News & Politics

No Balloon Drops This Year! But Virtual Conventions Haven’t Hurt the Balloon Industry as Much as You Might Think

The balloon drop at the end of the 2016 DNC. Photograph by Flickr user Lorie Shaull.

You may remember the epic balloon drop at the DNC in 2016—some 100,000 balloons rained on Hillary and Bill Clinton, a display that required dozens of people to pull off. Bill Clinton’s looks of wonder at the display briefly captivated the internet, and lots of people would probably still remember it without wincing had Hillary Clinton, you know, won the election that followed.

Plans for this year’s much more somber DNC reportedly do not include a balloon drop, a casualty of the convention becoming virtual thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t mean 2020 is going to be an awful year for the balloon industry, says Dan Flynn, the chairman of industry trade group the Balloon Council. “Political years are good for balloons,” he tells Washingtonian, “but it’s not a large number compared to the number of balloons for other events.”

This year has also, though, been terrible for any live events, and Flynn says that while the beginning of lockdown was challenging, with party stores closing down as well, customers eventually began buying balloons from supermarkets in bigger numbers instead. Meanwhile, many balloon professionals who used to provide balloons for corporate and other events have rode out the economic doldrums by doing what Flynn calls “lawn décor,” creating sculptures displayed on porches or stoops as well as on lawns.

A lot of people in the balloon business, Flynn says, report that 2020 has actually been better than 2019.

So what about the conventions? Flynn is the COO of Pioneer Balloon Company in Wichita, which has provided US-made balloons to many political conventions. An effective balloon drop is really a great way to close out a convention,” Flynn says. (Though, he says, about the balloon-drop fail at the 2004 DNC: “That year, they weren’t using ours.”)

So rest easy about the balloon industry, at least. “Like everybody else, we’re doing what we can in the pandemic to get by and be happy,” Flynn says, “and we look forward to getting beyond it.”





Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.