Official optimistic about this year’s number; look forward to next year

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, October 22, 2014

NATCHEZ — Great Mississippi River Balloon Race organizers are still waiting for final numbers to land, but they are confident enough in the weekend turnout to predict a race will take off in 2015.

After poor weather conditions grounded many flights during last year’s race, balloon race organizers said the financial success of this year’s race would determine if a race in 2015, which would be the 30th anniversary of the race, would be possible.

“Our numbers for this race won’t be together for a couple of weeks, but there’s no doubt in my mind there will be a 30th year,” said executive director Babs Price. “The weather was beautiful, we had good crowds and everyone seemed to be having a great time.”

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The conditions last weekend allowed for flights on each day, with only two flights — Saturday and Sunday morning — being grounded because of wind conditions.

Last year, only two of the five regularly scheduled flights launched.

In the race’s history, only two weekends passed in which balloons were grounded all weekend because of weather.

“We were worried a little bit this weekend about the weather because we had some high winds, but it was nothing compared to last year,” Price said. “We pretty much considered last year a rain out for us.”

Overall expenses for the entire race are estimated between $225,000 and $250,000 and most of those expenses have to be paid even if balloons don’t fly.

Price said last year’s race only netted $18.36, leaving organizers with little money in the bank to fund this year’s race.

“We always like to have enough money to pay that year’s bills and then have some to go toward the next year’s race,” Price said. “That didn’t happen last year, but everything looked really good this year, so I think we’ll have enough to say there will be a 30th year.”

Price said members of the balloon race committee will meet next week for a “wrap meeting” to discuss what worked and what didn’t work from last weekend’s race.

“We learn something new every year, and that’s when those wrap meetings are good to hear from everyone,” Price said. “Everyone is supposed to bring their reports to tell us what they think could be done differently or what went smoothly and doesn’t need to be changed.”

The balloon race committee has in recent years discussed changes to the race, including doing away with the music festival altogether. But the money from balloon sponsorships does not cover the cost of putting on the race.

Each sponsor for the 2014 race paid $1,000.

This year, 59 pilots registered for the race.

The events at the Rosalie festival site are what make up the difference to cover the costs, Price said.

“We’re kind of rare in that we do the race and the festival together, because they’re usually split up one or the other,” Price said. “We’ve looked at other events like ours in the past and they’ve not made it nearly as long, so for next year to be our 30th year is amazing.”

Price said final numbers from the weekend race should be finalized within three to four weeks.