60 Tips for Increasing Air Show Revenue and Decreasing Air Show Expenses


During a fast-paced, information-packed session at the 2016 Convention, six ICAS members participated in a session that provided the audience with revenue generating and cost-savings tips at the rate of one tip per minute for a full hour. The latest in a series of “60 Tips in 60 Minutes” sessions organized by ICAS, the session drew a standing room-only audience and was one of the three top-rated educational sessions at last December’s convention. ICAS offers an abridged version of all 60 tips here for those of you who were not able to attend the actual presentation. 


Moderator: Roy Hafeli, Hafeli and Hildebrandt Air Show Announcers, Mission, British Columbia

Bill Braack, President, Oregon International Air Show, Hillsboro, Oregon

Julia Dacy, Director of Operations, Dacy Airshows, Harvard, Illinois

Bobbi Thompson, Executive Vice President, Airport Business Solutions, Minden, Nevada

Jim Reith, President, Abbotsford International Airshow, Abbotsford, British Columbia

Colin Stephenson, Executive Director, Atlantic Canada International Air Show, Fall River, Nova Scotia.

Phaedra Childers, Event Coordinator, Thunder in the Valley Air Show, Columbus, Georgia 

Tip #1: Go to other shows around North America and learn what works for them. (Bill Braack)

When you expose yourself to different ways of doing business, you’ll learn how to both increase revenue and reduce expenses. It requires an investment of your time and some travel expense, but the cross-pollination of ideas will be helpful to every aspect of your business.

Tip #2: Be an engaged member of your local community. (Julia Dacy)

Partner with local organizations to sell specific ticket packages. The packages should be simple; a corporate table program is a great example. Allow the organization to promote and sell the package at the publicized rate and, in return, they retain a pre-determined portion for their own fundraising.

Tip #3: Have contracts with vendors, performers, and sponsors…and read them. (Bobbi Thompson) Everyone you hire or receive services or materials from should be under contract; that includes the airport or location for your event. Contracts clarify the roles of all parties and protect you if anything goes off course.

Tip #4: Apply for government grants. (Jim Reith)

Check for government sources of grants. In our community, we can access casino gaming funds, a portion of which has to be returned to the community for sports, arts and cultural purposes. Many shows apply for grants from the fund generated by hotel taxes to promote tourism of different kinds.

Tip #5: Use city public works department as a site set-up/teardown workforce. (Colin Stephenson)

It can be part of a local government in-kind partnership. They come with their own trucks, equipment, insurance and experience.

Tip #6: Understand and make thoughtful decisions about rain insurance. (Phaedra Childers)

Our business model is designed so that one good day will pay the expenses; if we’re lucky enough to have good weather on both days of the weekend, the second day is largely profit. Rain insurance might be beneficial in some situations, but it’s important to completely understand all aspects of the situation before committing that kind of money to insurance premiums that might not be necessary. 

Tip #7: Charge premium for your busiest day…usually Saturday. (Bill Braack)

If one day is traditionally more attractive to your spectator base than others, charge a bit more for admission tickets on that day. It will help you spread out your crowds more equitably between Saturday and Sunday. It will also generate more ticket revenue. 

Tip #8: If you have a one-day show, make it a two-day event. (Julia Dacy)

Most events estimate the increased cost involved in going from a one-day to two-day show to be roughly 25 percent. You’ve already paid most of the expense of hosting a two-day show. For an additional day/night of hotel rooms, rental cars, fuel and smoke oil, your event has an added day of revenue-generating potential.

Tip #9: Maintain overall control of tickets and ticket distribution. (Bobbi Thompson)

Tickets can be used in exchange for services, supplies and sponsorships. But keep control and accountability for all tickets so you are not giving away more than you are receiving. Track all tickets no matter how they are used and, each year, review how you “spent” your tickets and make changes accordingly.

Tip #10: Plan a Friday night show. (Jim Reith)

We have found that the night show is very popular with the corporate crowd, both in the chalets and for bulk tickets for their employees. We’ve also found that people enjoy leaving work, stopping at home to grab the kids and heading out to the airport for a great evening of family entertainment.

