The Maricopa County Fair expected to be down this year, at least for one Sunday. Because of the demands of the calendar, the fair was open on an Easter Sunday and according to Karen Searle, Executive Director, the expectation was for the fair to be down. The good news is, the attendance was not down as low as anticipated.
"I believe we were on Easter for the first time in our history, and we had done some research on fairs that happened on Easter, with two of them here in Arizona," said Searle. "We were expecting to be down by 30 percent or more on Sunday. Although we were down on Sunday, it was only about 18 percent."
The fair offered some programming keeping line with the holiday theme - such as the "Huge" Egg Hunt featu
ring $5,000 in Cash Prizes, which was broken down into three different age categories: (5-10) (11-17) (18-and up), a non-denominational church service and of course, a photo-op visit by the Easter Bunny.
Combined with a strong midway, community outreach to schools with a program of field trips and farm tours and, and a range of new attractions, Searle said that attendance showed another increase, although she didn't disclose the final tally. "We were up [over last year], she said. The Maricopa County Fair attendance generally exceeds 70,000.
Luckily, weather was in the fair's favor, with ideal spring Arizona temperatures and clear skies encouraging people to come out. "Beautiful, sunny and warm," said Searle. "Highs were 92, 94, 90, 88 and 91."
The result was increased revenue for the fair. According to Searle, fair spending was "up, we had several food concessionaires that had their best days ever." However, final numbers for the 2017 fair were still being calculated, she said.
In addition, the midway by Butler Amusements, saw what Searle described as a great year. "Revenue was up," she said, adding that the revenue had "a record year."
"The midway for 2017 was up and each year it continues to grow," said Kelley Butler of Butler Amusements.
The Butler Amusements midway featured 39 rides, four more than last year, as well as six foods and 20 games. New for the 2017 Maricopa fair was Big Top, a new circus themed funhouse with its beautiful color changing LED light show and newly painted scenery and "the Super Shot-a drop tower ride," she said.
She added, "the most popular rides this year were the Inversion, Vertigo, and Super Shot. The most popular kid rides were the Pirate Jet and the Wet Boat ride."
Other rides at the fair included: Spin Out; Vertigo; Zillerator Coaster; Giant Scooters; Evolution; Giant Wheel, Fireball, Ring of Fire, Zipper, Zombie Carnival Dark Ride, Starship 3000, Wacky Worm, Tilt-A-Whirl and Kite Flyer. The Butler Midway expanded its contingent of Kiddie & Family rides which included Toon Town, Frog Hopper, Looney Tooter Train, Chopper Hopper, Lolli Swing, Jungle of Fun and Dizzy Dragon as well as the two exclusive Butler rides, from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch - Balloon Samba and Dragon Wagon.
Butler noted that the promotions - especially outreach to schools - helped fuel the record midway this year. These promotions not only include unlimited ride wristbands, and a 5 rides for $5 promotion that is used by school field trips to the fair, but an array of community and school oriented promotions, including the Read to Ride program at the Maricopa County Fair, where kindergarten through 6th grade students who read four books, and bring a completed form on the designated Student Appreciation Day, received both free admission to the fair and a free ride. Students and their families turned out in droves for the day.
"This fair works well with the schools in the area," said Butler. "It's great to see all the kids on school field trips exploring the fair.
Searle noted that the Arizona economy's rebound is "continuing" According to the Arizona's Economy & Research Center website, "The Arizona economy coasted into 2017..., the state continues to outpace the nation in job creation. In better news, the state's unemployment rate declined again last year, and is now back to a level last seen just before the Great Recession."
The Phoenix market has seen an influx of new families and housing, creating an optimum demographic for the family entertainment the county fair offers.
This year, the Maricopa County Fair has added four shows to the lineup, highlighting its family-friendly appeal: The Great American High Dive featuring The Human Torch, who lights himself on fire before diving into the pool; Nancy Riegler and Blue Bear-y Bear drove around the grounds in a replica Model T; famed balloon artist Steve's Fun Balloons, and an exclusive Meet and Greet with Peppa Pig, the television celebrity from Nick Jr.
These acts augmented the more traditional Maricopa County Fair attractions, such livestock auctions, farm tours for children, BMX Bike Show, pie baking contest, and back-to-back monster truck shows. In addition, the shopping pavilion at the fair had more than 60 vendors inside the building, another 25 merchandise vendors outside.
The fair's advertising budget was $100,000 about the same as last year, with a similar media allocation: tv: 45.8 percent, Radio: 20.5 percent; Print: 14.4 percent and "other" (including billboards, printing of flyers, etc.): 19.3 percent.
The fair shifted towards an expanded social media marketing presence. A couple of years ago, they created a marketing position just for social media, and this year spending did shift more towards social media. Two years ago, the fair hired a social media marketing expert, to focus solely on social media marketing for the fair. In 2017, "we did more Facebook advertising," she said.
The fair re-used its clever abbreviated marketing theme from last year AZ, AG & EWE, which has proven to be an ever-green tagline.
The fair featured 23 food vendors and though Searle wouldn't comment on any new fair cuisine at this year fair, according to the website, "Foodies will appreciate the wide selection of fair food. Food offerings include unique items like Steve's Flaming Hot Turkey Legs, Deep Fried Coffee, the Mac Doggie Dog and so much more."
With sales and attendance up, the Maricopa County Fair - which bills itself as the largest county fair in the Phoenix area - had a strong outing this year. What made the success, according to Searle, was that the programming, social media push and community outreach more than compensated for the anticipated Easter Sunday dip that was far less devastating than expected.
"Overall, we had a great fair," said Searle, adding that expectations were "exceeded - as I said, we were prepared for a down year."