Sun 'n Fun Changes
In terms of marketing thrust, big events like Sun 'n Fun are like a giant oil tanker navigating through reefs. Sometimes, by the time you realize you need to turn the thing, it's too late. In marketing terms, audience interest can evolve and move on before you've realized what's happened. And that's why shows like this have to evolve—nothing stays the same.
This year, according to John "Lites" Leenhouts, who's now running the organization, that's why you're seeing a slightly different face on the show. This is not exactly a wholesale overhaul, but at a press briefing Tuesday morning, Leenhouts told reporters and editors that Sun 'n Fun has promoted hard in the local demographic—especially nearby Tampa and St. Petersburg—from which it hopes to draw to a big weekend crowd. Of course, that raises the question of who is this show for? Is it for aviation enthusiasts who drive or fly miles to attend this annual rite of spring to see products and buy things or is for the locals who come to see the airshow acts. Obviously, the answer is that it's for both audiences. It always has been, it's just a question of how you balance your promotional efforts to reach the audience most likely respond. These days, that's much more likely to be local and regional airshow attendees, not pilots. Like or not, that's the reality. To stay in the game, that may be what it takes to be profitable.
Leenhouts told us Sun 'n Fun has made organizational changes to make the show more family friendly. They've added activities like the kid's area and hands-on aviation things to do like the F-18 simulator that anyone can try. I'd expect to see more of this as the show evolves under new management. There are more airshow acts and the show runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with more multi-airplane acts and shows many of us may not have seen before, including Team RV and Otto, a helicopter act. The Thunderbirds will put in an appearance and so will a Harrier team. On the grounds, all of the Sun 'n Fun golf carts have been labeled as mobile information centers, which is a good idea, in my view. The real acid test will come when we see how the show handles the anticipated traffic. Long lines getting into the parking lots have always marred the Sun 'n Fun experience.
Taking No Chances I got a giggle when I arrived Monday at our press trailer. Usually, they jack these temporary offices up on concrete blocks and roll in some stairs. This year, ours is tied with heavy steel straps bolted to stakes driven into the center of the earth, it looks like. I took a walk around to see what others have done with tiedowns. Did they learn a lesson from last year's tornado or are they figuring lightning won't strike twice? A little bit of both, I'd say. At the Aviat booth, where they lost a couple of airplanes last year, this year's airplane are secured with heavy flat steel stakes and robust rope, mostly.
Further down the line, I saw a few airplanes secured with The Claw tiedown. As I reported a year ago, these delivered mixed performance. Some held fine in the blow, but others broke at the center tie point.
Leenhouts says Sun 'n Fun puts itself in the take-no-chances column. The staff 's daily briefing includes a weather assessment. Fortunately, the forecast for the entire week looks perfect.
A Big Anniversary Year Everyone, it seems, is having an anniversary this year. Out in front of the Cessna tent is a big sand sculpture with an 85 on it. (It appears to be really sand, too, because I almost got chased off scraping off a little corner. It crumbled.) Down the fairway, Aviat is celebrating its 25th, but the emotional favorite has to be Piper.
For the first time in years, there's an iconic yellow Cub parked in front of Piper's new upscale chalet to celebrate its 75th anniversary. There's another nice one down by the EAA tent and later in the week, I'll have a podcast on that one—owned by Bob Jones—and on the Piper display later in the week. I'm always fascinated over how different these restored Cubs look. They can be very different in cockpit detailing, especially the instruments and things like placards. As manufacturers always seem to, Piper evolved these details and construction methods from year to year so one airplane is definitely not the same as the next. All this Cub talk is building excitement for the Cubs to Oshkosh project in July, celebrating the 75th anniversary. I'm warming to the idea of flying my own Cub up.