Tip #11: Use your Friday rehearsal show as an exclusive, beat-the-traffic preview event. (Colin Stephenson)

Pitch it to local companies as a Friday afternoon company picnic-type event. You get additional revenue from an event that usually creates no income. They get exclusivity and an inexpensive benefit for employees and customers.

Tip #12: Protect parking lots to get small number of prime spots. (Phaedra Childers)

Make it your responsibility to dedicate a small number of air show volunteers to protecting parking spaces at businesses located near your show site. In return, ask that the businesses set aside a small number of spots that you can use for VIPs, media, volunteers or performers. You protect revenue, pick up a few VIP parking spots and keep your neighbors happy.

Tip #13: Don’t be afraid to charge more for VIP access. (Bill Braack)

Our shows are grossly undercharging. We’ve increased VIP tickets by 55 percent and have seen an INCREASE in sales. If you think you might not be charging enough, you aren’t, and you should increase your prices. 

Tip #14: Give free tickets to school-age children. (Julia Dacy)

Partner with local grade schools in your area to develop an incentive-based “free ticket” program.  Each child receives a free ticket when they participate in an aviation-related program. The program should be targeted to lower level grades to ensure that an adult who will be purchasing a ticket accompanies them to the show.

Tip #15: Develop a comprehensive budget that allows you to quickly figure for this year vs. last year. (Bobbi Thompson)

Start with a comprehensive budget and then work with others in your organization to confirm you have considered all revenue and expense items. Throughout the planning leading to your show, individual line items may move up or down, but monitor those changes to confirm your bottom line is still positive.

Tip #16: Develop a VIP package that includes hotel accommodations and admission tickets. (Jim Reith)

You will likely be surprised at how far some people will come to enjoy your air show. Work with your hotel partners to develop a package that includes hotel accommodations plus a VIP experience out on the ramp.

Tip #17: Provide a campground from Friday to Sunday. (Colin Stephenson)

Campers will pay a premium for the location and view and expect little in services that would be difficult or expensive to deliver.

Tip #18: Get minimum guarantee from all vendors. (Phaedra Childers)

We use a three-tier system. If there are exhibitors/vendors participating in our show who don’t sell any product or service at the show, we charge a flat fee of $600 payable in advance of the show. If we have a local or specialty vendor, we negotiate a minimum guarantee, payable prior to the show. And we negotiate both a minimum guarantee and a percentage of sales from all national concession companies that participate in our event. 

Tip #19: Ask all vendors to sponsor or make a donation back to your air show. (Bill Braack)

Your vendors and sponsors have as much to gain from the success of your show as anybody. Ask them to demonstrate their support by making a financial contribution to its success.

Tip #20: Collaborate with local event to co-promote, improve buying power. (Julia Dacy)

Consider joining forces with these other events to increase your advertising and ticket sales potential. Larger media purchases often equate to lower rates for television, print and billboards. Additionally, greater purchasing power may make larger ‘splash’ advertising available, that would have otherwise been cost prohibitive.

Tip #21: Make thoughtful, strategic use of in-kind donations and sponsorships. (Bobbi Thompson)

When negotiating sponsorships, be careful not to give away more than you receive. Keep detailed records, provide all benefits you promised, make each sponsor — no matter the amount — feel special. Stay in contact with them.

Tip #22: Add taxes and fees to the ticket price. (Jim Reith)

Customers expect an additional charge for taxes and ticketing fees. So, add that to your ticket price; don’t pay those taxes and ticket fees from your ticket price. If your ticket price is $25 and requires that you pay $1.50 in taxes and $2.00 for ticket fees, then charge $28.50. That’s what we do. People expect it and we didn’t hear a single complaint or comment about the charge.

Tip #23: Increase your ticket prices. (Colin Stephenson)

With almost no exceptions, ticket prices throughout North America are lower than they should be. Moreover, air shows that have increased ticket prices have seen virtually no negative impacts. So, raise your prices.

Tip #24: Treat your sponsors like the VIPs they are. (Phaedra Childers)

We invite our title sponsors to an invitation-only appreciation dinner after our show. We provide an after-action performance report to each sponsor immediately following show weekend. We make sure that our sponsors are the first to hear about any news related to our show. Five of our sponsors have representatives on the executive planning committee for our event. 

