Tag Archives: Fairs

Port Ads Create Advertising Beef and Buzz at Utah State Fair

15 Nov

A cracker stacking contest at the Utah State Fair.

Attendance was down but revenues were up at this year’s Utah State Fair, Sept. 9-19. Attendance was 292,000, compared to 310,000 last year, said Denise Allen, marketing and PR director.

“But as far as revenues, they were up,” she said, noting that overall fair revenues were up 7 percent across the board.

Part of that increase came from the decision by officials to raise gate admission $1 to $9 for adults. The move raised an additional six percent in gate revenues over last year, Allen said.

But the revenue boosts were eclipsed by a series of high profile ads featuring a sultry soul singer crooning his love for funnel cakes and pork products.

The ads were created by Utah native son Jared Hess, director of the quirky 2004 sleeper hit film “Napoleon Dynamite.” Hess made two television ads for the fair that some found to be over the top. The fair’s board of directors made the decision to pull the ads.

The ads cost $18,000 to make, Allen said. They can be viewed on YouTube by typing in “Utah State Fair ads.”

After three or four days, the board of directors pulled the ads and now has a new rule that board members must approve television advertising, Allen said. Marketing officials took an advertising spot from 2008 and adjusted the art card with the dates at the end and ran it in place of the Hess-produced commercials.

The fair received additional publicity from pulling the ads. “They say any publicity is good publicity,” Allen said.

A few people e-mailed in to say they would not be attending the fair because of the odd ads, while officials got more feedback in favor of the spots.

“It did its job in attracting the younger demographic and, surprisingly, had support from seniors,” Allen said. “Many seniors found it very entertaining.”

Hess also benefited from the controversy and was hired to direct a Toyota commercial because of it, Allen said.

Fair officials also had to deal with a major management change: former GM Rick Frenette left in February to return to his home state of Wisconsin and helm the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis. Judy Duncombe, a 26-year Utah State Fair veteran and most recently assistant general manager, is serving as acting general manager, Allen said. The board is looking for a full time manager to fill the position.

The implementation of a new ticketing system was well under way prior to Frenette’s departure, Allen said. “It’s been in the works for three years. Finally, we had it in the budget to go to a ticketing system that did a scan.”

Fair officials researched three ticketing systems and chose 1-800-Tickets, Allen said.

In addition to traditional media, the Utah State Fair also had a presence on Facebook and Twitter and used ticket contests not only to drive fairgoers to Facebook, but also to the fair’s website, where they could find the answers to the questions.

The marketing budget for the $1 million fair was $250,000, while the entertainment budget was $350,000, Allen said. One paid concert in the 4,000-seat DIRECTV Grandstand – a new sponsorship for the fair – was MercyMe, a ticketed event costing $25 that also included gate admission.

Austin, Texas-based Mighty Thomas Carnival placed 30 rides on the midway. Pay one price wristbands could be purchased daily for $25.

Next year’s dates are Sept. 8-18. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Denise Allen, (801) 538-8400.


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.



Newly-Constituted Tennessee Fair Sees Attendance Jump

23 Oct

Exhibiting livestock at the Tennessee State Fair, Nashville.

Attendance at the Tennessee State Fair, Nashville, rose 18 percent, from last year’s 204,000 to 241,000, including a record 61,000 attendance on the last Saturday of the fair  – no small feat considering that metro government disbanded the event last year and a carnival and a production company joined forces to make sure the show went on.

Officials expected 2009 to be the last year for the Tennessee State Fair on the hilly 117 acres of land it has called home in Nashville for several years.

But Mike Williams of Jackson, Miss-based North American Midway Entertainment, which had a three-year contract to provide the fair’s carnival, decided to pair up with a local entertainment company to produce the event.

“The land was sitting there idle and we figured we could use it and create the event ourselves,” Williams said.

Scott Jones, a former fair employee who also had served as fair coordinator before, worked with Rockhouse Partners in Nashville to book entertainment, market the fair and provide events in addition to the 29 rides that NAME placed on the midway after the group rented back the property from metro government.

