Frenette Enjoys Successful First Run at Wisconsin Fair

27 Aug

This youngster enjoys a snack at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Weather that held steady during the weekends in spite of hot weekdays meant a 5.2 percent increase in attendance at the Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis, at 876,020, up from last year’s 832,484.

“It’s in the top three in the last 10 years,” said GM Rick Frenette of the attendance.
Frenette, a veteran manager who has helmed the Minnesota, Ohio and Utah state fairs, took over at Wisconsin in February.

Although he was faced with some hot temperatures for his inaugural fair, which took place Aug. 5-15, “The weather was not the greatest in 2009,” leading to higher attendance this year.

The 9,000-capacity Potawatomi Bingo Casino Main Stage was the site of the fair’s headline entertainment. Entertainers, capacity and ticket prices were Lyle Lovett, 1,571, $45, $35, $20; The Spirit of Michael Jackson Laser Spectacular, 2,148, $10; Jordin Sparks with Honor Society opening, 2,669, $35, $25, $15; Third Day with Chad James opening, 4,537, $20, $10; Steve Miller Band with Dave Mason opening, 5,246, $45, $35, $20; Montgomery Gentry with Josh Thompson opening, 4,435, $45, $35, $20; Train with Kris Allen opening, 5,835, $35, $25, $15; Three Dog Night with the Grass Roots starring Rob Grill, 4,985, $20, $10; Bret Michaels Roses & Thorns Tour 2010, 6,152, $25, $15.

The entertainment budget was $780,000, Frenette said. At the Wisconsin State Fair, adult gate admission was $9 or $4 for ages 6-12, Frenette said, the same as last year. The overall fair budget was $14 million. Frenette did not have gate revenues but expects them to be up from last year.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Murphy Bros. Exposition placed 60 rides on the midway, said owner Jerry Murphy.

The carnival debuted its new, 243-foot-long park model roller coaster at the Wisconsin State Fair. “It takes 10 trucks and trailers to move it,” Murphy said.

The roller coaster will play the carnival’s hometown event, the Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair, which takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 10, Murphy said.

“It’s six stories high,” he added. “It’s the first time ever at a fair in the United States.”

The Comet 2 roller coaster was manufactured by the German company Schwarzkopf, Murphy said.

“It had a line for 10 days about a block to a block and a half long. It did quite well.”Murphy does not know where else it will play other than Tulsa.

“We’re not going to move it a lot,” he said. “We’ll probably put it in a park.”

Otherwise, Murphy had hoped for a record run but weather prevented it, he said, although the carnival was up from last year.

“We did pretty good considering the weather,” he said. “We had some rain and hot weather. Weather hurt us and there was nothing we could do about that. But all in all, it was a good fair.”

Riders could buy a pay-one-price wristband for $30 every day of the fair, Murphy said.

A contest getting fans to discuss what they love about the fair yielded winners a four-pack of fair tickets and went over better than expected.

“We thought maybe we would get a couple hundred people but we had over 900,” Harris said. “In the first hour, we had 400 posters. It was good to see the audience engaged in what we were doing.”

The marketing office, which had a budget of $500,000 including media buys, also bought a flip camera and recorded events taking place at the fair, including events surrounding the iconic Wisconsin State Fair cream puff.

“We posted little videos, ‘Here is one of our new foods,’ ‘Here is one of our new attractions going on,’ ‘Here are people having fun at the fair,’” Harris said.

Although the fair participates in YouTube posting, fans were able to find videos, which could get a little lost on YouTube, more easily on the Facebook page.

Advance teams also went out into communities to attract visitors to the fair, Harris said, armed with four-packs of admission tickets that they handed out for free. The goal was to get visitors from beyond 90 miles to attend the fair.

“For us, it was well worth it giving them a four-pack of tickets to invite them down,” Harris said.

Next year’s dates will be Aug. 4-14. –  Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Rick Frenette and Patrice Harris, (414) 266-7020; Jerry Murphy, (918) 712-0011

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