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San Mateo County Fair is Feeling Groovy
Attendance & midway revenue up over 2016

7/12/2017

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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With increases in attendance and revenue, the San Mateo County Fair has plenty of reasons to feel groovy. 
    
But it wasn't by accident. The fair created a marketing plan designed to Turn On the community.
    
Hippies. The San Mateo County Fair's 2017 marketing theme was "Summer of Lovin' Fun," which paid tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love.  
   
Ironically, during the 1967 summer of love, the young people who flocked to the cultural scene in California were known as flower children. The San Mateo County Fair was founded in 1926 and was first called the "Little Flower Show."  While this year's fair may have been extra groovy, an environment of fun and freedom was never too far out for San Mateo CounPhoto By ty.

Summer of Love
"We were hip before there were hippies," said Dana Stoehr, CEO of the San Mateo County Events Center and Fair, "Every year is the summer of love at the San Mateo County Fair and there's something to love for everyone. Whether you're looking for traditional food, fun and entertainment, or the hottest musical acts around, we've got a little something for everyone, and every generation."

The concerts at the fair were called Summer of Love- LIVE! and included Paramount's Original Laser Spectacular, featuring the music of Pink Floyd and a line-up heavy on 1960s nostalgia: The Ohio Players; Tower of Power; The Family Stone with the Oakland Symphony; WAR; and Smash Mouth. 
     
But 60s nostalgia not withstanding, the closing Sunday of the fair is always a Hispanic celebration - Dia de la Feria Latino Music Day. 
   
According to Kaitlyn Bailey-Findley, the San Mateo County Fair Operations Manager the fair was decked out in Day-Glo colors, pinwheels were everywhere, and the staff wore tie-dye t-shirts. "We all had a ball, it was easy theme to get behind," she said. We try to create a safe space for everyone, regardless of social status, race or gender, a place we can all enjoy with our children."
    
She added, for "fairs to succeed, they need to have the ability to bring communities together, and that must include a wide variety of demographics. Fairs are unique and part of our heritage. You want to create a place where people want to come and be with their neighbors and community."  
   
The Summer of Love anniversary received national recognition with the celebrations of the half-century mark for the anniversary of the Monterrey Pop Festival, helping to create a built-in audience for the 2017 San Mateo County Fair's Summer of Lovin' Fun advertising campaign . The wide-spread enthusiasm to wish happy birthday to the iconic 60s counterculture movement may also have eased some of the difficulties inherent in today's fair entertainment marketplace. 

Findley admits that booking entertainment has been a sellers market. "It wasn't more challenging compared to last year, it is still a sellers market and we are looking at different alternatives and maybe re-configuring the headline acts," she said. "But this year, we were able to get bands like Tower of Power, who have a huge local following and been around for years, and War. So we were able to find acts within our budget who worked well with the theme." 

High Attendance
Attendance at the 9-day event was more than 116,500, a 4 percent increase over 2016, which included an opening day that broke a 5-year record at 17,700 attendees, and a Thursday, with attendance, that also broke a 5-year record with 9,500 attendance. 

In addition, the fair had an estimated 8 percent increase in spending.
"We are still determining how much, but we are looking for at least a 8 percent increase in overall revenue," she said. "The economy is doing well, we are located, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. We are seeing more young families in the area, the tech company employees are becoming parents, and they are coming to the fair."

The weather was generally cooperative, although the first weekend had some cold nights and heavy wind, but the weather warmed up with some unseasonably for the Bay Area temperatures in the 90s. "We had the full gambit of temperature and weather," she said. "But overall we had very good weather, and mainly stabilized in the 70s and 80s."

A successful outreach to schools was also effective, where free tickets were given out to grammar school students. "More than 24,000 tickets were given out and those kids brought their parents. It was the first year for the program, and we had a bigger turnout than we anticipated. Schools are still in session in June, so we were able to reach them."

Being in the 'heart of Silicon Valley' means that agriculturalis not as emphasized as it is in the majority of California's county fairs, but educational exhibits abounded in the fair, albeitwith a tangible tech angle. Findley said, "We're a giant STEM fair!"

According to Findley,  the fair featured "Tech Action Zone," and a partnership with First Robotics featured extensive robotic demonstrations, DIY Science Exhibits, including interactive demonstrations with devices such as 3-D printers, and a Rainforest Exhibit, complete with mammals, reptiles, birds and invertebrates totaling more than 35 species.

Advertising Shift
The advertising budget for the San Mateo County Fair was $250,000,  about the same as was spent in 2016., although with significant shifts in allocation. In 2017, the budget was distributed in Outdoor: 33 percent; Print: 10 percent; Digital: 5 percent; TV: 32 percent; Radio: 20 percent.

In 2017, the biggest shit was towards digital, and away from local radio (which was 28 percent of the budget), and more significantly, television - which accounted for 26 percent of spending. "Our online advertising has increased," she said. "But there is less traditional TV watching. Millennials and young families are cutting the cord. We are shifting the spending. We did much more digital advertising than we had in the past, especially with Facebook, Instagram and YouTube."

Butler Amusements provided the midway for San Mateo County Fair, which they have done since 2010, according to Findley. The midway featured 30 rides, including 12 Spectaculars, 10 Majors and eight Kiddies.  New rides included Ex-Scream Machine Roller Coaster and Rock Star, and after a three-summer hiatus, the return of The Freak Out. "Midway Gross Revenue was $900,000 and that was up from 2016," said Findley.
 
Healthy Food Fare
The fair had 24 food vendors, plus four food trucks that only operated on weekends. Fair food included Alligator on a Stick, Fried Kool Aid, and The Healthy Food Fare, a program unique to this fair. Responding to community requests, most fairs are encouraging some healthier options, which more often than not is merely including a few vendors specializing in non-fair options - such as Vegan food. But San Mateo takes this initiative  step further. While traditional fair cuisine - corn dogs, funnel cake, etc.- is abundant, healthy options are not just the purview of a few specialty stands. Every vendor at the San Mateo County must also offer a healthy option. "Health and nutrition are important to our community, so we as a fair looked at  our vendors, we ask all our food vendors to have one healthy item for sale," she said. 

Findley adds, "Corndogs and Lemonade are still incredibly popular Fair foods."
Some new cuisine items at the fair included: A Pop Above- selling gourmet kettle korn and artisanal cotton candy; Milo's Concession, a pizzeria with a new, crowd-captivating two-story food trailer, and Drink A Fruit, which served  fruit drinks that are blended with ice and served in the hollowed out fruit - pineapple, melon, and watermelon. Findley said this beverage was "one of the most popular items especially popular during our heat wave."




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