Tip #25: Work with industry professionals that source national mobile marketing tours at air shows. (Bill Braack)

Many national companies view air shows as an ideal venue to promote their products or services. And the air show industry has experienced professionals who can help you make contact and strike a deal with these companies. 

Tip #26: Get sponsorship for everything. (Julia Dacy)

We often think of sponsoring the flying portion of the air show. Consider seeking sponsorship for the other aspects of your show: printing, advertising, fencing, landscaping, event communications, sound system, announcer, etc. Additional advantages of sponsoring the non-flying portion of your show: they’re in place all day, rain or shine.

Tip #27: Listen to your volunteers. (Bobbi Thompson)

They’re not simply cheap labor; their insights and ideas are priceless. They know how to do their jobs better than we do and can provide insights on ways to enhance the results, cut costs and improve the overall event as a result.

Tip #28: Add a parking fee. (Jim Reith)

Beginning in 2017, our show will begin charging for parking. This has the potential to generate a six-figure additional income stream for our show. You can also add parking upgrades such as valet parking or VIP parking areas to both increase revenue and provide paying customers with additional amenities.

Tip #29: Rent the equipment you own to other fairs/festivals. (Colin Stephenson)

The equipment you own has value to the organizers of other fairs and festivals. From generators and forklifts to fencing and bleachers, put your equipment to use earning money for your event during the 358 days of the year that you’re not using it.

Tip #30: Set a budget and stick to it. (Phaedra Childers)

Put your emotions aside and think with a business model in mind. Don’t let your interest in producing the most entertaining show you can afford overwhelm the reality that you may not be able to afford the show that you want. We set a budget and only hire additional acts if we have over-performed on sponsorship sales.

Tip #31: Use a ticket company with technology that functions as an additional ticket sales mechanism. (Bill Braack)

Several electronic ticketing companies use algorithms that help find friends of ticket holders and invite them to buy a ticket to the show. 

Tip #32: Sell bulk-discounted tickets to local businesses. (Julia Dacy)

Identify and recognize that there may be a number of local businesses in your community that have no interest in traditional sponsorship packages, but can still be a significant source of revenue. Consider offering discounted bulk ticket packages to these companies. Create advance, discounted ticket packages at various levels (50, 100, 250 tickets…and so on) that allow these companies to purchase bulk tickets for employees.

Tip #33: Barter, barter, barter. (Bobbi Thompson)

You have lots of desirable assets. Trade them for goods/services. One tried-and-true message is to trade sponsorship recognition for things that you need. Barter for full or partial donation of items to include: fuel, hangar space, tents, chairs, catering…well, you get the idea.

Tip #34: Build a beer garden on your ramp. (Jim Reith)

Ours includes a bar, tables and chairs with umbrellas. It is intended as a fun space for the younger crowd to be able to enjoy the show. We charge $25 a day, but the bar is a cash bar. There are food vendors nearby that patrons can access to bring food into the club. It’s also a helpful tool for increasing the attractiveness of our event to a demographic segment that has been historically difficult for air shows to attract.

Tip #35: Solicit multiple bids on all major expenses. (Colin Stephenson)

When arranging to rent or buy things like tents, porta potties, chairs, fencing, hotel rooms, signage, fuel, and rental cars, you’ll want to keep your vendors honest by getting competitive bids from multiple vendors. Vendors who know that you are not getting bids can sometimes become complacent over time if they are not challenged to sharpen their pencils.

Tip #36: Get your fuel sponsored/discounted. (Phaedra Childers)

Air shows use a lot of fuel — creating a valuable revenue stream for the airports and the fuel providers located at your airport! Use that bit of leverage you have to ask your airport for discounted pricing and/or the omission of flowage fees.

Tip #37: Start selling tickets as early as possible. (Bill Braack)

Every ticket holder is a micro-sales person for your event. Sell a ticket in December and you get both the revenue and an early advocate for your event. 

Tip #38: Use special promotions/limited availability ticket packages to drive advance sales. (Julia Dacy)

Consider offering holiday ticket promotions, capitalizing on gift giving; Christmas, Moms, Dads and Grads programs are ideal. To drive even more advance ticket sales, consider making some ticket packages available only during a specific timeframe: family four-packs, adult four-packs, different types of V.I.P. packages, etc. Advance ticket promotions can also improve your show’s cash flow by providing helpful revenue many months before your event.

