Last year’s pandemic-enforced shutdown of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has led to a legal dispute between the event’s organizers and its major sponsor, Canon. In failing to go ahead with the 2020 fiesta, Canon claims that the event organizers violated the terms of a three-year sponsorship agreement.
Canon USA filed a lawsuit earlier in May demanding the $250,000 reimbursement of fees originally paid to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, as part of a sponsorship deal made in 2017 that was supposed to run from 2018-2020.
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The dispute appears to center on whether the 2020 event was ‘canceled’, as Canon alleges, or ‘postponed’, which is the term that the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta used in June 2020 to describe last year’s shutdown, saying it was being rescheduled for 02-10 October 2021.
In its lawsuit Canon alleges that, “the 2021 Fiesta is not being advertised as the postponed or rescheduled 2020 Fiesta. The 2020 Fiesta was canceled, and the 2021 Fiesta is in fact its own separately scheduled event.” To support its allegation, Canon cited a variety of media reports that described the 2020 balloon rally as having been canceled.
The 2017 agreement between Canon and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta organizers obliges Canon to sponsor the event with $720,000, of which $250,000 would have been for the 2020 event.
The agreement provided Canon with a number of promotional opportunities, including the placement of Canon USA's logo on the cover of 12,000 official event programs, and entry of Canon USA's balloon.
In July 2020, fiesta organizers sent Canon a proposed amendment that would have extended the terms of the 2017 sponsorship agreement for an additional year, according to the lawsuit.
The amendment would also have applied Canon’s $250,000 sponsorship fee to the 2021 Balloon Fiesta. Fiesta organizers offered Canon the proposed amendment a second time in September.
Canon USA rejected the proposal to extend the sponsorship agreement for a year, resulting in this legal impasse, seemingly caused by semantics. So far 600 hot-air balloons have registered for this year's event, but neither Canon USA's logo nor its balloon entry look likely to make an appearance.