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Canon sues Balloon Fiesta, seeking sponsorship refund

A balloon lifts off between balloons that were inflating at the start of the 2018 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The shutdown of the 2020 Balloon Fiesta during the pandemic has led to a legal dispute between fiesta organizers and the event’s major sponsor.

Canon USA, the presenting sponsor of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, filed a lawsuit this week demanding a $250,000 reimbursement and alleging that event organizers violated the terms of a three-year sponsorship agreement.

The dispute appears to center on whether the 2020 event was “canceled,” as Canon alleges, or “postponed” – the term fiesta organizers have used to describe last year’s shutdown.

In June 2020, fiesta officials announced that last year’s event had been “postponed” until Oct. 2-10, 2021, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In its lawsuit, Canon alleges that “the 2021 Fiesta is not being advertised as the postponed or rescheduled 2020 Fiesta.”

Crowds await a mass ascension launch during the 2018 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. The annual event at Balloon Fiesta Park is typically Albuquerque’s largest tourist attraction, but COVID-19 concerns led organizers to shut it down in 2020. The Balloon Fiesta is set to resume in October. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“The 2020 Fiesta was canceled, and the 2021 Fiesta is in fact its own separately-scheduled event,” the lawsuit alleges.

To support the allegation, Canon cited a variety of media reports that described the 2020 balloon rally as having been canceled.

Tom Garrity, spokesman for the Balloon Fiesta, declined comment about the lawsuit Tuesday. He confirmed that the 2021 Balloon Fiesta will be held as scheduled beginning Oct. 2 and that about 600 hot-air balloons are registered.

The fiesta’s attorney, Sarah Shore of Albuquerque, said in a written statement that the fiesta does not comment on pending litigation.

Canon USA, a manufacturer of cameras and photographic equipment, entered into a sponsorship agreement with Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in 2017 that made Canon the “presenting sponsor” of the event from 2018-2020.

The agreement required Canon to pay the fiesta a total sponsorship fee of $720,000, including $250,000 for the 2020 event.

The agreement provided Canon with a number of promotional opportunities, including the placement of Canon USA’s logo on the cover of 12,000 official event programs, and entry of Canon USA’s balloon.

In July 2020, fiesta organizers sent Canon a proposed amendment that would have extended the terms of the 2017 sponsorship agreement for an additional year, according to the lawsuit.

The amendment also would have applied Canon’s $250,000 sponsorship fee to the 2021 Balloon Fiesta. Fiesta leaders offered Canon the proposed amendment a second time in September.

Canon USA rejected the proposal to extend the sponsorship agreement for a year.

“Canon USA never consented to reschedule the 2020 Fiesta for a mutually agreed upon date,” the lawsuit states. “Consequently, regardless of whether (Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta) characterizes its decision as a ‘postponement’ or a ‘cancellation’ … Canon USA was entitled to terminate the agreement” and get a refund of its $250,000 sponsorship fee.

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