Tip #39: Build smart shopping considerations into your ramp layout. (Bobbi Thompson)

Show layout is a big deal. Group your vendors in a manner to promote sales and improve accessibility. Vendors may request a certain location, but they may not understand the overall layout of your air show. Work with your vendors to improve their presentation and help ensure that their pricing is acceptable in your region. Promote variety; no one needs four kettle corn vendors.

Tip #40: Develop a single-ticket VIP option. (Jim Reith)

Offer an all-inclusive VIP option that gives people the full-service treatment: special access and parking next to the chalet, chairs/tables/umbrellas in the seating area, free meals and open bar. We call ours the President’s Club and we set the price at $150 per person per day. We contract the catering to a local company that builds a field kitchen and can also cater to our corporate chalet partners. (Editor’s notes: 1) Changes to the U.S. Air Force guidance on open houses now make this kind of VIP chalet an option at USAF facilities; 2) Many shows are implementing these single-ticket VIP chalets and virtually all of them report the same thing…high ticket prices and sold out or nearly sold out each day.)

Tip #41: Get a local supermarket to provide for your performer tent as an in-kind contribution/sponsorship. (Colin Stephenson)

You can reduce a significant expense line item and improve the quality of the food you provide to performers by asking a local grocery store to provide food and beverages to your performers in return for advertising or sponsorship recognition.

Tip #42: Make effective use of your non-profit status. (Phaedra Childers)

Ask for discounts. You’d be surprised how many of the vendors that you already use will consider a discount based on your show’s non-profit status. For instance, ask for the one-day rental fee on equipment rather than a weekend or three-day rate. Ask for the “friend and family” rate at local hotels in recognition of your status as a non-profit. And use your non-profit status to get your FBO or fuel provider to provide you with a discount or eliminate flowage fees. 

Tip #43: Objectively assess every expense line item from one year to the next. (Bill Braack)

Is it really necessary? Is it critical to the mission of your event? When you don’t challenge individual line items, budgets tend to become bloated. Don’t let last year’s poor decisions and inefficiencies inflate your budget this year.

Tip #44: Reduce/eliminate expenses related to volunteers. (Julia Dacy)

Look to local companies to assist and provide for all your show’s volunteer needs. A company can receive optimum exposure having their logo on the sleeve of your volunteer t-shirts in exchange for paying for the t-shirts themselves. Reach out to local restaurants, sandwich shops, supermarkets, and big box stores to provide great boxed lunch options for free or at a reduced cost to you. Local community foundations and certain stores often have grants available specifically for the purpose of meeting the creature comfort needs of volunteers at events like ours.

Tip #45: Work with other shows in your region to make multi-show deals with performers. (Bobbi Thompson)

Travel costs for performers can become a major show expense. Each year, we introduce new acts and variety to keep the gate revenue on the rise. Be aware of other shows that are within a reasonable travel time and have a show date close to yours. Performers will appreciate a geographical group of shows and you may save money on travel and the show fee.

Tip #46: Establish a multi-day wristband option. (Jim Reith)

Many of our customers want to come to your show for more than one day, especially when we have a “different” product like a Twilight Show on Friday evening. Sell them a wristband that provides access to all of your weekend events. And price it so that it offers a significant discount vs. the cost of buying individual general admission tickets to all of your events.

Tip #47: Work hard at getting the best deal you can for local government services. (Colin Stephenson)

Depending on your situation, costs associated with law enforcement, firefighters, airport rental and other government services can be some of your largest expenses. So, the time, effort and political capital you spend to maintain strong relationships and negotiate the best possible prices are an efficient and effective use of your resources. And you sometimes won’t know that you failed to invest enough in those relationships until it’s too late.

Tip #48: Accept all offers of help, in-kind contributions. (Phaedra Childers)

If you need or can use the product or service that they’re offering, accept all in-kind donations from appropriate companies or groups that offer a product or service. Urgent care clinics will sometimes provide medical staff at no cost in return for sponsorship recognition. Solicit volunteer cooks, servers and cleaning staff for your hospitality and sponsor recognition events. If you’ve got paper supply companies in your community, approach one of them to supply free paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates, cups and utensils in exchange for recognition.

