Record Crowds ‘Taste the Fun’ at the San Diego County Fair

10 Jul

Tim Fennell at the San Diego County Fair, Del Mar, Calif.

REPORTING FROM DEL MAR, CALIF. – It was a case of a record year following a record year at the San Diego County Fair here June 11-July 5, despite high unemployment and a economy that is upside down. “People are hurting,” said Tim Fennel, fair CEO and general manager. His goal, accomplished, was to make lemonade out of lemons.

The 2010 fair drew 1,338,500, up from 1,274,384 last year. Promotions included Furlough Fridays, offering civil servants who are being forced to take furloughs by the state and cities in the state, two free admissions; and Unemployment Day, offering free admission to those with an unemployment check stub.

From June 1-July 5, the fair Web site,, received 808,285 visits, up about 20 percent over same period in 2009.
The fair’s mobile-phone Web site,, received 39,710 visits, up 172 percent, and
Facebook has 6,114 friends;
Twitter, 1,443 followers, and
YouTube, 12,976 views of Fair videos, reported Linda Zweig, fair information and media relations.

The theme, Taste the Fun, was enhanced with a $2 “Tuesday Taste of the Fair” promotion during which fairgoers could enjoy small portions of a variety fair food for just $2 at participating stands. Normal admission price was $13 for adults, $7 for seniors and kids.

The theme and the discounts resulted in a record food and drink gross (numbers are still preliminary) of $12,407,000, up from $11,178,000 last year, Fennell said. Premier Food Services, year-round concessionaire at the venue, grossed another $2,007,000, up from $1,837,000, he added, also unaudited numbers as are all dollar figures he quoted.

There were 110 food booths booked into the fair. Sales included 12,000 Fried Klondike Bars,
10,000 Fried Twinkies,
5,000 Fried Avocados,
8,000 Fried S’mores, and
6,600 Fried Butters.
The biggest day for food sales was Saturday, July 3, with $852,351 in gross sales, Zweig said.

The independent midway suffered the first week, tracking below 2009, but that was attributed to the fact schools let out later than anticipated. Fennell said the final numbers were up slightly, with rides grossing about approximately $6,549,000, compared to $6,291,000 last year. Games are booked on flat fee basis and that number was static, $590,000 compared to $580,000, he said.

Discounts on the gate also included the second annual “22 days for $22” promotion, dubbed the “Best Pass Ever” and sold only in advance. It’s basically a season pass for fairgoers, Fennell said.

The net result of the ubiquitous discounts was increased revenues, he said. Gate income this year was $5,407,000, up from $5,104,000 last year. Fennell added that the average per cap is in the $30 range.

Sponsorships were also up considerably, bringing in $1,277,000 in cash and kind, up from $890,000 last year. Mark  Entner’s new firm, Absolute Event Solutions, debuted at the fair this year with showbags sponsored by 7-Eleven. The chain provided 125,000 reusable show bags, valued at $85,000-$100,000, which were advertised in advance and given away on specific days at the fair, Entner explained. With 200 stores in the San Diego area, 7-Eleven also provided a marketing outlet for the fair where brochures and posters were prevalent leading up to the event.AES then sold local businesses and some fair vendors into a coupon book, which was in the bag.

Parking income was also up slightly, Fennell continued, to $3,022,000 from $2,903,000 last year. On the biggest day, they leased additional parking to accommodate the crowds. Parking was $10 general, $15 preferred.

The key to success this year was in responding to the challenges, Fennell repeated. Last year, he recalled, Michael Jackson passed away during the fair and they brought entertainment in that was a tribute to Jackson and set up a mini-wall exhibit where patrons could write notes and testimonials. The one-year anniversary of Jackson’s death was Friday, June 25, and to commemorate that, the fair staged “flash mobs.” It was basically a scheduled impromptu event, where suddenly trained dancers and singers separate from the crowd and perform to Jackson tunes.

The San Diego County Fair produced eight stages of entertainment, the vast majority of it free, Fennell said. New to the fair, in honor of the theme, were celebrity chefs. Guy Fieri, a Food Network Chef, played the grandstand, drawing 5,000 people, he added. Paid shows included Sammy Hagar & The Wabos, One Republic and Jeff Dunham. Dinner packages were offered for several shows. For $100-$166, buyers received floor level seats, dinner at the Turf Club, fair admission and preferred parking.

“There’s no better value, I think, than this fair,” Fennell said. His annual operating budget is $58 million, of which $22 million is fairtime. Last year, the fair netted over $3.5 million after depreciation, and Fennell predicted that would grow to close to $4 million this year.

Dates for 2011 are tentatively set for June 10-July 4. – Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Tim Fennell, (858) 792-4200; Linda Zweig, (858) 792-4262; Mark Entner, (949) 650-8385


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