Blue Angels Returning To Muskegon

December 17, 2004
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MUSKEGON — A return engagement by the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, following a one-year absence, should elevate the Muskegon Air Fair back to previous heights, organizers say.

The Blue Angels will highlight the 2005 Air Fair, one of West Michigan's largest summertime events, which has suffered from tight finances the last two years because of poor attendance resulting from bad weather.

While organizers can't control the weather, they do now have a premier act they can use to begin promoting the event and marketing corporate sponsorships.

"The Blue Angels are the premier air show act in the world and this is what we needed to get the Air Fair back on track," said Chris Kelly, a Muskegon attorney who serves as chairman of the Muskegon Air Fair board of directors.

The 2005 Muskegon Air Fair is scheduled for July 23-24 at Muskegon County Airport. The date is three weeks later than shows over the last three years, but actually returns the event to where it once appeared on the calendar.

Air Fair directors decided to move the event away from the Fourth of July weekend of the last three years, where it competed for attention and attendance with Muskegon's annual Summer Celebration. Directors, who initially moved the event to early July to book the Blue Angels, also found that the holiday weekend is not a time when corporations buy hospitality chalets to entertain clients and employees.

The competition for spectators over the holiday weekend combined with rainy weather the last two years also contributed to sending the Air Fair's finances into a downward spiral, generating operating losses that depleted reserves and resulted in a six-digit deficit after the 2004 event.

Moving the Air Fair to late July, Kelly said, "was the smartest thing we could have done."

Hampered by bad weather, the 2004 Muskegon Air Fair drew only 32,000 people over three days, far short of the 50,000 needed to break even.

The poor attendance worsened already growing financial problems that resulted from a 50 percent decline in corporate sponsorships and in the sale of hospitality chalets to businesses, which account for a large share of revenues needed to cover the nearly $1 million cost to stage the show. Air Fair directors attribute the declines in 2004 to a delay until March in marketing chalets and sponsorships as they ironed out a lease agreement with Muskegon County for the use of the county-owned airport.

The tough year in 2004 came after an air show in 2003 which, despite the allure of the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels that drew more than 83,000 people over three days, generated a loss that was the result of higher expenses to stage the show and early-morning rains that affected attendance each day.

To address the financial shortfall, Air Fair directors sought help from vendors via extended payment terms. Many vendors responded and agreed to draw out payments from the 2004 event, Kelly said.

"They really stepped up," he said. "They all worked with us. They want to see us succeed and we're all in it for the long haul."

Even before signing the Blue Angels, the Muskegon Air Fair had begun a strong marketing push for corporate sponsorships and chalets for 2005, the event's 22nd year. Sponsorships and sales of chalets have been going well, General Manager Brenda Kerfoot said.

Kerfoot anticipates that with the signing of the Blue Angels, companies that earlier gave verbal commitments or were interested in sponsoring the Air Fair or buying a hospitality chalet will now follow through.

"It's like a trickle-down effect," Kerfoot said. "We expect it to do nothing but pick up from this point on. Sponsors want to know that you have a big name lined up."

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