Balloon Race finances need the sun

Published 11:26 pm Monday, October 8, 2007

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is two weeks away, and the Balloon Race Committee is hard at work tying up loose ends and praying for good weather. Rain in 2002 and again last year in 2006, resulted in financial losses for an event that now costs at least $200,000 to produce.

The only money saved in the event of bad weather is the cost of fuel to fly the balloons. We still pay for publicity; hotel rooms for balloonists, race officials and the FAA; prize money, special gifts, and entertainments for balloonists; lease of the festival site; professional sound stage and site set up; bands and other entertainment; fireworks; insurance; security and traffic control; clean up crew; reseeding of Rosalie’s grounds; and the cost of printed T-shirts, posters and other items, which generate income in good weather years.

The committee spends approximately $130,000 just on music and pilot/flight related expenses. Ballooning is an expensive sport for pilots and balloon events compete for balloonists. For the first time this year, we had to struggle to secure balloonists, and we will undoubtedly have to spend more money next year and in future years to be competitive with other balloon events.

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As the race has grown, the balloon race committee began to pay other non-profits to provide volunteer hours to staff the race. Non-profits that currently benefit by providing volunteers include the Vidalia Women’s Club, Natchez Adams County Humane Society, Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture, Natchez Music Festival and the Krewe of Phoenix. The Natchez Children’s Home has been the largest single beneficiary of the balloon race by receiving proceeds from children’s activities on site, actually making more money than the Historic Natchez Foundation which initiated the event and is the primary beneficiary.

In rainy years 2002 and 2006, we paid our non-profit race partners out of our diminishing rainy day savings, even though the event lost money and the Foundation took no proceeds.

Although the balloon race is the largest special event in Southwest Mississippi and financially benefits the entire Natchez region, its net proceeds are minimal. The Historic Natchez Foundation and major sponsors like United Mississippi Bank financially carried the event for the first eight years, when it showed promise but produced only enough revenue to fund the next year’s race.

Why does the Balloon Race make such a small profit? Net proceeds are low due to the high cost of producing the event in contrast to the low gate proceeds at the Rosalie festival site. Many local people and visitors who come to Natchez during the balloon race never enter the festival site. They enjoy the city’s party atmosphere and watch balloons from vantage points all over town. People who do not enter the festival gate also do not spend money on T-shirts, food and beverages which generate money for the event. We have been very successful at creating a great economic boost for area businesses, particularly those located in the downtown historic district, and we are proud of that accomplishment. Just about every business in Natchez and Vidalia benefits directly or indirectly from the balloon race and city governments benefit from increased sales tax.

This year the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is confronting a new challenge — competition from live music and a carnival across the river. The sponsoring organizations of these events have no financial investment in the Balloon Race and will diminish ticket sales at the gate and decrease revenue from on-site sales. In view of this new competition, last year’s rainout, and the possibility of another rainout, we want to urge local residents to make every possible effort to invest in the continued future of the Balloon Race by attending the festival. Tickets, T-shirts, posters and pins, are already on sale at the Historic Natchez Foundation and Natchez Visitor Center. We hope those businesses that especially benefit from the race will consider becoming sponsors in the future.

The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race committee and the Historic Natchez Foundation want to thank all our corporate race sponsors and our many individual balloon sponsors, without whom the race would not be possible. Our major sponsors are Budweiser, Coca Cola, Isle of Capri and United Mississippi Bank. Other sponsors include Regions Bank and Cellular South. Media sponsors are 95 Country WQNZ FM and Comcast Spotlight.

We look forward to seeing you at your 22nd annual balloon race, Oct. 19 through 21. Please come out and show your support to ensure the future of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race!

Babs Price works closely with the balloon race committee on several projects.