The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is, more than anything else, a two-hour-long commercial. Albeit, a fun one.
There are brands looking to refresh their image, performers who want to be back in the limelight, and above all, Macy’s, which seeks to launch the holiday shopping season with a powerful reminder of the department store destination, as well as hoping to trigger a burst of nostalgia.
There is the on-television experience, and then there’s what happens on the parade route.
This year, the off-camera drama was the most newsworthy and almost entirely unseen.
Two stories to share, both of them invisible.
First, standing on Central Park West, I noticed a throng of teenage girls running down the parade route to get to 77th Street, where the parade was about to kick off. That’s odd, I thought. There were hundreds of girls, all in matching sequences. By hundreds, I mean almost 600. Too many to be a high school.
It turns out they were the Spirit of America Dance Troupe, perhaps the largest pay-to-play dance troupe in the world. And, boy, do they pay. Prices start at $2,625 for a spot in the troupe. The fee includes six nights in New York, lots of attractions, and participation in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The last time the group had any media coverage. Laura Davis, an owner of the company, told the New York Times her organization has been sending performers to the parade for more than three decades and had 1,300 teenagers in New York in hotels.
The math is impressive, with packages going up to as high as $3,525, and Spectator Packages (presumably for parents) as high as $4,425 /person for a single room. Back of the envelope, it looks to be almost a $4 million a year enterprise.
Does Spirit of America Dance Troupe pay Macy’s for the spot in the parade on national TV? That seems a certain yes. NBC pays a fee to broadcast the parade and sell the advertising rights. Brands pay someone to be in the parade, but the economics are murky. When contacted by Fortune in 2015 to get a price tag on the parade, a Macy’s spokesperson at the time said something like “Thanks for thinking of us; unfortunately, we do not disclose any costs associated with the production of the Macy’s Parade.” The parade was described as a “gift” to New York City.
But, if brands and dance troupes pay to be in the parade, this year at least one group that didn’t pay — and didn’t get on TV — were protesters. Starting two weeks before Thanksgiving, organizers were on TikTok working to get Palestinian supporters to arrive and block the parade route.
“The New York Police Department detained 34 demonstrators at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade who were protesting Israel’s killings of civilians in Gaza, the authorities said,” as the New York Times reported. Protesters stopped a Ronald McDonald float, as McDonald’s Israel has been donating free meals and giving discounts to IDF soldiers, and climate justice activists stopped the Sinclair dinosaur float to protest western big oil interests.
NBC’s coverage worked to cut around the various protests and parade stoppages. And whatever the issues the protesters created on the parade route, for the record 28.5 million television viewers, there was no sign of the protesters.