Notable sports (and cultural) events in blimp history
1932: The Goodyear blimp Volunteer provides a local radio station a bird’s-eye view of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
1955: The first live U.S. transcontinental broadcast from an aircraft occurs from the Goodyear Enterprise during NBC’s coverage of the 1955 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif.
1977: Goodyear grants use of all three of its U.S.-based blimps for the movie “Black Sunday.” The landing and hijacking scenes were photographed at the Goodyear airship base in Carson, Calif., with the ship Columbia; a short scene was shot at the Spring, Texas, base with the ship America; and the Miami Super Bowl scenes came via the Mayflower.
1992: Anheuser-Busch’s Bud One Airship launches. The airship goes on to be featured in A-B’s Bud Bowl V and Bud Bowl VI advertisements during the Super Bowl in 1994 and 1995.
1992: The Duff Beer Blimp makes its inaugural flight in Season 4 of “The Simpsons.” Homer Simpson wins a ride in the blimp but sells his ticket for $250 to Barney to raise enough money for Lisa to enter a school competition. In a parody of the Hindenburg disaster, Barney crashes the blimp into a radio tower.
1993: Rapper Ice Cube releases “It Was A Good Day,” a song that describes one perfect day in South Los Angeles and that includes the lyrics “Even saw the lights of the Goodyear blimp / And it read ‘Ice Cube’s a pimp.’” In January 2014, the celebrity would team up with Goodyear to raise money for A Place Called Home, a South Los Angeles organization that mentors at-risk youth. The blimp sailed over the city during a fundraising event displaying the message “Ice Cube says: Today is a Good Day.”
1994: MetLife’s Snoopy One launches out of Tampa, primarily to cover East Coast events. Its debut actually came a few months after the debut of the Snoopy Two airship, which launched out of Hillsboro, Ore., primarily to cover West Coast events. Scheduling conflicts resulted in “Two” taking off ahead of “One” for their respective maiden voyages.
1996: HP Hood, a Massachusetts-based dairy, begins a part-time blimp program. The Van Wagner-owned ship covers approximately 20 Boston Red Sox games and other events each summer, then heads to Florida for the rest of the year and is made available for short-term lease.
1998: Anheuser-Busch debuts an ad campaign featuring two sports fans known as the Blimp Guys, who cruise the country in the Bud One Airship passing over sporting events along the way. One spot, which ties to Budweiser’s official sponsor status with MLB, has the blimp flying over Busch Stadium, as then-St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire sends a Bud-logoed baseball into the sky. “Hey, man, call the FAA,” one of the Blimp Guys says to the other. “These guys are a threat to our airspace.”
2001: Pilots in Oakland flying a blimp bearing the XFL and Spalding logos are forced to abandon the ship in flight after losing control. The unattended blimp floats about 5 miles in 20 minutes before its gondola catches on a sailboat mast in the Central Basin marina and collapses on the roof of the Oyster Reef restaurant. Rumors swirl that it was all a stunt conceived by WWE to drive interest in its soon-to-begin football league, but the talk was never substantiated.
2001: The Snoopy One airship is put on the temporary disabled list and does not make it to its scheduled appearance at a Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. Strong winds the night before the game caused the blimp’s mooring mast at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport to break, and the ship was blown about 60 miles northeast. It came to rest on top of a truck at the Minnis Burial Vault Co. but did so without damage to the airship or to any property, nor any injury to people below.
2001: After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration puts in place temporary flight restrictions over MLB, NFL and major college football games as well as NASCAR races. The ban extends from the surface to 3,000 feet and has a radius of 3 nautical miles from the event venue.
2007: MetLife becomes the PGA Tour’s official aerial provider. A four-year extension through 2016 is signed in 2013.
2007: The DirecTV blimp debuts at the World Series in Boston. The A-170LS Video Lightsign Lightship features the world’s first flight-worthy LED video screen.
2011: For the first time, a network splits its coverage of a sporting event between two competing blimps. At the Daytona 500, a Goodyear blimp provides Fox with aerial coverage during the first half of the race, and the DirecTV airship handles the second half. The coverage brought together two NASCAR sponsors, both of which had a sports relationship with Fox as well.
|The tailfin of the Spirit of Goodyear awaits its journey to the Smithsonian.
2012: At the PGA Championship, Rory McIlroy hits a tee shot that becomes lodged in a branch of a leafless tree not far from the green. No one can find the ball until the camera crew on board Snoopy Two spots it and passes the word down to the CBS crew on the ground, which conveys the discovery to McIlroy. He finds the ball, takes a drop and a one-stroke penalty — but ends up winning the tournament.
2013: More than a decade after Budweiser last used an airship to promote its products (the brand stopped after the increased FAA restrictions following 9/11), the company returns to the skies with a blimp: an A60+ Lightship, promoting responsible drinking.
2013: For the first time, two Goodyear blimps (Spirit of Goodyear and Spirit of Innovation) simultaneously provide live aerial television coverage of a sporting event as they circle overhead Miami’s SunLife Stadium for ESPN’s coverage of Virginia Tech vs. Miami football. Innovation’s home base is in South Florida; the Goodyear ship is based in Akron, Ohio, but was in Florida for annual winter maintenance.
2014: The 14-year-old Spirit of Goodyear airship flies from Akron, Ohio, to Florida and retires after the Daytona 500. The ship was certified by Guinness World Records as the longest continuous operating airship, and its tailfins are marked for donation to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Compiled by David Broughton
Sources: Goodyear, Van Wagner, DirecTV, MetLife and SportsBusiness Journal/Daily archives