After four years of flying around the Bay Area and across the country, Mountain View-based Airship Ventures grounded the Zeppelin Eureka—its passenger airship—on Nov. 14 for lack of a long-term sponsor that would keep it flying.
"Unfortunately, the deadline has passed, and we were unable to find a title sponsor in time, said Airship Ventures CEO Brian Hall.
Without a sponsor, the airship will be disassembled and shipped back to the manufacturer—the Zeppelin company in Friedrichshafen, Germany—from whom it's leased, according to Hall. It's a shame, explained Hall, since they "were just starting to hit a stride."
"We've gotten to a point where the ship was like a friend," he said. "We had a 100 percent success rate of marriage proposals onboard."
On Facebook, the company encouraged users to use their Photoshop skills to add company logos to the side of a zeppelin.
Noah Schwartz suggested "Facebook. Amazon. Virgin. Tesla Motors. BART. Target. FedEx. UPS. FOX," and then added, "FOX News. Buoyant and Balanced. Lol."
"I still say that Led Zeppelin is missing out on a great opportunity," said Sean Shrum.
Using the hashtag #SaveEureka, the Twitter campaign was just as robust.
eanagel Nov 24, 12:03pm via Twitter for iPhone RT @MistralWinds: #VirginAir Please sponsor the Eureka!!! Save get from extinction! #saveEureka pic.twitter.com/iwpLIiXD
The activity on both platforms encouraged Hall.
"Thanks to the Facebook and Twitter activity, people have been sending emails to marketing departments," said Hall, who added that while on the phone with Mountain View Patch, he received another email connecting Airship Ventures with a marketing executive. "For this type of sponsorship, we are talking CMO (chief marketing officer) level."
The 246-feet airship has flown 20,000 passengers since it's maiden flight in 2008 for both leisure and professional services like the provision of aerial television coverage for sporting events. Farmer's Insurance had inked a deal. It's stored inside Hangar Two at Moffett Field, not too far from Hangar One the home of the dirigible airship USS Macon until 1935.
Hall remained surprised that with so many technology giants like Google and Apple in Silicon Valley, neither had shown sponsorship interest.
"There are plenty of companies in the Valley who could benefit greatly and could do this if they wanted," said Hall.
Besides the logo on the side of the airship for six to eight months, trips could be reserved for very important clients since it sits 12. "It's like an aerial skybox," Hall added.
Like the Goodyear blimp, the Eureka also fills with helium; however, a zeppelin has a built-in frame and doesn't fill up like a hot air balloon, Hall explained.
And while the cost of helium has also ballooned, it's not the primary factor for the lack of money.
"Helium is not the only expense," said Hall. "Though no one likes to see a 10-times increase in the cost of a material needed to run the business."
For Hall, the main challenge turned out to be the uncertain economic future coupled with a seasonal slowdown.
"It's traditionally a harder time to do business between Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said.
And while it may have a sponsor in the spring, there's just not enough money to keep the Eureka flying between December and April. He has a staff of 35.
Hall hoped the social media campaign would get the attention of a company interested in the "awwws" and "wows" of attendees to the Computer Electronic Show, the Super Bowl and any of the four major award shows that take place in January and February.
"Certainly, the grassroots effort is very vibrant," he said about the online activity. "We've gotten a heartwarming expression of support."