The event was held Sept. 10-19.

This time, all rides and events were set up on the top of the hill to keep fairgoers from having to walk up and down steep areas of property. “We knew it was going to be different so we thought we might as well change it up, and it worked,” Jones said.

“We split the carnival up and put rides around the buildings, so it had more of a street fair feeling.”

A kids zone and a thrill zone were separated, Jones said, which worked better than expected.

Chrysty Fortner, director of sponsorships for Rockhouse Partners who was instrumental in planning the fair, said the budget for the fair, which she believes will end up profitable when all receipts are tabulated, was about $1.2 million.

The producers had to be clever when it came to both entertainment and marketing. “Nashville is a hard market,” Jones said. “I’ve been doing it for years, trying to get people to bring top talent. It’s a hard market for country.”

Part of the problem, he said, is that the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nashville has been booking acts that typically might play a fair, including Rick Springfield, Styx and REO Speedwagon – and on a year-round basis.

“We would go for them but they are playing at the Wildhorse all year long,” he said. “It saturates the market.”

Luckily for the fair, Nashville has a lot of excellent local and unknown acts, and so auditions were held for bands of all genres that would play a steady stream of concerts in the food court.

“We even had a Beatles cover band,” Fortner said. “It was really fun family entertainment and that works well for us.”

Also, for an event that was not even supposed to be held, the fair was the site of the filming of a TV commercial, a feature film, a documentary film and parts of the ABC reality show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

After floods devastated parts of Nashville last May, “Extreme Makeover” visited Nashville to rebuild a pre-school. The timing coincided with the fair.

On the show, ABC typically sends a family whose house is being built to Disney World. Since it was not possible to do that with 325 children, they instead spent the day at the Tennessee State Fair, with country crooner LeAnn Rimes and Paul DiMeo, a carpenter on the show.

As for marketing, Fortner told media outlets that she was interested in them partnering with the fair. “Every media outlet that we bought from gave us something of significant value, whether it be midday talk show spots or access to their e-mail blast list,” she said. “If you buy radio time and get a live event and get them to send out an e-mail blast, then you are reaching a much larger audience and then I can control the message.”

The number of friends on the fair’s Facebook page jumped from negligible to more than 5,000. Fortner credits the tech-oriented employees at Rockhouse Partners for posting quips that garnered comments.

“The guy at Rockhouse would post something and we would have 515 comments, fun things that people like to do. Like, ‘Finish this sentence: He reached into the deep fryer and pulled out a _______.’ And there were tickets at stake, so it was a contest,” Fortner said.

Gate admission cost $8 at the gate or $4 in advance online or at Kroger, the same price as last year. Pay-one-price wristbands to ride the carnival rides cost $20, down from last year’s $21, because it was easier, Jones said.

A lot of details about next year remain up in the air, but Jones said a fair should be held next year, from Sept. 8-18. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Scott Jones and Chrysty Fortner, (615) 873-0924; Mike Williams, (601) 898-5533.

No Record, No Regrets at a Healthy ‘Big E’ Run

22 Oct

Record crowds turned out when the sun was shining at Eastern States Expositions, West Springfield, Mass. (Photo by Kristen Bilanko)

Attendance at the Eastern States Exposition dropped 3 percent from last year, from 1,260,487 to 1,228,418. But considering 2009 was the highest attendance ever and that the fair saw a 2 percent increase on the midway and a 6 percent jump in food sales, those attendance numbers – the fair’s third highest – look pretty good.

Rain on five days during the Sept. 17 to Oct. 3 fair, known as the Big E, in West Springfield, Mass., probably kept this from being another record year, said Fair President Wayne McCary. But when the rain stopped, fairgoers did come out, leading to three single-day attendance records: 59,072 on opening day, 84,125 on the second Wednesday and 158,222 on the final Saturday.

“I think it was very evident that we would have” broken the overall attendance record, McCary said.

