The 2017 Florida State Fair with the theme: "Picture Yourself At The Florida State Fair," took place February 9th-20th.. New Executive Director Cheryl Flood was pleased with the fair's performance in the inaugural year of her position. In addition to increased attendance and midway revenue numbers, the Florida State Fair provided tons of free entertainment for patrons, and boasted the country's largest carnival midway. Flood is proud of the 2017 fair's success but looks forward to getting back to work and making even more improvements for 2018.
440,718 people attended the 2017 Florida State Fair: up 11.5% from the 395,435 in 2016. The number was the largest for the last several years and one of the largest increases since 2005. In order to help increase attendance and appeal to all demographics across the state of Florida, the Florida State Fair team put together several themed days at the fair which featured admission specials.
- February 9 (Opening Day): Salute to Heroes Day - All active, reserve, retired military veterans, law enforcement, firemen and first responders were admitted free with valid ID.
- February 11 and 18: 4-H and FFA Days - 4-H and FFA students admitted FREE with ID or membership jacket.
- Monday through Friday, February 13-17: Seniorific Days - These days featured senior discounts at the gate and a robust schedule of senior-specific programs, including a presence by Central Florida Speech and Hearing, which provided qualified special needs seniors with phones on-site. Programming by a local Dementia Awareness organization was also planned.
- February 14: Valentine's Day - special Valentine's Day giveaways coupons and candy courtesy of the Simon Shopping group and 2-for-1 rides on the Midway Sky Eye sponsored by Wade Shows.
- February 15: Grandparents' Day - Grandparents and other caregivers and preschoolers received special giveaways, including coloring books for children. There was programming specifically tailored for grandparents and preschoolers, such as special tours of the Agriculture area and Cracker Country. Children and adults also collaborated on a coloring wall, and enjoyed Library story times with the Hillsborough County Public Library.
- February 16: The Fair Cares Non-Profit Appreciation Day and Thrifty Thursday - Members of non-profit organizations were invited to enter a raffle for cash prizes to be awarded to both the individual and their organization by the Fair Authority. The fair hosted a discounted Midway promotion with 10 rides for $10.
- February 17: $5 Friday after 5 p.m. - Guests were admitted for $5 after 5 p.m.
- February 20: Family Fun Pack - $20 admission for up to four people.
- Student Days - Students received a FREE ticket distributed by the school district in the various counties of Hillsborough (February 10); Hardee (February 12); Citrus and Highlands (February 19); Manatee, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota (February 20).
In addition to the exhibits and performances throughout the Fairgrounds, there were Strolling Acts to keep Fairgoers entertained for all 12 days. Those included Rock-it-Robot, Marc Dobson's One-Man Band, and Those Funny Little People - as seen on "America's Got Talent."
According to Flood, the Florida State Fair was focused on providing hours of entertainment for guests of all ages. Using their budget of around $550,00, the fair staff hired ground acts and musical acts that would draw in crowds.
This year the Florida State Fair featured a Shopkins meet and greet with Kooky Cookie and Apple Blossom, the Sea Lion Splash Show, K-9s In Flight, Circus Hollywood Under the Big Top, Butterfly Encounter, Hollywood Racing Pigs, Giraffic Park Exotic Menagerie, Welde's Big Bear Show, The Florida State Tractor Pull, Sunshine State Lawnmower Races, The Budweiser Clydesdales, and
the Florida State Fair Draft Horse Pull Championship. In addition to these shows and exhibits, Sweet: A Tasty Journey made its first state fair debut at the 2017 Florida State Fair; it is an interactive exhibit that utilizes games to explore the history of candy and its role in popular culture. The Florida State Fair also hosted the Vex State Robotics Championships for elementary, middle, and high school students on February 17th and 18th. Finally, popular children's television character Peppa Pig and her brother George made an appearance on February 19th and 20th.
The Florida State Fair also booked several music acts which held concerts for patrons to enjoy; like the many ground acts at this year's fair, most of the concerts were free with admission. Some of the musical acts included: The Roots & Boots Tour featuring Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippen, and Collin Raye, Shalyah Fearing who was featured on season 10 of The Voice, Christian Rock band Building 429, Joe Zuniga, The Judge Talford Band, Belles & Whistles, Matt's Family Jam, Dennis Lee, The Elvis Extravaganza National Championships, The Z Street Band, Mighty Mongo, Shawn Scheller and The Contenders, The Lauren Mitchell Band, and The River City Boys.
The Florida State Fair Authority commits itself to educating its patrons during their visit to the fair, primarily through its various exhibits set up in the state fair buildings. One of the most popular exhibits is the Mildred W and Doyle E. Carlton Jr. Cracker Country, Tampa's only living history museum. Cracker Country holds a collection of 13 original buildings dating from 1870-1912.
Other educational buildings include The Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, the Florida's Craftsmen's Marketplace, The Steam Engine Exhibit, The Florida Cattle Ranching sponsored by the Florida Cattlemen's Foundation, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission educational exhibit.
One of the most important aspects of education at the fair is teaching all patrons, young and old, about Florida's rich, agricultural history. For kids, the Ag-Venture Building features a "hands-on" learning experience designed for kids visiting the fair to learn about the importance of agriculture in everyday life. Salute to Agriculture is an exhibit where you can see, feel and touch animals. It's also a place where patrons can see new calves being born at the Mooternity Ward.
The Florida Center building is a large educational hub at the fair. "In the Florida Center we feature our competitive exhibits program where students compete in woodworking, quilt making as well as other arts and crafts. In addition, Hillsborough County Schools have a large exhibit from students across the county. This year they featured February as Black History Month with a special historical educational exhibit," says Flood.