Tip #49: Use your advertising dollars collaboratively. (Bill Braack)

This controls costs while increasing sales in your region in hiring acts, vendors. 

Tip #50: Limit unnecessary flights. (Julia Dacy)

After carefully monitoring and controlling expenses for months, event organizers sometimes get caught up in the excitement of having all those planes at the airport, and available, and blow their budgets by approving non-essential flights. The key is knowing how much each additional flight might be costing you and what, specifically, your show will gain from that flight. There’s nothing worse than realizing that more money was spent on fuel for a particular sponsor flight than was generated by that sponsorship. Know all of the costs associated with extra flights and plan or eliminate accordingly.

Tip #51: Track/quantify this year’s statistical success to help sell sponsorship next year. (Bobbi Thompson)

Pictures, news articles, attendance, charitable donations: all those items should be an important part of the details you provide your sponsor to make them feel good about the sponsorship they provided your air show. It’s not only the right thing to do; it’s also the first step in renewing that sponsorship for future years.

Tip #52: Trade display placement/exhibit space for products and services. (Jim Reith)

First of all, you need to have a display space or exhibit hall where you can charge companies for the right to have a booth and pitch their products, services and marketing messages. It’s a great revenue stream all by itself. We have also been able to trade space like this for services, eliminating the need to spend cash.

Tip #53: If you have storage space, order smoke oil in bulk. (Colin Stephenson)

For most shows, smoke oil is a significant expense. If you’ve got storage space, you can cut that expense by buying two or three years of smoke oil at a time.

Tip #54: Offer steep discounts for advance ticket sales. (Phaedra Childers)

In almost every year that we’ve held our show, we’ve increased the percentage of advance ticket sales by offering significant discounts for those who buy their tickets early. For tickets that cost $15 at the gates, we offer $7 discounts to military personnel who buy in advance and $5 discounts to any member of the general public who buys early. Last year, we had poor Saturday attendance due to bad weather. Nonetheless, the 2016 air show was our fourth most profitable event in 20 years, largely because we had sold so many tickets in advance of the event.

Tip #55: Use data to help make informed decisions. (Bill Braack)

Know how to use data; it doesn’t lie. Tying media buys to sales helps validate what works and what doesn’t. And the internet has greatly increased your access to analytical tools that can provide real insight into many different issues related to your event. 

Tip #56: Use data to limit/eliminate surprises. (Julia Dacy)

When developing or referencing your budget, be sure you’ve thoroughly reviewed all of the related expenses: the participant/performance, mileage costs, fuel, smoke oil, engine oil, hotel rooms, transportation requirements, meals, etc. Likewise, all-inclusive cost planning should carry over to all aspects of your event, from your large expenses (marketing/promotion) to the cost of each meal, tent, table and chair.

Tip #57: Make sponsorship sales a year-long effort. (Bobbi Thompson)

Try and keep your sponsor banners up longer than the week of your event. Thank them publicly throughout the year. Start promoting your event and contacting past sponsors no less than nine months before the show.

Tip #58: Add a photo pit for photographers with additional access. (Jim Reith)

Photographers will pay extra to have a space with a front line vantage point to get unrestricted photos of the air show aircraft. Bundle in additional access such as an earlier entry to the site so they can walk the hot line and static line area and get shots of the aircraft before all the public arrive.

Tip #59: Form a regional buying group to negotiate insurance discounts. (Colin Stephenson)

Get several shows together and approach insurance carriers as a group. You’ll find that you’ll have better leverage when the insurer knows that they stand to gain (or lose) several customers at one time.

Tip #60: Develop media sponsorships to defray marketing expenses. (Phaedra Childers)

This year, we had in-kind sponsorships from the #1 and #2 television stations in our market, four of the top five radio stations, the city newspaper and a local creative services agency. As a result, even with one of the more aggressive marketing campaigns we’ve ever had for our show, this year’s marketing expenses were only four percent of the overall budget. We finished way below budget on both our printing and advertising budgets.

Previous articleThe Comprehensive Air Show Emergency Response Plan: 28 Key Ingredients
Next articleManeuver Creep
The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.