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Sat, Aug 29, 2009

Air Shows On Track To Break All-Time Attendance Record

Numbers Are "Way, Way Up" Even During Time Of Recession

With five months completed and roughly two months remaining in the 2009 North American air show season, the news regarding air show attendance is a stark contrast to what other industries are experiencing amid a recession of historic proportions. The air show industry will see record attendance during the 2009 season. In fact, the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) now projects that 2009 attendance in the United States will be up 20 percent or more compared with 2008.

"At an air show, there are any number of variables that can impact a given day's attendance such as weather and competing events in the same community," said John Cudahy, ICAS president. "So it would be disingenuous for me to say that every show we've heard from has experienced record attendance; however we've yet to hear from even a single air show with lower attendance than they had expected and nearly all of our events are reporting that they are way up as compared to the last time they held the show. Most are reporting record attendance. And in the few cases where attendance has been down, it has been a marginal decrease and there always is an explanation like poor weather or some other uncontrollable variable."

Crowd At Oshkosh 2009

Indeed, the attendance surge that air shows have experienced in 2009 - on top of an attendance jump of 12-15 percent the industry saw in 2008 compared with 2007 - has brought an industry that just two years ago estimated overall North American attendance at 10 to 12 million to the 14 to 16 million range.

John Haak has particular insight into the air show attendance surge as motorsports market manager for Extremetix, an online ticketing agency with dozens of air shows as clients. "The attendance is way, way up," he said. "I'd be willing to say 17 to 20 percent. Some shows are higher than that; some shows are lower than that, but collectively we're heading for record attendance. At this point, there can be no doubt about that."

What's most remarkable is that the growth is taking place as other entertainment- and sports-related industries have suffered through substantial attendance decreases:

  • Theme-park attendance is down substantially - down 10% at Universal parks, 13% at Cedar Fair Parks, and 8% at Six Flags' parks, according to Theme Park News.
  • Major League Baseball attendance is down 6% according to Baseballreference.com.
  • And while exact figures are not available for NASCAR, consensus observation is that attendance is down considerably compared with 2008.

What makes air shows particularly attractive to spectators is not simply the low cost of tickets, but also the fact that they're local and they provide a level of excitement that is inversely proportional to their costs. "When you're talking about taking a family of four to an air show, you're talking about a total cost of well under $100," said Cudahy who indicated that average ticket prices are in the $10 to $12 range with lower prices for children and some shows that have free admission.  "While the low prices certainly explain part of the rise in attendance, the rest of the story is about the quality of the product you get at such a low price. Kids are never going to forget watching the (U.S. Navy) Blue Angels or the (U.S. Air Force) Thunderbirds roar past at 650 miles per hour, seeing U.S. Army parachutists from the elite Golden Knights parachute demonstration team drop from the sky, or witnessing the performances of the top aerobatic pilots in the world and getting to shake their hands afterward."

Watching The Show At Florida's Cecil Field 2009

With attendance up nearly across the board, the anecdotal reports have been even more impressive than the statistics on attendance:

"We had the largest show we've had since I've been involved, which is since 1999," said Rebecca March, Manager of the NAS Patuxent River Air Show, held May 23-24 in Maryland. "We had more than a 10 percent increase over 2008. We expected a good turnout, but this many people was a very pleasant surprise." 

 "With total attendance in excess of 70,000, this was our largest show in the 18-year history of the event," said Colonel Larry Gallogly with the Rhode Island National Guard Air Show in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on June 27 and 28. "We used every parking spot available to us and put more spectators on the ramp than we ever have before."

"It was the largest attendance in our 29-year history," said Fred Buckingham, chairman of the Florida International Show, held March 21-22 in Punta Gorda. Buckingham estimated 2009 attendance at 65,000, a substantial increase of more than 18 percent over the previous record of 55,000.

"I would say the attendance was more than double at this Hemet Air Show from the last time they had a show two years ago," said Susan Newman of Harrison Air Shows, an air show performance team. "Same goes for the Chino Airshow, which was two weekends before. When we took our golf cart from the pit to the VIP tent, it was nearly elbow-to-elbow and we barely could get through and that was the case at both shows."

"We expected between 32,000 and 34,000 spectators for the entire weekend," said Major Doug Bodine, director of the Ellsworth Air Force Base Air Show near Rapid City, South Dakota, held May 30-31.  "We had more than that by the end of Saturday and finished the show on Sunday with total attendance of 51,200…our largest air show ever."

Between early April and mid-November, as many as 16 million spectators will attend more than 400 air shows from San Diego to New York City to British Columbia to Miami.
 

FMI: www.airshows.aero

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