FFA and 4-H participants also showed several different animals for judging during the livestock portion of the fair. Steer, swine, dairy, pygmy goat, boer goat, poultry, rabbit, llama and purebred dogs were all shown and judged throughout the 2017 Florida State Fair. There were also many other breed shows including: Simmental, Limousine, Brangus, Santa Gertrudis, Zebu, Angus, and Brahman.
Food is one of the most important aspects of state fairs; this year, the Florida State Fair had some delicious crowd favorites from amazing vendors. One of the promotions the fair held this year was the "People's Choice Food Award." Florida residents voted on the most appealing foods at the 2017 fair. The top four winning places were: Cheesy Fried Enchilada Funnel Cake, The Florida Firecracker, The White Cheddar & Bacon Pretzel Dog, and The Nutella Oreo Funnel Cake.
The Wade Shows Hybrid Midway
The Florida State Fair has an hybrid independent midway managed by Wade Shows. When asked about this year's carnival midway Flood says; "the Florida State Fair boasts the largest midway in the United States. We had over 124 rides this year with 15 different companies or independent ride owners represented." Some of the most popular rides according to ridership were: the Sky Glider, Midway Sky Eye, State Fair Super Slide, New York New York Funhouse, Techno Power, Hit in 200, Cuckoo Haus, RC 48 roller coaster, the Wisdom Himalaya, the Magic Maze fun house, and the Super Cyclone roller coaster. The overall midway gross was $4,782,830 up 12.5% from last year's fair.
When asked about his experience as Midway Manager at the Florida State Fair, Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows, said; "It's a great honor to be the Midway Manager of the fair in your home state and, specifically, in the Tampa Bay area where I am a resident. Our company took this honor very seriously and our goal and intention is to build a better Florida State Fair each year." Zaitshik has been a part of the Florida State Fair since 1992 and this is the 3rd year of Wade Shows' midway management. "This year, we worked with a new Executive Director, Cheryl Flood, who is driven, passionate, and committed to making the Florida State Fair the best it can be and who worked tirelessly to that end," said Zaitshik. One of the goals for the midway this year was to improve guest relations; Wade Shows rolled out new self-contained guest relations trailers with free lockers, phone charging stations, and other guest amenities. New, portable restroom trailers built in semi-trailers with a building facade wrap also made their debut at the 2017 Florida State Fair.
Perhaps the most spectacular attraction on the midway this year was the Midway Skye Eye Wheel, standing 46 meters tall, it is the largest portable wheel in North America. The ride is owned by Biggest Wheel, LLC, a partnership between Frank Zaitshik and Michael Wood. The ribbon cutting ceremony for the wheel took place on Monday, February 13th at 2:30pm. "The Florida State Fair was so pleased to be the first to host the largest potable wheel in the United States," said Flood. Commissioner Adam H. Putnam, Chairman Doyle E. Carlton III, Board Treasurer Linda Syfrett, Flood, and Wade Shows' President Frank Zaitshik along with one of the fair's golden ticket promotion winners took the inaugural ride on the Midway Sky Eye.
"I am half of a very powerful combination. I think I am most proud of having Michael Wood as a business partner," said Zaitshik. of Biggest Wheel LLC. According to Zaitshik, parts of the Sky Eye had some arrival, customs and manufacturing delays that were beyond anyone's control. However, the delay formed an opportunity for the set-up of the Midway Sky Eye to become an event on its own. "We had tremendous publicity surrounding the ride. People young and old watched the wheel's construction. We found that the industry as a whole rooted for our success during construction," said Zaitshik. The Midway Sky Eye crew worked as efficiently and safely as possible to get the wheel ready. "We believe all is well that ends well and in this case the end result was certainly fantastic," says Zaitshik. The Midway Sky Eye wheel finished as the #1 ride in terms of Funcard units (or tickets) redeemed by riders.
The Florida State Fair media budget was about $450,000. The fair spent approximately 40% on tv and cable, 35% on radio, 10% on out of home, 10% on print, and 5% on social media/digital marketing.
The advertising message focused on all the free entertainment included with admission especially highlighting family entertainment. Advance sale ticketing was also a major focus and in the end, advance sales increased 21% from last year's numbers. Social media was another major focus; the goal was to highlight areas of the fair that can sometimes be overlooked such as daily agricultural winners, fun fair facts, a meal deal of the day/expo hall deal of the day, and a featured ride each day. They hosted many contests especially prior to the start of the fair.
Inspired by the Sweet: A Tasty Journey exhibit and its Willy Wonka section, the Florida State Fair featured a "Golden Ticket" winner each day. The ticket was put in a different area of the fair and guests had to find it based on a posted clue and take a picture of the ticket. They chose a winner each day and the sponsors were terrific in offering great prizes, valued between $500 - $1,500 each day. It was a lot of fun and great way to highlight all the areas of the fair for the public.
Flood was happy with her first year as Executive Director of the Florida State Fair but there is always room to improve. She already has goals she wants to focus on for next year; "Given this is my first official fair as the new Executive Director, I couldn't be more pleased having record midway & gate revenue and an 11.5% increase in attendance. However, there are always opportunities for improvement. Next year my goal is to continue to offer excellent family-friendly entertainment opportunities, to encourage more midweek attendance, clean up the overall appearance and appeal of our entire grounds and finally improve upon the overall customer experience with a stronger emphasis on customer service."