Fried Beer and Oprah Smash Texas Food Fair Record

5 Nov

Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas

The State Fair of Texas not only experienced a record year in terms of food and ride coupon grosses, but the event also blew the previous all-time high out of the water with a 27.5 percent increase to $37 million, up from $29.2 million set in 2007.

“We think it was a couple of things,” said Sue Gooding, VP of public relations for the Sept. 24 to Oct. 17 fair.

“For one thing, we had absolutely incredible weather. We lost four hours the opening Saturday to rain.”

The other factor – and it’s a big one that includes the Oprah Effect – is the five-year-old food contest known as The Big Tex Choice Award, held during Labor Day weekend prior to the fair’s opening.

The food contest has brought international media attention to the fair and last year, Oprah Winfrey filmed a show at the State Fair of Texas. That episode was repeated on July 15, Gooding said, and although she does not have exact numbers, after the show aired again, “our website hits just skyrocketed. The Oprah Effect did play a part in this year’s fair.”

This year’s winners were Texas Fried Fritos Pie by Bert Concessions for Best Taste and Fried Beer by Mark Zable for Most Creative.

Those wins translated into more sales for the concessionaires during the fair, noted Ron Black, senior VP of food services, who said Bert Concessions grosses went up 100 percent and Zable’s were up more than 60 percent.

During her visit, Winfrey also visited the fair’s creative arts department featuring entries such as quilts and the cake and pie contests, and entries rose for those this year, Gooding said.

“We definitely saw an interest in that,” she said.

The fair did not have any huge paid concerts in the Cotton Bowl, but three football games during the event – including the annual Texas-Oklahoma matchup – helped increase attendance at the free concerts held on the Chevrolet Main Stage, an outdoor entertainment stage.

Tejano band Intocable drew the largest crowds, Gooding said, while the Eli Young Band following the Texas-Oklahoma game probably had the second-best attendance. Wade Bowen and the Josh Abbott Band benefited from the Baylor-Texas Tech game and the last concert of the fair, Collective Soul on Oct. 17, also drew big crowds.

Gate admission cost $15, Gooding said, the same as last year, and the overall budget, said GM Errol McKoy, was about $45 million.

Seventy-three rides were placed on the independent midway. Rides and games grossed $16 million, said Rusty Fitzgerald, director of operations and special projects. On Columbus Day, a one-day record with grosses exceeding $1 million was set on the midway, he said.

The top 10 rides and owners include: Texas Star, BLB Panorama; Texas Skyway, State Fair of Texas; Crazy Mouse, Steve Vandervorst; Fast Trax Superslide, State Fair Spectaculars Tom and Mary Talley; Love Bug Himalaya, State Fair of Texas; Windstorm Coaster, Steve Vandervorst; Log Flume, State Fair of Texas; Owens Dark Ride Haunted House, Danny England; KMG Rock It, Mike and Carol Demas; and Huss Pirate Ship, Charlie and Steve Edens.

This year the fair marketed the Super Bowl because the Feb. 6 game will be played in the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, that opened last year.

To celebrate, the Super Bowl committee held an exhibit in the Hall of State during the fair, and during the first week, the top 100 moments in football history were counted down, 20 a day.

An exhibit of personal memorabilia of legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry also was hosted in the same building; and a smaller version of the NFL Experience, an interactive sporting event that accompanies the Super Bowl, was held for four days on the lawn of the same exhibit hall. “And each night, as part of the parade, one of the floats was a football-themed float,” Gooding said.

Although the marketing department utilized Twitter to help market last year’s fair, this year, officials employed both Facebook and YouTube for the first time, and the fair now has nearly 23,900 friends.

“I brought someone in on staff and her job was to give people a behind-the-scenes look at the fair,” Gooding said. “She would go in and do behind-the-scenes things before the livestock shows and other events. It’s a way to get information out to the public.”

The fair did not hold social media contests as some others have, but the fair rolled out a new website and Facebook is listed there prominently, Gooding said.

Next year’s fair will be Sept. 30-Oct. 23. –  Mary Wade Burnside

 

Interviewed for this article: Sue Gooding, Rusty Fitzgerald, Ron Black, Errol McKoy, (214) 421-8715.

 

 

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