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Pima County Fair Breaks Attendance Records Again


By Timothy Herrick

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When the Pima County Fair opened, a local news source - Tucson News Now - reported that the  Southwestern Fair Commission, which operates the fair, had hired FMR Associates Inc. to produce an Economic Impact study, which found that the fair's impact to the local economy was $34 million.

Tucson News Now also reported that "Under a management agreement by SWFC and Pima County all profits earned from operations are put back into the facility for improvements. The recent upgrades include new bathrooms and drinking fountains on the fairgrounds, RV Park Improvements and upgrades to a large multi-purpose building."

Attendance Up 
But upgrading the facilities and enhancing the fairgoer experience has just been one fPhoto By actor in what has become one of the fastest growing fairs in Arizona. Attendance has approximately tripled in the past 15 years, and the 2017 edition continued this upwards trajectory.  According to Launa Rabago, Entertainment & Marketing Manager, Pima County Fair, 2017 attendance exceeded 324,000, up approximately 2.1 percent. She noted that per capita spending was "up by 1.8 percent," but would not disclose the fair's overall revenue increase.

She did say that spending was "up" and that the local economy  was in better shape than a year ago. When asked if the economic recovery in the region was here to stay or do we still have a long way to go, she replied: "Tucson is recovering."

This boost in attendance was aided by the weather, which was "Windy on a few days and record heat on another but more favorable than not," she said. 

Easier Booking
Tucson News Now reported that "Rabago said she believes attendance has grown because of the big names they draw for the concerts - and also this is the first year they're holding concerts every single night."

A robust concert line up also resulted in record days. "Josh Turner in concert, highest gate and highest grossing date ever," said Rabago, adding that the fair had its "highest grossing carnival revenue with Lil Yachty in concert." Other high-drawing shows included Pain/Naughty by Nature and FOR KING & COUNTRY. The fair's other headliners included Tom Keifer & Winger, Kip Moore, La Septima Banda, Tanya Tucker, and Dirty Heads

There may have been an advantage in numbers - as the fair increased the number of concerts by booking shows every night, Rabago reported that conditions for talent buying actually showed an improvement over 2016. In 2017, talent buying conditions eased up some, although mostly due to the fact that the fair last year competed with other events such as Coachella and the Country Music Awards, while this year, there were fewer scheduling conflicts. "I had an easier time this year without so many competing events on top of me, rather, they were before me so I became a routed date."

"The concerts are always very popular and we like to compliment them with compelling promotions," said Chris Lopez, Vice President, Ray Cammack Shows (RCS).

The RCS midway featured 60 rides, five more than 2016, including two new rides for the fair, the Puppy Roll and Endeavor. The top rides for the fair were Wild River. G-Force, Big Wheel and Rave Wave. 

Rabago said that the RCS midway was the "highest grossing ever and up by 2.6 percent" and that the most effective ride promotions were "Wristband Nights and Presale."

"We had record breaking midway grosses," said Lopez, adding that RCS has been the midway provider for the fair for 38 years. "The marketing and media staff really know how to cater to their community and the community truly loves to support their fair."

Below Expectations
The fair's advertising budget was $315,000.00 - a steep decline compared to $375,000 in 2016.  Rabago said for the Pima County Fair, "all forms of advertising are bought:  Radio, print, Television and outdoor." In addition, the fair expanded its social media platform. "In 2017 we added snapchat along with a filter," said Rabago.

Food spending was up for the fair,  and Rabago said the new trends were "Flaming Hot Cheetos on everything as well as Bacon/Nutella Fried Pickles." The hot  new food item "I believe it was the Riley Fries by Sawyers Concessions," she said. "They are delicious, look delicious and use delicious looking people eating delicious food in their marketing.

Overall, the Pima County Fair was "Great, another record breaking year."

She said that "2017 met expectations," but there were some pitfalls that undermined the fair. Jack Hanna's attendance did ok but did not meet expectations," she said. The fair featured longtime zookeeper and famous David Letterman guest Jack Hanna with the live version of his Emmy-winning show, Jack Hanna's Into The Wild.  

In addition, some Hispanic days under performed. The fair added an extra Latin night but it may have been one too many or just that not any weekend day works for this market. "Some surprises were that Latin nights weren't as successful on a Saturday vs a Sunday," she said.

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