Delaware Enjoys ‘Fair-Weather’ Run

14 Aug

The midway at the Delaware State Fair

Weather started out as the foil of the Delaware State Fair, Harrington, as temperatures soared to 100 degrees and the index to 115, but then ended up saving the day when cooler air brought attendance up to make it the third best fair in history.

In the end, attendance was 302,880, said GM Bill DiMondi, up seven percent over last year’s 282,642, and behind attendance only in 2005 at 321,330 and 2007, 307,507.

“The elements that came together to increase attendance were the dramatic change in the weather combined with the free attraction — the Coronas Circus of Hollywood,” DiMondi said.

The circus held two shows daily and three on weekend days in a big-top tent to standing room only crowds of 1,250, DiMondi said.

Fair officials also used the circus to help give sponsors – who brought in a total of $400,000 to the fair – a better placement on the grounds, in addition to converting an exhibit hall to a sponsor hall.

“We upgraded that building in terms of the physical presence of sponsors and the ability to market themselves,” DiMondi said. “Then we further enhanced the sponsor port in the outside area venue where we strategically placed the circus at the end of the sponsor port to drive traffic to that area.”

Jason Aldean played to a sold-out crowd at the Wilmington Trust Grandstand, which seats 8,180, on the last night of the July 22-31 fair. With a top ticket price of $35, Aldean was a “great bargain” for the fair, DiMondi said.

Brad Paisley also did well, he added. Paisley tickets cost $63.

A new type of act, “Cookin’, Comedy & Conversation with Paula Deen,” did well and drew a new type of audience to the grandstand, with an attendance of 2,500, DiMondi said.

“That was a great success for us,” he said. “It went over well, not only in paid attendance but I felt it exposed that fair patron base who had never been entertained in the grandstand like that before.”

The fair did lose money when Disney artist Selena Gomez canceled due to throat problems. She also canceled at other fairs, DiMondi said, including the Ohio State Fair, Columbus.

Fair officials offered full refunds to ticketholders but did not stop there.

They bumped up the opening act, Allstar Weekend, to the evening’s entertainment and offered the concert as a free show. Plus, the pay-one-price carnival ride wristbands were discounted by $5.

“Our goal was to preserve the gate and enhance it if we could,” DiMondi said. “That’s why the carnival joined in with us with the special deal.”

Gomez appeared on “Lopez Tonight,” comedian George Lopez’s talk show, the night before the fair, but she had to use a dry-erase board and a keyboard with a synthesized voice to communicate, DiMondi said.

Other acts that appeared at the Delaware State Fair included Honda Civic Tour presents Paramore with Tegan and Sara, New Found Glory and Kadawatha; Lynyrd Skynyrd with Jamey Johnson; Rodney Atkins and Craig Morgan with Chris Young; The Beach Boys; and two nights of demolition derby. Also, Easton Corbin and Steel Magnolia opened for Paisley and Ash Bowers opened for Aldean.

DiMondi declined to disclose the entertainment budget or the overall fair budget, and said gate revenues were not available yet.

Admission was $6 for attendees 10 years and up and free for those nine and under. Plus, DiMondi said, the fair featured two senior days and one kids’ day, in which people in those age groups – with “kids” being defined as 18 and younger – could get in for free.

The $6 admission price has held steady for six years, DiMondi said.
Florida-based Wade Shows placed 52 rides on the midway and was $10,000 short of reaching revenues of $1 million, DiMondi said. Popular rides included The Fighter, which was new to the fair, and the RC-48, which DiMondi called “the largest traveling steel coaster.”

Wristbands cost $25 and $16 – the weekend and weekday prices – purchased online prior to the fair. The weekday price rose to $22 once the fair opened and remained at $25 for weekends.

The fair debuted a new website June 25 and upped its usage of Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube. The fair conducted widget-sharing contests on Facebook that encouraged entrants to mark their Facebook sites with information on how they planned to attend certain concerts at the fair.

“We rewarded those people with free front-row seats and backstage meet-and-greet opportunities,” DiMondi said.

Next year’s dates will be July 21-30. –  Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this story: Bill DiMondi, (302) 398-3269.

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