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Community Support Leads to Record Midway at Calaveras County Fair

6/26/2017

By Timothy Herrick

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Community outreach,  combined with revamped social media and an improving California economy, boosted the 2017 Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. Attendance reached a high of 39,428, spending was up and midway revenue was a record gross for the carnival company.

The weather was cooperative - mainly in the 80s and no rain - but community outreach was key to another successful Calaveras County Fair. It seems the community loves and support their county fair like few others. "There is a lot of community support for this fair, it is still a very community oriented event and a real example of rural America coming together," said Kevin Tate, President/CEO, California Carnival Company. "This particular community gets it. Out of all the county fairs we play in California, this gets the most communPhoto By ity support. They love their fair."

Community Outreach
Also known as the Frogtown fair, the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee has the historic pedigree that seems ready made to cultivate deep roots in the community. Having started in 1893, not only is it one of the longest running county fairs the Golden State, but the fairgrounds are the setting of one of Mark Twain's most well-known short stories, the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," first published in 1865.

"The frog competition is what makes us unique," said Laurie Giannini, CEO/Fair Manager. "The historical element is very important. ESPN came out and did story on us this year. It's a big deal, and at the end of the day, that is a marketing edge and tool, that we can use. But we are getting more people from the community, and that is an opportunity to promote agriculture. We host people who have never been to a rural fair, and we can show off our livestock industry, show that many people still make  their own jams, we can educate people on our vast grape and wine industry,"

This year, the fair expanded its collaborations with many different community entities, such as creating a relationship with the Wine Grape Alliance, said Gianni. This also led to increasing the number of sponsors for the fair. "It's a combination of the economy in the area is just much better," she said. "We designed our sponsorship programs differently than we had in the past, and we reached out to many different businesses and people who supported the fair. We also did more things personally, myself and our staff, we talked to more people in the community and they came out and supported their fair and businesses wanted to sponsor the fair so they could be seen by the community. They realized the benefit of sponsorship."

Community outreach also meant bringing in more school children and their families, offering a complete "school package" to 13 different school. In keeping with the fair's Mark Twain themes, the program included a reading competition, where students kept a log of books they read and were able to get into the fair with free admission and other perks. 

The fair also had an effective youth movement by reaching Gen-Y and millennials where they are - on their mobile devices and social media platforms. Social media marketing grew this year because "We really concentrated on Instagram," she said. "We also have a really good Facebook following and that attracted younger people to the fair. We also posted little videos that we made, which we were shared with community groups on Facebook."

#Communitymakesithappen was a popular hashtag, inviting all the members of the community to be part of the fair. 

Carnival Comeback
The fair's marketing tagline was "Country nights and Carnival lights," which spearheaded an intensive advertising campaign, launching approximately six weeks before the fair. "Our theme was to celebrate our carnival and our country atmosphere, we used a variety of marketing and community outreach, as well as a commercial video, to get people to come to the fair."

She added, that, during the fair, the focus was all  "social media focused, especially Instagram."

The country atmosphere was also accentuated by Ned LeDoux, a headliner in the 2,300 seat grandstand. His appearance boosted that Friday's attendance. Gianni was unable to confirm if any record days were set during the fair, but the LeDoux show "was the best attended Friday that I can remember." Other grandstand entertainment included , the Destruction Derby and 4th  annual  California Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association (CCPRA).

The highpoint of the fair was a record carnival, according to Giannini, up compared to 2016. The California Carnival Midway featured 21 rides, including Tango, New Wave Swinger, Baja Buggy. Himalaya, and Pharaoh's Fury. He said that the Zipper and the Century Wheel were the leading grossing rides. 

It was the 5th year for this midway provider to be hosted by Frogtown, and the fair manager praised the midway's look and feel. "Theirs's a such a clean show, every show," she said. "The carnival is clean and well done, I am on the west coast, and they have one  of the best midways in California and they continue to do what they do well. Their presentation is awesome." 

Continued Growth
"We continue to grow at Calaveras," said Tate. "We increased every year and this year was our highest gross."

He pointed out that the cleanliness of the midway is "something people automatically notice," said Tate. "If you don't have a clean midway, they attribute that to the fair, so you are representing them.  

The other feature is customer service, "it's one our main things. If people don't get the customer service, they will complain. Our staff is polite and well-mannered, please, thank you. They look nice, clean shirts. We have a very warm midway, people remember that. You really can't get good customer service these days anywhere, so they really notice it on the midway." 

Tate pointed out that prior to California Carnival Company taking over, a well-publicized accident in 2008, where 21 were severely injured when a YoYo ride (a similar accident on the same ride occurred in 2006 Six Flags over Texas in March 2006 injuring nine people) collapsed.  A settlement of $3.375 million was finally awarded in 2010, according to Motherlode Magazine, a California online news source. "According to a news release from the law firm Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, Brass Ring Amusements, Chance Rides Manufacturing and North American Amusements will pay to Robert and Deena Milligan, whose five children were injured in the accident." 

The accident  was the first and apparently only serious ride accident in the fair's long history, and while the fair was not a party in the lawsuit, obviously association with the incident has been an obstacle until recent years. "The fair worked very hard with the community, and it has taken them years to get trust back in the safety of the carnival," said Tate. "We work our butts off to regain that trust, and take nothing for granted. We work with the fair every step of the way."

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