 with the Olympics. The Olympic Games were sponsored for the first time and it gave corporations a chance to see the impact of sponsorship."

Bell Atlantic NTNEX Mobile will return to the Magic of Alexandria for a third year. Working with a British ballooning company, they will bring a 16-story high cellular flip phone to the event. It will be the international shape balloon's only appearance in the United States. The cellular flip phone made its premiere appearance at the Magic of Alexandria in 1995. Michelle Lucas of Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile comments, "For us, the Magic of Alexandria is a perfect marketing tool. It's three days of incredible marketing potential that really allows us to reach into the heads of our target audience." "The demographics of the people who attend the festival are ideal for promoting and sampling our infant and children products," says Frank Barker, a Vice-President of Johnson & Johnson which provides young mothers with one site baby aid stations with a full compliment of the products young mothers have come to trust.

In all, The Magic of Alexandria Balloon Festival held from august 2-4, 1996, has six major marketing partners including WPST radio, The Courier-News, Amstel Light, Kellog's, Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile and Johnson & Johnson. In seven years, the event has donated $130,000 to the New Jersey Chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation and local charities.

Thunderbird Balloon classic, in Scottsdale, Arizona at Westworld, a fundraiser for the American Graduate School of International Management, has raised approximately $500,000 for the school scholarship fund that supports the graduate level education for students in need from around the globe. The only program of its kind, there are no other principal festival benefactors, but children sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation receive balloon rides at the event.

The event draws 57,000 spectators and is hosted by Cox Communications (formerly Dimension Cable), the major cable outlet in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. Other major sponsors include the Northwest Bank, sponsors of the evening balloon glows; and Radio Station K-HITS, sponsors of a special area called the Family Fun Zone featuring a variety of activities for kids including children's entertainment, educational activities, a petting zoo and more. Held on November 5-7, this year is the Thunderbird Balloon classic's 22nd year and it is expected that up to 100,000 spectators will attend to see 125 hot air balloons during the two-day event.

The Walla Walla Balloon Stampede sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce in Walla Walla, Washington and the Pontiac Freedom Weekend Aloft are both held during the month of May. "the 22nd annual Walla Walla Balloon Stampede held May 10, 11 and 12 in Howard Titan Park, attracted sponsorships from 120 corporations, businesses and private individuals," says Cory Perkins Hewitt the chamber's Marketing Director, "We accept sponsorships from $1,000 to as low as $25 so that anyone who wants to be part of the event can participate." The sponsors include Cellular One, super Motel, J.C. Penny, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Coca Cola, First Interstate Bank, Pepsi, Burger King and many more. Four special shapes at the event that attracted 35,000 people this May were sponsored by Wells Fargo, National Guards, Model T Casino and REMAX.

Pontiac Freedom Weekend aloft held Memorial Day weekend benefits Greenville Children's Hospital and Greenville Mental Health Association. Also sponsored by the chamber of commerce, tickets range in price from $8 in advance to $12 at the gate. Sponsors include Pontiac, American Federal Conco, Bi-Lo, Pepsi, Greenville Realtors Association, Harley Davidson of Greenville and South Trust Bank. Pontiac offers invaluable assistance to the event by providing the festival with a steering committee dedicated to public relations and marketing and cars throughout the event. This year was Pontiac Freedom Weekend's 15th anniversary, and thought it will be at least thirty days before all the tickets are counted and attendance can be accurately measured. According to a festival office staff member, "It was a super event. I can tell you for sure that our sponsors are very happy."

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