ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – It takes a village and millions of dollars to pull off New Mexico’s biggest event. A new audit is now revealing how much the city and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each pay to put on the event and how much they walk away with. The Inspector General’s audit shows that in 2019, the city spent $1.5 million on the Balloon Fiesta. The city says it’s money well spent.

“The return to our city and state is immense. This is one of the best things that we invest in. The Balloon Fiesta generates almost $190 million a year in economic return to our area, so the payoff is fabulous for what the city puts in,” said Dave Simon with the city’s Parks and Rec. Department.

Simon says the audit shows how strong the city’s partnership is with the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc. (AIBF), the groups that run Fiesta. AIBF is a non-profit, and organizers say most of the money the event makes gets spent to run it. AIBF also pays the city $100,000 a year to use Balloon Fiesta Park, the landfill, and a portion of parking. They also pay for other rental and utility fees.

The audit shows, in 2019, AIBF made $12.6 million off of Balloon Fiesta including $1.8 million in merchandise and $2.4 million from sponsors but when the nine-day event was over, they only netted $1.3 million in profit. Further whittling down AIBF’s bottom line, is paying their employees. The audit shows 112,000 goes to the sponsorship coordinator and the executive director gets $173,000.

While a lot of money is involved, Simon says it pays off. “So when we see balloons in the sky in the fall, we know where we live, we know what we’re proud of and we need to continue to work to keep this event the best ballooning event in the world,” Simon said.

The city spent a little more than usual on Fiesta in 2019 because they added water lines for the RV camping spaces. Simon says the audit revealed no “smoking guns” and they look forward to bringing Fiesta back in 2021.

A spokesperson for Balloon Fiesta sent the following statement Tuesday:

The Balloon Fiesta enjoys a good relationship with the City of Albuquerque. Upon a quick review, the report appears to paint an accurate picture of the business relationship between the city and Balloon Fiesta.

According to the most recent Balloon Fiesta economic impact study: “The 48th annual Balloon Fiesta had a total estimated economic impact on Metro- Albuquerque’s business volume of $186.82 million. Balloon Fiesta guest spending directly increased the local business volume by $109.89 million and $76.93 million in indirect impact. The government revenue attributable to 2019 Balloon Fiesta is estimated $6.52 million for the state of New Mexico; $4.09 million for the City of Albuquerque, and $1.44 million for Bernalillo County.”

In addition, since 1997, Balloon Fiesta has contributed more than $4 million to improve Balloon Fiesta Park.

A lion share of the Balloon Fiesta revenue goes toward support of pilots, the event, local businesses including hotels and local concessions.  Any remaining funds are set aside for reserves and next years event.  Balloon Fiesta also provides funding to nonprofits that support the event by parking cars, selling programs and tickets.

Because Balloon Fiesta is a weather-dependent event, any net proceeds are set aside to cover losses in the event of inclement weather and to get ready for the following year’s event.

Planning for the 49th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta presented by Canon is underway.  The world’s largest hot air balloon festival is scheduled to occur October 2-10, 2021. This is the 49th event and it will include more than 600 hot air balloons. For nine days Albuquerque skies will be filled with five signature mass ascensions and balloon glows, five days of competitive flying, several events featuring special shape balloons, America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race, fireworks and much more.