“Attendance was strong on every day the weather was good.”

Miranda Lambert sold out the 6,500-seat outdoor Comcast Arena Stage, with Eric Church and Josh Kelley opening. Those tickets cost $49, $39 and $29. Lambert played one of three paid concerts at the Big E, which until recently had an all-free line-up.

“Ninety-five percent of the entertainment is still free, but the cost of entertainment has driven us, in some cases, to charge for them,” McCary said. “But they are still few and far between.”

The other paid concerts were Terry Fator, winner of “America’s Got Talent,” with a show that cost $45 and $35; and Owl City, which cost $29.95. All of those tickets included the price of admission, which was $15.

Free shows included Boys Like Girls, Laura Bell Bundy, Jason Michael Carroll, The Boys in Concert and Danny Gokey of “American Idol.” The entertainment budget was $2 million, McCary said. “Our entertainment budget today is larger than it’s ever been in the history of the fair. Entertainment is more expensive, whether for concerts or other events we produce.”

That includes the 2010 Big E Super Circus, produced in-house by McCary himself, which drew attendance of 80,000.

The $15 gate admission price reflected a bit of a hike over last year, when the price was $15 only on weekends and $12 on weekdays. Now $12 is the advance price.

Fair officials also raised the price for the five-year-old “$5 after 5″ special to $6, McCary said. He noted how successful that program has been and credits it with raising the carnival midway and food prices over last year’s numbers in spite of the 3 percent attendance decline.

“It’s an opportunity to come out and grab a bite to eat and catch some free shows and spend a couple of hours at the fair in the evening,” McCary said. “It’s obviously attractive to people.” The fair is open until 10 p.m. on weeknights – although if the weather is good and the crowds are strong, the midway will stay open longer – and until 11 p.m. on weekends.

Jackson, Miss.-based North American Midway Entertainment placed 50 rides on the midway, McCary said. Last year’s carnival gross, which was not released to the public, was the all-time highest, so this year’s gross at 2 percent higher set a new record.

Pay-one-price carnival wristbands cost $25 at the gate and $20 in advance, McCary said. The economy in southern New England – with unemployment in excess of 10 percent in the Springfield area – has prompted many fairgoers to seek out deals, McCary said. The Big E also is benefitting from people who want to “staycation.”

The Big E Cream Puff Bakery produced 45,000 of the fair’s signature food, according to a press release. The event also benefits from offering some of the splashier fair foods, included deep-fried butter and fried jelly beans.

The Big E, which has an annual budget of $16 million, actually draws attendees from the six New England states and New York, but the $6 after 5 p.m. program is geared toward those who live 25 miles away or less, especially because the fair begins after Labor Day and school is in session, McCary said.

Marketing included a coordinated billboard campaign that played on the event’s end-of-summer timing, with slogans such as “The Last Taste of Summer,” “Last Ride of Summer,” and one with a baby chick that said “The Last Peep of Summer.”

The fair spent $650,000 on media buys, said Catherine Pappas, communications manager.

The Big E’s relatively new Facebook page has more than 52,000 fans. Pappas said all advertising directs people both to the Facebook page and to the fair’s presence on Twitter. “We did a lot of contesting where people could win tickets to a concert, tickets to The Big E,” Pappas said.

Next year’s dates will be Sept. 16-Oct. 2. –  Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Wayne McCary and Catherine Pappas, (413) 737-2443.

Kid-Centric Fair, from Selena to Sales Pitch, Worked for Pomona

11 Oct

Midway at the L.A. County Fair, Pomona, Calif.

If a wall of record heat hadn’t descended the last week of the Sept. 10-Oct. 3 Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, attendance would have far exceeded last year. Dale Coleman, VP of sales, marketing and creative programming for the fair, credited a combination of family-oriented marketing and kid-friendly programming for the slight increase despite the weather.

