Saturday, December 15, 2012

NEW JERSEY: Atlantic City Airshow moving to a Wednesday in June


The Atlantic City Airshow is slated for June 26, a move that would break one tradition, return to another and ultimately might make better business sense.

If event partners object or performer availability changes, the event could move to a different date. But June 26 would not have been considered unless organizers were confident in its potential economic benefit to the resort, Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joseph Kelly said Friday.

Current schedules for the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds show neither are set to appear in Atlantic City in 2013.

Nonprofit marketing group the Atlantic City Alliance seemed on board with the show’s move to a Wednesday in June.

“We love midweek events,” ACA spokesman Jeff Guaracino said Friday. “And having blockbuster events, midweek, early in the season, is a terrific recipe for having a strong summer season. Our challenge will be communicating to fans that there’s a switch this year from August to June.”

That move from the August timing of the past 10 years would put the event outside the peak tourist season of July 4 through Labor Day. In addition to a strong start to the season, it could mean a bigger boost for business because it might draw people to town when they wouldn’t otherwise be there, Kelly said.

And June 26 is a Wednesday. That reduces competition with airshows elsewhere and other events. For years, that was the logic behind running the Atlantic City event midweek. After testing a Friday show last summer, organizers said they’d go back to a weekday.

“I don’t want to say, ‘better’ because I don’t know. I can tell you that date (would) kick off the summer season with a significant event before the Fourth of July,” Kelly said. “And I believe school is out by then — and that’s important to us because this has become a family event.”

Kelly spoke less than 24 hours after addressing questions about the show failing to appear on next year’s schedules for the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds have headlined the annual event in Atlantic City since its revival in 2003.

At the time, he declined comment on the date until meeting again with ACA and other collaborators including the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors’ Authority and local casino, government and public safety personnel.

That, however, was before The Press of Atlantic City noted the local event among those sanctioned next year by the International Council of Air Shows.

The council’s website lists the Atlantic City Airshow Thunder Over the Boardwalk as scheduled for June 26.

Organizers keep wide-ranging dates as options every year as they put the shows together. But in the past, August has worked best for purposes of scheduling and economic strategy, Kelly said.

“We try to offer as much flexibility in our scheduling to garner the highest-quality performers,” he said. “The economic impact, as it relates to (the) chamber’s involvement, is equally important. It’s what we try to balance.”

The U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights will perform in Atlantic City next year, according to the council’s site.

“It is a significant part of the show (that), like the Thunderbirds, have been a tradition at the show. It is an honor to get to host those folks,” Kelly said.

Kelly attributed the Thunderbirds’ uncharacteristic absence from the lineup to scheduling demands on the popular military stunt pilots. During 2013, they and the Blue Angels will revisit just 25 — fewer than half — of the 64 spots on their 2012 itinerary, their schedules show.

The Thunderbirds’s absence was blamed for a 30 percent drop in attendance at the Bethpage Air Show when they skipped it two years ago. Crowds went from 357,000 in 2010 to 251,000 in 2011, according to a statement released Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer’s release was prompted by the Thunderbirds releasing a 2013 itinerary without the Long Island event. His public plea noted the show’s upcoming 10th anniversary. The Thunderbirds also would maximize the event’s economic benefits for the area, which was decimated by Hurricane Sandy, he said.

The Thunderbirds didn’t initially plan on going to Jones Beach in 2012 either, but Schumer pressed for them to come last year, too. His lobbying seemed to work again: the Thunderbirds updated their schedule to include it.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2, is trying for the same results, spokesman Jason Galanes said Friday.

“Congressman LoBiondo is engaged in ongoing conversations with the Air Force about this year’s (Atlantic City) Airshow,” Galanes wrote. “Without question, the Thunderbirds are a crowd-favorite at the annual event, which last year drew 800,000 spectators.”

Air shows typically make bids for crowd-pleasers such as the Knights, Angels and Thunderbirds eight months or so before the stunt squads release their schedules. Once those itineraries go public, organizers normally regroup to ensure the dates still work before confirming plans.

In Atlantic City, however, organizers will not consider a date unless they know with near certainty that it’s economically viable, Kelly said.

The city also has tested out a major event in late June for the past two summers with multi-day concerts at Bader Field: Orion Music +More Festival June 23-24 and Dave Matthews Band Caravan stop at Bader Field June 24-26, 2011. Those events worked out well from a public safety standpoint, Sgt. Monica McMenamin said Friday.

“We also send officers for training during off-peak times,” she said. “So during the summer — June, July, August — we keep manpower at its peak.”

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