Big Bay Boom 2020 is a bust because of coronavirus

In this 2018 file photo, people sit near the bow of the Star of India as they watch fireworks explode over San Diego Bay during the Big Bay Boom.
(Hayne Palmour IV/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego’s most popular fireworks show canceled on eve of 20th anniversary


The Big Bay Boom, San Diego’s annual waterfront fireworks extravaganza, has been canceled, making it the latest event casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, organizers of the celebratory Fourth of July show, which was expected to cost around $700,000 and draw a half-million spectators to San Diego Bay, said the Big Bay Boom is a no-go because of state and county public health orders that prohibit large gatherings.

“We waited as long as we could (to make the decision to cancel),” said Sandy Purdon, the executive producer of the event. “I’m disappointed because it’s become such a great tradition here in San Diego. I’ve very proud of it. It’s kind of like my baby.”

The decision follows Fourth of July celebration cancellations previously announced by Coronado and Imperial Beach.

Started in 2001, the Big Bay Boom is put on by Purdon with financial and logistical help from the Port of San Diego, which is also the title sponsor. Over the years, the show has expanded from a small experience to one in which fireworks are launched from four barges around Shelter Island, Harbor Island, and the North and South Embarcadero Marina Parks.

The 2020 Big Bay Boom was to be bigger and better than in years past, in part to commemorate its 20th anniversary, Purdon said. But with stay-at-home orders still in the earliest stages of being relaxed, organizers felt like it would be impossible to host hundreds of thousands of people while simultaneously enforcing social distancing and mask requirements.

“Given that we must be in stage four in order to do (the show), and we’re likely not going to be in stage four until next year, it just seemed really clear that we had to move forward with canceling the event,” said Michael Brown, who is vice president of marketing for the San Diego Unified Port District. “Public health is the most important consideration and we just didn’t see any way that we could hold this event and expect people to watch from a distance and not congregate. ... People would be drawn to the waterfront.”

Instead of an in-person experience, San Diegans will get a 90-min televised affair on FOX 5 and KTLA that will feature some of the most iconic moments from the past 19 years, along with profiles of military families. Viewers may even get a rerun of the internationally infamous 2012 Big Bay Bust when a computer glitch resulted in 7,000 fireworks launching in a 30-second period.

And, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that television audiences may be more captive than ever. Already a big TV draw, 2020’s Big Bay Boom televised special could attract a record number of viewers, thus continuing to elevate the branded fireworks show’s appeal.

In 2018, a combined 148,000 households across San Diego and Los Angeles watched the show on TV, according to a report prepared by Point Loma Nazarene University’s Fermanian Business & Economic Institute. The report found that the broadcast was the most-watched locally-produced July 4th special in the country, and valued the media impact at $1.1 million.

Still, the cancellation will have ripple effects on San Diego’s already heavily impacted tourism industry. That’s because the holiday gathering’s growing appeal has been shown to boost business at area hotels, restaurants and shops.

In 2018, the Big Bay Boom generated $1 million in tax revenue for the city of San Diego, according to the Point Loma Nazarene study. The affair also added more than $10 million in incremental sales to San Diego businesses, and resulted in net proceeds of $257,000 for the port, the analysis determined.

The port, which has already expended $150,000 in cash and $140,000 in waived fees, is hopeful that the costs can be applied to next year’s Big Bay Boom, although that remains to be determined.