Originally created 04/03/00

Economics to determine air show's future



Business sponsorships were abundant. Support from city officials had been pledged even before any major acts were secured.

But making the Skyfest 2000 air show an annual event will depend largely on economic impact information that should be released in coming weeks, said Al McDill, director of Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field.

"We will just have to see how this one goes," Mr. McDill said before the air show.

But even without firm figures available about the April 1 and 2 air show's local economic impact, it's clear the business community bought into Augusta's first major airplane show with gusto.

Donations -- cash and in-kind -- exceeded expectations, with national and local sponsors stepping forward on relatively short notice to help fund the event.

About $87,500 in cash and $48,000 worth of in-kind donations was raised from business sponsorships. The Augusta Aviation Commission set a sponsorship goal of $60,000 before the event.

"Air shows are definitely a money-making event for the community," said John Cudahy, president of the International Council of Air Shows. "They fill hotel rooms that would otherwise be empty. They put people in seats at restaurants."

A typical air show draws about 75 percent of its audience from a 74-mile radius, the council reports. About 10 percent comes from 100 miles away or farther. Events with major acts such as the Blue Angels typically reach audiences from even greater distances.

And that far-reaching market appeal makes corporate sponsorships at air shows an ideal advertising opportunity, Mr. Cudahy said.

Billboards touting company names, lining the grounds of Augusta Regional, and full-page advertisements in Skyfest 2000 programs served as testaments to the Augusta-area's corporate buy-in. The event was advertised as far away as Columbia and Atlanta.

And the show's main act, the Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic team, likely saw great potential for its own military recruiting efforts in holding an air show that would precede the world's most renowned golf tournament: the Masters Tournament.

The Blue Angels receive hundreds of requests to perform each year, Skyfest 2000 consultant Rick Grissom said. The military aerobatic group appears only about 35 times a year, he said.

Airport officials say it took less than two years to solicit the group's demonstration to Augusta.

"Even though we'd been pursuing this for well over a year; we thought it was a long shot," Mr. McDill said. "Associating the air show with an event of national recognition -- I think that played a big part in getting the Blue Angels."

And if the air show is held annually, it will most likely be scheduled for the weekend before the Masters, he said.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.