Air Fair Zeros In On Sponsors

February 20, 2004
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NORTON SHORES — After finalizing the lineup of this year's performers, organizers of the Muskegon Air Fair have now charted a path toward bringing in the cash needed to stage the event.

The Air Fair, the largest air show in Michigan, generates 15 percent of its $1 million operating budget from corporate sponsorships. Organizers, after landing the Canadian Snowbirds as this year's headlining performer for 2004, are now turning more attention toward soliciting corporate sponsorships from the business community around West Michigan.

"From this point on, we bring it up a notch," said Terry Grevious, the fair's executive director. In addition to the direct sponsorships, the Muskegon Air Fair relies on the sales of chalets — hospitality and special seating areas set up along the flight line that are bought primarily by corporations to entertain clients and employees — to generate another 15 percent of the revenue needed to hold the air show.

In seeking that support, the Air Fair is looking for companies seeking to generate exposure and goodwill in the community by aligning themselves with a popular summertime event.

Organizers of many summer festivals and events have increasingly relied on revenue from corporate sponsorships and partnerships to stage their events. In return, sponsors receive the resulting exposure and a unique venue to market their products and services and generate brand awareness.

Among the considerations for the Muskegon Air Fair this year is a title sponsor. The Air Fair has never had a title sponsor in the past but will certainly consider doing so if the right partner were to step forward, Grevious said.

"We'd love to have a title sponsor, frankly," he said. "It's always an option for us. If we find the right partner, I don't think we'd hesitate."

Title sponsors generally get their name attached to the event and promotional materials, as was the case last summer when Huntington Bank paid $50,000 to sponsor the tall ships festival in Muskegon, which was promptly renamed the Huntington Harborfest Muskegon, as well as receive certain privileges during the event.

Title sponsorships are considerably more complex to arrange than other partnerships and require much more work to pull off to ensure there's an appropriate return on investment for both sides, Grevious said.

"It's got to be the right thing for the sponsor and for us," he said.

Beyond the title sponsorship, the Air Fair also would welcome another partnership such as the one last year with National City Bank, which signed on as host sponsor for the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels.

The Muskegon Air Fair last year drew 83,300 people over three days, plus thousands more who filled the backyards of nearby homes and parking lots at shopping centers in the vicinity of Muskegon County Airport. Attendance was down somewhat from 2002 — when the Blue Angels also performed and drew 120,000 people — because of threatening weather that scared off people from distant markets such as Grand Rapids.

Muskegon has been able to annually draw top performers like the Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds team, which will make its first Air Fair appearance, because of the strong support for the air show, Kerfoot said.

"They really sense the community that loves them," she said.

The 21st annual Muskegon Air Fair is scheduled for July 3 and 4 with the Snowbirds — the jet demonstration team of the Canadian Armed Forces — serving as the featured attraction. Members of the Snowbirds visited Muskegon recently to meet with organizers and go over logistical details.

In contrast to the power and thunder exhibited by the Blue Angels, which performed in Muskegon the two prior years, the nine-jet Snowbirds puts on a show choreographed to music and is described as an "aerial ballet."

"It's a lot more graceful," said Capt. Lyle Holbrook, the flight team's coordinator.

The Muskegon Air Fair marks the Snowbirds' only U.S. performance in the peak May-to-August period.

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