(Aug. 7, 2020) After facing a huge roadblock, the OC Air Show will go on following the Ocean City Council’s decision Monday to support the event with an additional $100,000 contribution.

The money will be taken from the Tourism Advisory Board’s budget, and comes with contingencies, such as 50 percent of gross advertising sales revenue, data, ad spots at the Orlando air show and Ocean City’s designation as the air show’s premier sponsor. 

Special Events Director Frank Miller explained that the event’s usual show center, located between 13th and 17th streets, would not be permitted this year because of the state attorney general’s “no audience” guideline for events. The absence of that venue means a loss of roughly $187,000 in ticket sales revenue, according to air show Chairman Bryan Lilley.

He said the organizers have adapted the show and will provide sports-style broadcast, which will include unique camera angles on top of a hotel and  at the Wallops Flight Facility, interviews with the pilots and an extension of the performance. 

“We have already gotten the F22 and the F35 teams, the two marquee-style fighters of the Air Force, they have agreed to extend all their non-aerobatic passes into north Ocean City,” Lilley said. 

The loss of the show center, however, also will cost the show $40,000 in sponsorships, Lilley said, bringing the total shortfall to about $202,400. 

Lilley said City Manager Doug Miller asked him what he needed, and he responded with, “If [the Tourism Advisory Board] would be able to provide us with $100,000 in funding, we could make the entire show work this year.” 

The silver lining, he said, was the fact that the OC Air Show would be the first event of its kind this year, which has driven up interest. 

For example, a photo of a fighter jet posted on Facebook usually gets about 500 likes, Lilley said. Now, photos receive 15,000 likes. 

“We’re really seeing a tremendous interest in what we’re doing and the opportunity to engage this audience,” Lilley said. 

With the show being virtual (not counting spectators on the beach), this meant it had the potential to reach not only a national audience, but a global one as well. 

If the resort agreed to the request, the show would offer free advertising spots for the remainder of its contract with the city, advertising spots during its Orlando show and 50 percent of ad sale revenue, Lilley said. 

He added that local hoteliers found that occupancy was double the weekend of the air show, compared to the following weekend. 

“Just in that number alone on the vacancy difference we can see the impact that the air show is going to immediately have on the Ocean City community and Ocean City economy,” he said. 

Councilman Mark Paddack quickly voiced his support of the request. 

“There is nobody on the East Coast like the Town of Ocean City that has the staff, the training and the employees to be able to pull something like this off,” he said and moved to approve the request. 

Councilman Matt James wanted to see more details. 

“I would like to know where the $100,000 is going to go, before we say ‘OK here’s a hundred grand,’” James said. 

Lilley said he would be happy to provide a more thorough breakdown, but generally the money would go toward flight operations, infrastructure, live stream costs and other items. 

“I just don’t want there to be a position where we’re criticized later for basically paying for you to continue to make money on the air show because your vendors had to pull out,” James said. 

Councilman John Gehrig agreed with James, and said he looked at this as an investment in the live stream. 

He added that he wanted the resort to be recognized as the premier sponsor for the event and wanted data from the live stream. 

“Basically, this isn’t just a handout,” Gehrig said. 

Lilley concurred, but added that major sponsor GEICO would need to share the billing. 

Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out that the city already contributed $35,000 to the event, and was not altogether pleased that the $100,000 would be in addition to that.

James also had his doubts, telling Lilley and the council that he would prefer to see an invoice for the money, rather than just awarding it outright.

Gehrig reemphasized the opportunity to collect a wealth of data, including email addresses, and to get Ocean City’s marketing message out to many more prospective customers.

“We can control our message and get the customers that we want if we control the data,” Gehrig said. 

After establishing that the funds would come from the Tourism Advisory Board and that the money would be invoiced, not handed out all at once, the council voted to approve the request, with the aforementioned contingencies. 

Josh covers everything Ocean City government and crime. He graduated from the University of Richmond in 2019 with a B.A. in French and Journalism.

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