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Hot Air

Goodyear blimp still flying high after 75 years

By Scott Becher

June 1, 2000

Can I interest you in a sponsorship opportunity that weighs 15,000 pounds, is made of polyester (how chic) and is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary?

It's the blimp. More precisely, the Goodyear blimp. And it stands as one of the most enduring and effective awareness-building devices ever conceived.

There are other companies with their names on blimps. Budweiser and Fuji are probably the two most well known. But Goodyear owns the category.

"We recognize there are others out there, but I would say we are the equivalent to what Kleenex is to tissue," says Jerry Jenkins, public relations manager for the Goodyear blimp Stars and Stripes.

Must be true. Look up blimp in Webster's Children's Dictionary and you'll see a picture of a Goodyear blimp.

Or just check the Goodyear Web site. Everything you would ever want to know about dirigibles is featured there. A virtual in-flight blimp magazine.

So let me tell you about some blimp marketing history that you'll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

The first sports event to use the blimp for its unique aerial camera position? The 1960 Orange Bowl, airing on CBS.

"As the story goes, legendary director Frank Chirkinian had seen the blimp at several events over the years and thought, "Why not use the blimp for a live shot?'" Jenkins told "He gets credit for starting our integration within sports event broadcasts."

Now it's the norm. Goodyear's three U.S.-based blimps visit approximately 40 major sporting events per year. They've been to all but three Super Bowls. The Olympics. World Cups. Outdoor and indoor venues alike.

Where does Goodyear feel its presence is greatest?

"I'd say baseball is where we receive the most recognition," Jenkins said. "During the baseball playoffs in October, our fleet of three blimps can be on the air for as many as 12 to 15 days in the month."

And being on the air is a big deal for Goodyear. The company values its exposure time comparable to the cost of an in-broadcast commercial. So when Goodyear receives 30 seconds of airtime during a World Series broadcast, Jenkins puts a "$400,000 to $600,000 value" on the exposure.

The exposure is the result of negotiated media buys with the networks.

On occasion, a different sponsored blimp will earn network broadcast rights for a given event. If it's a big enough game, the Goodyear blimp may show up anyway.

"We don't always have the TV rights, but we want people to feel like if it's a major event, our blimp will be there," Jenkins said.

And soon it will function as more than merely a passive billboard.

Goodyear is set to launch its new Eagle Vision night sign in September. Digital game images, like those on a stadium Jumbotron, will be broadcast on the side of the blimp. You'll see real-time replays, visible for three-quarters of a mile.

This icon within the sports event landscape may be getting a facelift. But the Goodyear blimp seems to be aging pretty well.

More FoxSportsBiz columns by Scott Becher