Attendance was estimated at 1,375,000, compared to 1,372,000 last year, during 23 days of fair. The fair closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Coleman singled out two entertainment options that were departures from the norm and somewhat risky that turned into huge successes for the 2010 fair. Selena Gomez and The Scene, a Disney star, sold out the 9,000-seat grandstand, grossing about $230,000 on Sept. 18. And Our Body, The Universe Within, was a first-ever successful gate-within-a-gate for the fair, something Coleman said they generally avoid doing because historically, gates-within-gates fail.

“It’s the first time we made the conscious effort to see what happens with a tweener act,” Coleman noted of the Selena booking. They further decided to make it an all-paid grandstand. Typically, the fair charges for the best half of the 9,000 seats and the remainder are free with fair admission. For Selena, every seat was paid, with prices ranging from $15-$125. It sold out five days before the concert. The Pomona fair was Selena’s only L.A. area appearance. Her draw was “a classic example of what parents will do for children,” Coleman added.

Wilson Events books talent for the fair, Coleman said. Other hits in what is billed as the End of Summer Concert Series included Hall & Oates, grossing about $100,000, which is a nice number for the Pomona fair for paid/free combo shows; Bad Company; Teena Marie; and Boyz II Men and En Vogue.

The revenue goal from concert tickets was $1.1 million and “we exceeded that by over $100,000,” he said.

Our Body drew 75,000 people, far exceeding projections, Coleman said. Tickets to the attraction were $7, or $5 online. At museums, they charge $20-$25, he continued, and the organizers had originally sought to book Our Body as a non-fair event. Coleman suggested they visit during the fair, when 1.4 million people would be potential traffic, even though “I’ve never once seen a gate inside a gate work. I cringe because I’ve seen too many things go up in flames.” The exhibit occupied 11,000 square feet and the usual length of stay was probably 30-45 minutes.

There was no controversy surrounding the exhibit, which shows sliced, plasticized bodies so people can see the muscle and tissue inside. While some such shows draw protestors, Coleman said that was not the case in Pomona. “We reached out to five major medical institutions in the surrounding areas and asked them to be partners and set up areas inside the exhibit and bring doctors and medical students and talk to the public about what they’re learning. It was all about education and health and we had zero controversy. It worked beyond anyone’s expectations.”

On the marketing side, the emphasis was families. “We saw a lot more moms and dads and kids,” Coleman said. For the past few years, the fair’s advertising campaign has been more L.A. Cool, a tongue-in-cheek appeal to Angelenos to recognize that Pomona is their fair, even if it isn’t located west of the 110 freeway. “This time, we focused on the family. I have a nine-year-old son and most of my associates have young children. We know that if someone presents something that will make them happy, we’re likely to make that happen.”

The spots featured children saying why they wanted to come to the fair, but the L.A. cool tone was not abandoned. One way-cute child announces he wants to come to the fair “to connect with my parents at a deeply emotional level. Obviously it was a  joke, but while funny and cute, there is a message there. Another shows a little boy in front of a Bumble Bee ride, saying he likes the fair because being dizzy is fun. We wanted to convey that coming to the fair is a good thing, a unique family day. We are definitely going to stay on that message the next few years.”

Revenues were up in most categories, Coleman continued. Partially that was due to a change in the fair layout. An outdoor covered exhibit area (100,000 sq. ft.) was cleared for the carnival and those exhibits were moved so that they were around the 300,000-sq.-ft. of indoor exhibit space, creating an obvious retail area. “We created a lot of synergy in and round our exhibit halls for commercial business,” he said.

Ray Cammack Shows was pleased with the new layout and the carnival revenues were up, he added.

Sit ‘n Sleep, a major mattress retail chain, was a new sponsor this year and that marriage worked very well, Coleman continued. Overall, the sponsorship program held its own, bringing in $2.2 million in cash.

