NEW ORLEANS --With the city in dire financial shape because of Hurricane Katrina, companies are lining up for the opportunity to become the first-ever corporate sponsors of New Orleans' Mardi Gras celebration.
At least 20 companies are offering to pay $2 million each to help cover the police and cleanup costs for next month's parades and parties, according to MediaBuys LLC, the firm hired to search for underwriters.
Such sponsorships are a radical change for what is billed as the nation's biggest free party. Private groups have always put on the parades, and a city ordinance bars commercial advertising on the parade floats. Not even the beads thrown to crowds can carry corporate logos.
That still leaves plenty of room for advertising. Sponsors' names will be displayed on lampposts and crowd-control barriers, a New Orleans official said.
The city's 150th Carnival season began yesterday and ends on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 28 this year.
Some storm victims have said it is inappropriate to celebrate, but some civic leaders have argued that a Mardi Gras celebration would lift people's spirits and send a message that New Orleans is on its way back.