Expert Q/A

Sequestration’s Disastrous Affect on Air Shows

Interviewer: Maria King
Expert: John Cudahy ICAS
Date: August 11, 2013
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Today I have the opportunity to bring you another great guest. I am speaking with John Cudahy, President of ICAS, International Council of Air Shows. ICAS is the trade association for people working within the air show industry as well as producers of air show events. I wanted to talk with John about what has happened to air shows and at air shows this year as a result of government sequestration and DOD budget cuts. The air show industry has taken a huge hit this season because of the grounding of the military teams. The results are very unfortunate for an industry that relies so heavily on the military.

What are some of the ripple effects that your members that produce air shows are seeing as a result of sequestration?

Well, as you mentioned, sequestration is the governments forced cutbacks and those have affected all areas of government spending. The military has been forced to slash their budget just like everyone else and part of the fallout is that the military flight teams are grounded. Having explained that, let me say the fallout has been devastating for the industry because it left many shows without their biggest draw. Many were forced to cancel and many of those lost monies that they had already expended. Others, who thought that they could go on with the other talent already booked, experienced a complete shock over the drop in attendance resulting in severe financial loses.

Can you relate some of the cold hard facts that the air shows realized this year in terms of cancelations and such?

We know from our members that 25% of all air shows were canceled this year due to sequestration. Of those 25%, 50% may never return. That is a serious loss of shows. Some of the shows that went on this year fared even worse. Some had over a 70% reduction in attendance. Several experienced financial loses upwards of several hundred thousand dollars. It is unsustainable.

It seems John, like sequestration could be sounding the death knell for the air show industry. At the very least it sounds like dramatic changes are coming if this is the new norm. There are many other performers in the industry. Do you think they can carry the ball into the future should our military teams cease to exist?

I think they can. I am sure that it will take looking at the shows entirely differently and making some changes. What this year made clear was that the talent that accompanies the military teams is like the opening act for the Rolling Stones. When the jet teams perform, it’s not nearly as critical which civilian acts the show hires to accompany the military. But it’s a lot more important to get the right mix and the very best talent when the military is not participating. What we as an industry need to figure out is what it is that people will still find exciting and be willing to pay as a headlining act? That is if the military teams no longer perform. It will take a new reality, but I think it can be done.

But I do remember hearing years ago that the air shows are a great recruiting tool for the military. On the surface it would seem that the military would be missing recruitment projections as well. Would you think that the loss might be enough to bring the military teams back for next year?

While it’s true that the public line on the air shows is that they help with recruiting, the fact is that the military pulls their budget from recruiting and therefore must show results and publicly present that front. The fact that the military is shrinking combined with the economic prospects as far as jobs go right now, means that the recruiting numbers are getting met. But another important element here that is not being met is the fact that air shows put the military face to face with the American people. They are the best community relations tools the military has at any time. The size of our military is only 1% of the general population. When you cut off the best PR mechanism it further isolates that 1%.

The fallout can affect the military as well, is what I understand you are saying. That along with this being a disaster for the air shows this is a potential disaster for the military as well.

I am not sure if this will have long term ramifications in the US population if the teams get flying again next year. However I know that it has been embarrassing for us as a nation in other parts of the world. There are over 60 countries world wide that have military air teams. We are the only ones grounded. Add to that the fact that our military budget is larger than the next 12 country’s budget combined, and you see why it doesn’t look good. So not only has the military lost touch with the American public over this, but we have done damage to our image and credibility around the world as well.

Another issue I see, from my experience of working with sponsors, is that they usually set their budgets far in advance. That, coupled with the other early decisions events must make, how long can promoters wait for news on next years show?

If the military does not assure us soon that the teams are returning next year, many shows will be canceled. They cannot afford to sustain those kinds of losses again next year. I am hoping we hear soon one way or the other about the teams returning, because the shows will not be able to wait until December for an answer. Many shows that happen in the early spring are already on the verge of canceling out of budgetary concerns should the military not participate. Sponsors as well are sitting on the fence waiting for answers and guarantees deciding whether or not to sponsor these events in 2014.

Your industry has had a rough year and little notice that it was coming. What are your thoughts as far as next year goes?

Well all I can say is that we as an industry were already committed to a “go” scenario in 2013 and we found ourselves empty handed. That will not happen again.

 
It sounds like the trickle down affect of sequestration is hitting places and pocketbooks all over the country. I am sure you and your organization will agree with my hope that this gets resolved soon because of all the people that are hurting. Thank you very much for being my guest today John. I appreciate it as I know you have been overwhelmed under the circumstances. I look forward to hearing that the people in Washington come to some compromise soon and that the military teams get flying again. You can follow along with future developments and read more about ICAS at www.airshows.aero.

Maria can be reached directly at expertQA@eventcrazy.com
or visit her website at EventCrazy.com

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