Cooler Days Prevail at Indy State Fair

31 Aug

Sara Lynn Alford was named the 2011 Miss Indiana State Fair.

Hot days, including six out of seven in a row that reached or exceeded 95 degrees, translated into a 2.2 percent decline in attendance at the Indiana State Fair, Indianapolis, down to 952,020 from last year’s 973,902.

Still, fair officials were otherwise heartened by the strong turnout on the relatively cooler days.

“There is just no clearer indication of how big weather plays into attendance,” said Andy Klotz, the fair’s publicity and media relations manager. “On days when it was under 90, we had tremendous crowds, and when it was over 90, it dipped a little.”

The fair also made money on its grandstand, with help from acts such as Disney’s Selena Gomez, who sold out the 15,000-plus capacity Hoosier Lottery Grandstand during the Aug. 6-22 fair, with officials dipping into the restricted-view tickets in order to accommodate everyone who wanted to see the show.

“That was one of the top-selling concerts we’ve had here in more than a decade,” Klotz said.

Next up in the grandstand shows was a concert by Kiss, which generated a lot of attention and attracted just under 15,000 fans.

“In my 10 years here, I don’t think we had more buzz about a show,” Klotz said. “We got a comment on YouTube from a guy who drove down here from Pennsylvania with his kids and thought it was the best show ever and worth the drive.”

Another show that did better than expected was Canadian hip-hop artist Drake, whom the fair booked as he was gaining popularity.

“He got signed shortly before the fair, just a few months beforehand, and he just took off and word spread quickly, and it was a great show,” Klotz said.

Concerts and ticket prices included Rascal Flatts, $84, $68, $48; Kiss, $70, $59, $45; a double bill of Christian recording artists Chris Tomlin and TobyMac, $35, $25; Drake, $45, $35, $25; Keith Urban, $67, $50, $40; Gomez, $17, $15; comedian Jeff Dunham, $40, $35, $30; and Sugarland, $60, $45, $35.

The entertainment budget was $2.4 million for grandstand performers and $2.77 million overall, Klotz said.

Jackson, Miss.-based North American Midway Entertainment placed 43 rides on the midway, according to both Klotz and NAME owner Mike Williams. The rides that did the best included the giant wheel, water flume, Crazy Mouse roller coaster and Wacky Worm roller coaster, Williams said.

The carnival was slightly down from last year. “We were pretty close to last year,” he said. “We had a really hot second week, one of the hottest weeks ever, with more consecutive days over 90 since 1922, which naturally hurt.”

All Walmarts in Indiana sold the $25 pay-one-price, all-you-can-ride wristbands, Williams said.

Wristbands were available 11 of the fair’s 17 days, and an additional $15 kiddie wristband was available on another day, Klotz said.

Gate admission was $8 for everyone 6 years old and above, Klotz said. Fairgoers 5 and under get in free. Estimated gate revenues are $3 million. An estimated 75,000 advance concert tickets were sold, along with 83,000 advance gate admissions.

No prices changed significantly except one free parking lot was turned into a $5-a-car space in an effort to deal with $1.9 million less fair funding from the state, Klotz said.

“A few years ago, there was a shift where we went from being funded through property taxes to being funded through the state’s general fund,” Klotz said. “That allotment has been reduced each of the last couple of years.”

In addition to turning a free lot into a paid one, fair officials cut down and eliminated what they call “backstage” costs such as pizzas and sodas for volunteers, and T-shirts and hats for the crew.

“Then, in a bigger way, we got some contracts renegotiated with vendors, and we had a new tent vendor, which was a major savings.”

Vendors were told the renegotiations would be necessary in order to keep everybody on board, Klotz said.

Sponsorships also hit the goal of $1.1 million, but the goal had been lowered from previous years because of the economy. The all-time sponsorship high was hit in 2008 at $1.5 million, Klotz said. “Then the economy started to tank.”

In spite of those losses, the overall fair budget was just under $10 million, which was comparable to last year’s figures. The marketing budget was $450,000. The fair had a presenting sponsor, and as it has done in previous years, it was a commodity association. This year it was Indiana Pork. Previous presenting sponsors have been corn and Indiana hardwoods. The Indiana Pork presenting sponsorship, Year of the Pigs, was $75,000 and a mention on the back of the admission ticket cost $15,000 for a total of $90,000.

The fair also partnered with Indiana Pork and launched a YouTube channel as part of the event’s social networking offerings.

“We didn’t get a tremendous amount of submissions but we got a lot of publicity with the YouTube channel, and had a lot of fun with that,” Klotz said. “That was a new addition to the social media.”

Next year’s fair will be Aug. 5-21. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Andy Klotz, (317) 927-7500; Mike Williams, (601) 898-5533.

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