A trip to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is filled with sights of banners and logos of local and national companies, all looking to either grow their customer base or lend community support to Albuquerque.
Though advertisements are a common feature of the event, it’s a far cry from the Balloon Fiesta’s humble origins in 1972 when there were only 13 balloons and two sponsors: KKOB and Coronado Center.
But just as the fiesta has grown in attendance over the years, so too has the number of sponsors.
This year, the 50th Balloon Fiesta, which kicked off Saturday, has more than 100 sponsors, according to the event’s sponsorship list.
“It has grown, I think significantly, we have a nice balance of local sponsors as well as regional and national sponsors,” said Stephanie Prendergast, Balloon Fiesta sponsorship sales director.
Prendergast said sponsorships play an integral role to the event’s operations with a significant portion of the fiesta’s revenue coming from advertisers and sponsorships.
Though large, national corporate sponsorships, like those with ExxonMobil or Wells Fargo, now play a big role in the event, Prendergast said the initial sponsors in the early years were exclusively local.
Today, Prendergast said many local companies continue to choose to be a sponsor due to the strong connection Albuquerque residents have with the Balloon Fiesta and the name recognition that comes from being associated with the event.
Aside from local nostalgia and fondness toward the event, Prendergast said the fiesta is nationally and internationally known, which brings a lot of attention to sponsors.
Want to celebrate
Though Prendergast said local companies have long seen the value in becoming sponsors of the event, this year sponsorships have taken on even more importance since not only is this the 50th fiesta, but it marks the second year the fiesta has operated since the pandemic began and the event was canceled in 2020. Prendergast said companies seem more willing now to become sponsors because they see the value in backing an event that brings joy to the community.
“A lot of people just wanted to celebrate,” Prendergast said.
Paul Smith, AIBF executive director, said hot air balloons often make people feel a sense of joy — something some companies want to be affiliated with.
“The joy kind of comes out and a lot of people, a lot of sponsors are looking to be affiliated with that joy,” Smith said.
Los Lunas-based RAKS Building Supply is one of the recent sponsors.
Becoming a sponsor seemed like the perfect way to be a part of the community while also building more name recognition, said General Manager Frankie Martinez.
Martinez said that while RAKS, which operates several stores in New Mexico, has been around for several decades, it wasn’t until last year that the company became a sponsor — although they had anticipated their first year of sponsorship to begin in 2020.
“I saw it as a great opportunity,” he said.
As a sponsor, Martinez, who also has a hot air balloon pilot’s license, now flies a company balloon at the fiesta.
“We’re here in the balloon capital of the world, Albuquerque; we need to be in (the) fiesta, we need to be in it doing a sponsorship with them,” Martinez said about the company’s decision to participate in the fiesta.
For Coronado Center and local radio station KKOB, the first two sponsors of the event, maintaining a continuous 50-year sponsorship goes beyond just the historic ties.
Coronado Center hosted the very first fiesta in its parking lot in 1972 and to this day maintains operational ties with the event through the park-and-ride program, with guests parking at the mall and taking buses directly to the fiesta’s field, said Randy Sanchez, Coronado Center’s general manager.
Aside from hosting the park-and-ride, Coronado Center also sponsors a balloonist each year, he said.
“We are proud that we can actually fly our Coronado Center banner with the tagline as basically the birthplace of Balloon Fiesta,” Sanchez said.
Like other businesses, Sanchez said being a sponsor helps with name recognition and the mall’s involvement with the park-and-ride also brings additional traffic during the fiesta.
“There’s no doubt that during the fiesta our traffic counts increase,” he said. “… Some of our retailers have to actually have more staffing because of the influx of people that come in and a lot of them from out of state and sometimes out of the country for that matter.”
Jeff Berry, Cumulus Albuquerque market manager, said KKOB’s continuous sponsorship is an honor.
KKOB is the fiesta’s official radio sponsor and broadcasts field reports each day of the event, Berry said.
“We take that partnership with a great responsibility and a great honor,” he said. “… I definitely feel that we’ve benefitted each other for being together for that long and look forward to what happens in the coming years.”