Companies swoop in to save fireworks shows

Laguna Beach is famed for its Fourth of July fireworks displays that have stretched back more than 40 years. But this year, with the city feeling the economic squeeze, it looked as if there might be no pyrotechnics.

Until corporations and trade associations stepped in to help, and not just out of civic responsibility.

Fireworks are good for business.

“It’s a big draw for the city,” said Michael Gosselin, treasurer of the Laguna Board of Realtors, which pitched in $5,000 toward the $25,000 cost of the show that will take place Sunday. “A lot of people come to town, they stay in the hotels and they eat at the restaurants.”

And some might be thinking about relocating to the beach town. The realty board, by being a contributor, will have its name on banners at the event.

“For Realtors, the Fourth of July weekend is probably the worst weekend of the year for real estate except maybe Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Gosselin said. “This does help because it’s good publicity for the board.”

Corporations and trade associations looking for good publicity have saved several endangered fireworks displays across the country for the holiday, according to Jim Souza, president of Pyro Spectaculars Inc., a Rialto firm that’s one of the largest fireworks companies in the country.

“If you go back to the first of the year, with the whole state of the economy and the budget crisis in the state of California, we were a bit worried about how we’d do this year — the whole industry was,” Souza said. “A lot of cities were saying, ‘We’re not sure we’re going to have a celebration,’ or ‘Maybe we’ll scale it down.’”

Then businesses started stepping in.

“In about the middle of May we started seeing cities and counties who were on the fence before come around, and some have even increased spending,” Souza said.

Major corporations got involved. In Dallas, Dr Pepper Snapple Group stepped in. In Seattle, Microsoft Corp. and Starbucks Coffee Co. put up money for the fireworks.

In Laguna, a far smaller Seattle firm, Tommy Bahama, pitched in $10,000. The company, which sells tropical-themed clothes that the Margaritaville set favors, has a store opening in the beach community in November.

“It’s never too early to get your name out as a good citizen,” said Tommy Bahama Chief Executive Terry Pillow. “When you’re a company like ours and you’re opening stores in communities like this, we’ve got to be relevant and important to the local people to survive in these locations.”

If only sports teams were so lucky.

Numerous teams have cut back on the fireworks displays they had during their seasons, Souza said. This was partly because of diminishing corporate support for the shows.

“With big sports teams, nobody steps up from the community to help fill in those gaps,” he said.

Pyro Spectaculars’ revenue from the professional sports industry is off about 30% this year, Souza said.

Julie Heckman, executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Assn., said the trend is nationwide.

“A number of corporations have cut back in how much they’re spending on sponsoring weekly fireworks shows with the big sports teams,” she said. “It’s been a real shift the last couple years.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers have cut back from 13 Friday fireworks displays to just two this season, Souza said.

He said this was at least partly out of consideration for Dodger Stadium’s residential neighbors. The Dodgers organization could not be reached for comment.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have not cut back, said Peter Bull, the team’s manager of entertainment and production. The team gets money for the displays from corporate sponsor Wells Fargo & Co.

“We were one of the first teams in baseball to hold a fireworks show consistently throughout the season,” Bull said. “Our fans expect it maybe a bit more than other teams.”

In Laguna, the drive to raise private support for the annual display exceeded the expectations of organizers.

“We ended up raising more than $40,000,” Gosselin said. “We’re going to be funding next year’s fireworks with the money too.”

It’s just the kind of news that lights up Pyro Spectaculars’ bottom line.

“For fireworks companies, the Fourth is like Christmas,” Souza said. “I’m fifth generation in running this business and we do the Super Bowl and SeaWorld and the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks in New York City, but we’ve still seen a bit of a decline.

“If we can end up flat with last year, revenue-wise, I’ll be happy.”