Finances in better shape; weather still key

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2008

NATCHEZ — Almost as important as the hot air that keeps the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race afloat is the cash that keeps the festival running.

Since 2000, two rain outs had shrunken the festival’s rainy day fund, but the 2007 race was such a success that the net losses from the previous rain outs were recouped.

And having a substantial rainy day fund is critical to the festival’s success, organizers said.

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Judy Wilson handles the event’s finances and said the rainy day fund is essential to the continued success of the festival.

“It’s extremely important,” Wilson said. “We have expenses to meet, period.”

For instance, if the 2007 race did not generate enough income to cover a rain out for the 2008 race then, the 2009 race could be at risk of cancellation.

And the festival’s expenses add up fast.

Historic Natchez Foundation Director of Programs Mimi Miller handles logo sales for the event and said the 2007 race was put on at a cost of approximately $200,000.

Of that, more than $66,000 was spent on festival entertainment, approximately $43,000 was spent on balloons and their pilots and more than $41,000 was spent on site set-up and security.

“It’s expensive,” Miller said.

The event’s insurance and advertising alone cost more than $22,000.

If the event is rained out and is not able to make any money, the only cost the organizers are not responsible for is the fuel that runs the balloons.

“If it rains, the expenses stay the same,” Miller said.

And those expenses the organizers must pay, no matter what, are the reason the rainy day fund is so crucial to the continued success of the event.

But right now the event is in a stable financial position, Wilson said.

“We’re looking pretty good right now,” she said. “But we still need a good weekend.”

Rain outs in 2002 and 2006 resulted in $42,500 in losses to the event.

And that made the 2007 race a critical year for the event.

Miller said losses from the 2006 race had strained, but not depleted, the rainy day fund going into the 2007 race.

Miller said last year’s race netted close to the combined losses of the 2002 and 2006 race.

From a financial standpoint, 2007 was a good year for the race.

Logo sales, like shirts and posters, along with ticket and beer sales made 2007 a good year.

Income from that race was approximately $42,000, where as in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2005 race incomes averaged $25,000 a year.

But all that money is dependant on one thing — the weather. The event’s executive director Laura Godfrey said weather is always a concern.

“It’s something we always worry about,” Godfrey said.

With a chance of rain for today and great weather on the way for Saturday and Sunday, Miller and the other organizers said they’re optimistic about this year’s race.