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Delaware State Fair Rebounds with 10 Percent Increase in Attendance

8/30/2017

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Jon Lloyd Jr.

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A new marketing campaign, a strong entertainment line up and more (but not completely) cooperative weather added up to a rebound for the Delaware State Fair this year. The 2017 Delaware State Fair enjoyed strong attendance with 287,632 fairgoers visiting, an increase of 10 percent, rebounding from a down year in 2016.

Last year, a heat wave was the main culprit discouraging folks to come through the gates, this year while a rain storm ruined opening day and the closing days and there was some heat, several nights were as cool as early Autumn, unusual for this time of year in a Mid-Atlantic state. 

Fair General Manager Bill DiMondi indicated that the Fair was blessed with a nice return to cooler temperatures, in spite of a rained out opening. "The combination of a cooler temps, a Photo By Jon Lloyd Jr.mix of very strong entertainment offerings, first class livestock and competitive exhibits and a supportive Fair community helped boost the attendance. This year's opening was pretty tough weather-wise [but] ...the return to cooler non-traditional fair weather brought tons of visitors some sporting sweaters at night, which is a rarity around these parts especially in July."

"People were wearing light jackets, and I can only remember maybe three occasions in my 11 years when people were wearing light jackets," said, Danny Aguilar,  Assistant General Manager and Marketing Director.

Big Names

The Delaware State Fair was highlighted by a very strong headline entertainment line up. 

For the second year in a row, the Fair featured a concert the day before the Fair officially opened. Up and coming country star Jon Pardi headlined with Chis Lane as an opener and helped kick off an extremely strong, country and classic-rock lineup at the M&T Bank Grandstand. Acts included Brantley Gilbert, which sold out as well as Darius Rucker, Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias, Rascal Flatts, Crowder, Foghat, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Pat Travers Band and Pure Prairie League. 

"Routing worked well this year for," said Aguilar.  "We are pretty consistent, and we got fortunate with the routing. There is a lot of competition for us, but this year festivals didn't overlap."

While entertainment costs may not be dropping, and between festivals and other venues vying for the same artists, it remains a sellers market for fairs, Aguilar emphasized that "our formula has remained pretty consistent, between country and rock and now contemporary Christian night. We also have built a reputation for having a strong facility, great catering for the artists backstage, so the musicians do like playing here." 

The fair has augmented the grandstand entertainment in two significant ways - VIP packages and aligning shows with many concertgoers beverage of choice - beer. This year was the 2nd year for the VIP Concert Package, which offered seating in the first few rows or a place in the pit coupled with VIP parking adjacent to the front gate, a voucher good for food and beverages in the Fair's Roost (Beer and Wine Court) along with access to a private raised concert viewing area, private bars and air-conditioned rest rooms. Aguilar noted that 3 shows' VIP packages were completely sold out several months before Fair and that he is already hard at work identifying additional amenities to include in next year's VIP concert packages.

Delaware Beer

It was also the third year run of The Delaware State Fair's Craft Beer Festival. The theme was the 70s and the original groups from that era performed, coinciding with the beer festival. The artisanal, local brewing movement sweeping the nation has taken hold even in  Delaware and the 2017 Delaware State Fair focused on local, Delaware beers. 

The Craft Beer Festival brought in over 25 brews from 11 Delaware based and two regional breweries for the tasting which ended the night with Fireworks presented by M&T Bank. The fair manager commented: "This was the absolute biggest craft beer festival that we have ever had. With over 4,000 craft beer enthusiasts and music of the 70's aficionados in attendance combined with all the best local craft beers we could find," said  Bill DiMondi. "We discovered our 'sweet spot' and plan to replicate this format for many years to come."

Other grandstand entertainment included Painted Pony PRCA Rodeo, Monster Trucks and  Demolition Derby. All ticketed events, the entertainment  at the fair attracted 50,000. 

July Tradition

The nostalgia of the event inspires many fairgoers, and this year's marketing theme echoed that notion: July Tradition. Aguilar said that the 2017 advertising/marketing budget was about $125,000, down about $5,000. About 40 percent of that budget was used for digital advertising and marketing, spearheaded by a multifaceted video programming, some of which was first filmed at last year's fear. The objective was to create an experiential marketing program through story telling, visuals and posts throughout the Facebook, Twitter YouTube and other social media platforms. 

"Videos are easier to share, and people like to see what happened at the fair," said Aguilar. " We had our FAA and 4-H giving guided barn tours, we had videos of food offerings, and rides. We had more than 900 gigs of video, and we made videos during the fair. We also used Facebook live a lot this year. We did a Facebook live with certain fair menu options."

In addition, "we worked closely with radio stations for giveaways and concert promotions."

The radio promotions also had a digital component, and the fair did a better job of working with the acts on social media. "On social media, engaging followers is what is effective. It became a lot easier for their fans and our fans to share content. We became more versatile on social media across the board with using video," said Aguilar.

Other Increases

The fair expanded it's grounds attraction, which included "Redhead Express", Comedian jugglers Matt Baker and Jeff Bradley. Other grounds entertainment included an appearance from Peppa Pig, Butterfly Encounter, Circus Hollywood,  racing pigs, a menagerie of exotic animals including Twiggs, the giraffe, camel rides and the popular Jurassic Dinosaur Adventure area. "In all, over the 10 days of fair, patrons were treated to over 1,133 hours of programmed entertainment which was provided at no additional cost beyond gate admission," said Aguilar. "We challenged our grounds entertainment to do videos for us, so they were a big part of our social media marketing too. We definitely increased the number of our free entertainment." 

The local economy has seemed more positive than last year, said Aguilar, adding, "people were spending, our concessionaires seemed very happy." 

Another bright economic note was seen inan increase in sponsorships-  the Delaware State Fair had a record 66 corporate sponsors this year, with new sponsors such as Alban Cat, Atlantis Homes, Cheerwine, DuPont Pioneer, Gootees Marin andTitos Vodka joining fair stalwarts such as M&T Bank, Food Lion, Hertrich Family of Auto Dealerships, Delaware Electric Cooperative and Discover Bank. "Continued support provided by sponsors allows the Fair to provide our patrons with a variety of great summertime entertainment and memories," said Aguilar.

Wade Down

While overall spending was robust and attendance saw a jump, a rained out opening and rainy closing negatively impacted the carnival. The Wade Shows midway featured 56 rides including 5 super-spectacular class rides such as The Big Wheel, the RC-48 steel roller coaster and Delusion

According to Frank Zaitshik, Wade Shows President, the Delusion was a sub-contracted arrangement with Dreamland Amusements. "It was a terrific hit," he said. In addition, the carnival company debuted a reconditioned Tea Cup ride. "We completed the refurbishment process and the ride was very well received."
He added that the midway was "probably our best presentation of equipment we ever had at the Delaware State Fair. Our new routing allows the Delaware State Fair to get the benefit of many pieces that we normally do not have at the fair."

Unfortunately, new pieces and more pieces cannot affect the weather, and with a rained out opening and rainy close, "we just couldn't make up the lost days. The last Saturday we had bad weather and that is difficult to make up."

In between, the cooler nights "were great for ridership." Zaitshik insisted, "It is a great state fair, and they are great partners to work with. They had a very successful advanced sale program.  If you look at the five year average, we are up at the fair. But our revenue this year did not reflect the increase in their attendance." 




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