Reno Air Races CEO "Eliminated" Amid Worsening Financial Problems

  • Dec 30, 2013 2:49pm GMT

Amid growing concerns over the financial stability of the Reno Air Racing Association, the Board of Directors announced Monday that the position of long-time president and CEO Mike Houghton would be "eliminated."

“This is an extremely difficult decision but, in light of current circumstances and financial restraints, we felt that it was in the best interest of the air races to further reduce expenditures and streamline our efforts toward long-term viability,” Mike Major, chairman of the Reno Air Racing Association Board of Directors, said in a statement.

The statement said, that “going forward, RARA’s board of directors will fulfill the CEO roles and responsibilities.”

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that Houghton was told about the elimination of his position on Friday and called the action "disappointing and devastating," but not a total shock.

“The reality of it is tough,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and 16 races.”

Houghton has been president and CEO of the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), since May 1998. In an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal he declined to disclose his salary.

“Operating costs alone have risen by nearly $3 million in the last two years, driven primarily by insurance, but this situation has forced us to really step back and take a look at how this event is run, redirecting and streamlining our efforts to increase sponsorships and create a more dynamic fan experience," Major said. “Our foremost priority as a board is to keep the Reno Air Races tradition alive for another 50 years.”

In late November, Houghton announced the air races had eliminated two full-time staff positions (from a staff of 7) and needed to raise $500,000 in two weeks to meet costs to cover the first quarter of the year.

“We (don’t) have enough money to move forward all the way through the first quarter without using ticket money that people have sent in, and we don’t want to do that, Houghton said at the time. “What we normally do, like the bear, is we live on our fat through the winter, and (this year), there isn't any fat.”

At a Dec. 12 press conference, Houghton announced the fundraising effort had been successful and organizers were moving “full steam ahead” on the 2014 event.

He said the fundraiser was not mentioned by board members on Friday when he was told his position was being eliminated. Monday’s statement from the board said, “even as the National Championship Air Races … prepares to celebrate 51 years in 2014, the event continues to grapple with the financial challenges left in the wake of the 2011 tragedy, with costs having since quadrupled.”

Houghton said he was proud of his accomplishments during his tenure with the air races, particularly in the wake of the 2011 crash.

“I can proudly say I played a role in keeping the event alive when many said it couldn’t be done,” he said.