Sit ‘n Sleep is known for its commercials featuring owner Larry Miller and his accountant Erwin sparring over discount prices with the tagline, “You’re killing me, Larry.” The fair worked with that vibe, featuring Larry in various cutouts throughout the grounds, appropriately garbed for the area and telling people what to see at the fair. A Sit ‘n Sleep float (a mattress) was in the nightly parade, more often than not with Larry on board throwing out dust mite plush he had made for the kids all along the parade route. “People were yelling, ‘You’re killing me, Larry,’ all over the place,” Coleman said. Sit ‘n Sleep set up a store in Building 5. “They sold a lot of beds. They want to do it again next year.”

Returning major sponsors included Coca Cola, Ralphs Grocery Co., and McDonald’s, to name a few.

Ralphs sold discount tickets to the fair for the first time, and ended up logging a substantial 140,000 tickets sold the first time out of the box. Adult tickets were $10 at Ralphs ($17 at the gate), children $6 ($12). Ralphs also promoted a food drive where fairgoers who brought five cans of Ralphs brand food were admitted free. Last year, that promotion netted 60,000 cans of food. This year, it soared to 90,000 cans.

Other sponsored promotions included McDonald’s Wednesdays, offering $20 wristbands good for fair admission and all rides, with sales up 80 percent from last year; Weekend for Heroes, with retired or active military, police or fire professionals admitted for $1; and Dodger Day, when fans wearing Dodger blue were admitted to the fair for $5, half of which went to charity.

There were multiple discounts and yet, “full price admissions grew from 40 to 52 percent from 2009 to 2010,” said Sharon Autry, fair communications director.

About the only aspect of the fair that did not meet revenue goals was horse racing. There is a scarcity of horses and the industry is struggling nationwide, Coleman said. “We did okay, but it’s an area that is tough.”

Parking  was $10, $15 preferred. Some beverage prices were lowered, including $1 less for beer.

Dates for 2011 are tentatively Sept. 3-Oct. 2. — Linda Deckard

Interviewed for this story: Dale Coleman, (909) 865-4057; Sharon Autry, (909) 865-4262


Sunny Skies Bring Attendance Spike to N.Y. State Fair

8 Oct

This wonder dog excites with a show on the midway at the N.Y. State Fair.

Good weather and a large and varied line-up of free and paid musical acts helped lead the New York State Fair to its third-best attendance at 999,845, a three-percent increase over last year’s 971,273.

The Syracuse-based fair, which ran from Aug. 26-Sept. 6, has only topped 1 million visitors twice, in 2001 and 2002, said public relations director Fred Pierce.

“The thing that makes us real happy this year is that we did break a record with paid attendance,” Pierce said. “It was the highest it’s ever been.”
That figure was 609,542. “Most of our non-paid is children 12 and under, who are free, and we have two senior days where people 60 years old and older get in free, plus a veterans day.”

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber was a sellout in the New York State Fair Grandstand, which seats between 16,000 and 17,000 concertgoers. He drew 16,314.

Rush was the second-best attended concert with 12,758 fans. Louisville, Ky.-based bookers Triangle Talent is in its second year of booking acts for the fair after the retirement of Joe LaGuardia. “Triangle Talent put it together and said Rush had a very strong base in central New York, and they proved correct,” Pierce said.

Ticket prices for Bieber were $55 and $45 and for Rush, $65 and $55.

Other paid concerts, attendance and ticket prices were Rascal Flatts/11,888/$65, $55; Rhianna/9,542/$55, $45; Aerosmith/9,260/$104; Tim McGraw with Montgomery Gentry/9,000/$75, $65; and comedian Jeff Dunham/7,746/$40.

The line-up reflects the fair’s desire to have a concert for all fairgoers when it comes to concerts.

“That was our aim,” Pierce said. “We wanted to provide something for everybody knowing that we have a lot of diversity here in New York when it comes to music. We wanted to have at least one concert everybody would want to go to.”

Just to sweeten the pot, the fair also offered a line-up of free acts on the Chevy Court Stage, an outdoor venue in a huge green surrounded by the fair’s exhibit buildings that allows nearly 30,000 people to see concerts. Estimated crowd size for one act, Lady Antebellum, came in at 29,800.

The entertainment budget is approximately $4 million, Pierce said.

Strates Shows provided the midway for the New York State Fair and was up 6 percent over the previous highest revenues, Pierce said. Pay-one-price wristbands cost $25 and were good on six of the fair’s 12 days, Pierce said. Ride coupons cost $1 each and rides required two to five coupons.

Patrons also were asked to submit photos of the fair to the Facebook page, and those who submitted winning photos were given gift bags filled with state fair items.

The marketing department also doubled the fair’s e-mail list, so they could send blasts to potential patrons, by holding a drawing for concert tickets to those who submitted their addresses.

“We did contests last year but we did more of them this year, and we didn’t do a photo contest last year,” Pierce said.

Pierce did not know how the marketing budget would shake out for the year, but the overall fair budget is $18 million.

Gate admission was $10 at the gate and $6 in advance, and the fair worked hard to drive people out to get tickets before the fair, which resulted in the highest pre-sales ever.

“It’s the economy,” Pierce said. “It’s still a challenge for a lot of people, so we made sure we got the word out about the availability of advance tickets. It was 30 percent price break if you bought in advance and people took to it.”

Next year’s fair will be Aug. 25-Sept. 5. – Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Fred Pierce, (315) 487-7711.


Rainy Weekend Brings Small Drop to KY. State Fair

24 Sep

A stroll along the animal exhibits at the Kentucky State Fair, Louisville.

Oppressive heat that had plagued the Louisville area dissipated in time for the Aug. 19-29 Kentucky State Fair, but a rainy Saturday put the event down 19,000 customers for the day, which turned out to be the approximate number the fair was down over last year’s 621,795.

When all was said and done, this year’s attendance came in at 602,897.
“Heat wasn’t an issue,” said GM Harold Workman. “The weather broke about the time the fair started. We had very nice weather, which was in the high 80s and low 90s, compared to the high 90s and low 100s we had been having.”

North American Midway Entertainment placed 54 rides on the midway, according to Jeff Blomsness, president of NAME’s All-Star Amusement unit.

That was more rides than last year, because the Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom amusement park adjacent to the Kentucky Exposition Center that the carnival also sold tickets to closed.

“The contract is for 40 with the amusement park and 50 if it’s not there,” Blomsness said. “So we added the rides and subtracted the park, which is three or four roller coasters and a big array of rides.”

Kroger sold presale tickets for the carnival and those figures were not in yet, Blomsness said, so he did not know how the final numbers would shake out, although without the park, it would not be an apples to apples comparison with last year’s results.

Not having Kentucky Kingdom open drove more fairgoers to the midway, Blomsness said, which did not create any problems.

“Taking the park out of the factor, we did really well,” Blomsness said. “Whenever you have too many people, it’s a good problem.”

Rides that did well included the Fireball, the spinning coaster and the giant wheel, Blomsness said.

Pay-one-price carnival wristbands were available on six weekdays for $24, which covered from open to close, Workman said. Children ages 3 to 12 could buy $12 wristbands on two days as well, he added.

The fair’s 16,000-seat Freedom Hall hosted four paid concerts. The line-up, attendance and ticket prices were: Sugarland with Little Big Town/10,124/$48 and $33; comedian Jeff Dunham/8,449/$48 and $38; Tim McGraw with Montgomery Gentry/6,832/$74 and $54; and Rascal Flatts with Kellie Pickler/7,654/$69 and $48.

Those ticket prices included gate admission, which cost $8 for adults and $4 for ages 3-12 and senior citizens 55 and older.

The overall fair budget is $10 million, Workman said, while for marketing, the budget is $500,000, said Edward Browne, the fair’s director of public relations and media.

Next year’s fair dates will be Aug. 18-28. –  Mary Wade Burnside

Interviewed for this article: Harold Workman and Edward Browne, (502) 367-5000; Jeff Blomsness, (601) 898-5533.