The 2017 Orange County Fair (OC Fair) recorded an attendance of 1,334,753, comparable to the 2016 audited final OC Fair attendance of 1,344,996. Fair official announced that gross revenue was up approximately 2 percent over 2016.
But if this growth seems to have reached a plateau, it's a flattening that indicates a sustainable following. "We've been relatively flat for a few years, it's not our goal to drive a double digit attendance increase," said Kathy Kramer, CEO, OC Fair. "We have a comfortable capacity, and we want to keep that going. "
In fact, the number she looks at is not the attendance figure, but the outc
ome surveys conducted of fairgoers. "The 127th annual OC Fair was a tremendous success in so many ways. We increased our overall guest enjoyment rating, scoring 4.65 of out five according to our 10-day patron survey."
Her focus this year was looking not at overall attendance as a much as creating a new Yield Management Strategy, which targeted specific times to increase attendance, such as a "Best Deal Ever" promotion on Saturday and Sunday mornings, where from 11:00am-1:00pm, admission and carnival rides were both half price. "This increased attendance during these times by 30 percent. It also helped us run operationally smoother transitions during the day, and spread out the rush."
Weekends are always the prime time for any fair, but even on Saturday and Sunday, the evening hours always overwhelmingly more populated than earlier in the day. By looking at specific time periods and implementing Yield Management Strategies targeting time periods, "we shifted the customer traffic. On the weekends, 11-2 are somewhat soft periods. We encouraged a value opportunity and shifted our attendance."
In addition to new Yield Management Strategies, the marketing include a focus on Orange County, A partnership with Orange County Transit led to a launch of an expanded park and ride program that included nine different locations with "door to door service.
Farm Fresh Fun
It's the third fair for Kramer at the helm of this 23-day event. One of her long term goals is to reinvigorate the agriculture roots of the fair. This year's fair theme was Farm Fresh Fun which was rolled into various fair activities, such as the fair's 30-acre working farm and its 23 days of Livestock action and several culinary demos. "We integrated the Farm Fresh Fair theme throughout the fair, and had several people attend our demonstrations on food canning and dehydration," she said. "We taught all the urban folks about California agriculture. Farm Fresh Fun, three year strategy, very focused ag message, do a patron survey, this is part of why the fair was so outstanding. With our focus on agriculture this year, 88 percent of our fairgoers said they increased their knowledge of the subject during their visit. That is truly making a difference through education and that's a key part of our mission.
She added that "we are also thrilled to have, once again, put on the best party of the summer by providing great entertainment, food, shopping and Farm Fresh Fun for our guests."
In terms of budget and media mix, Kramer said it was "on par" with last year, with a "slight increase" in budget and a "consistent volume" in what outlets were used. The fair developed a "an adorable logo, of a cow licking an in an ice cream cone".
Social media marketing saw "a pretty consistent uptick," said Kramer. "We did a lot of contesting. What we did on social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter, was very organic to the fair. We had a lot of human interest stories. Social media hits the core demographic of our fairgoers."
One example of this new "contesting' on social media - was a contest to win an inaugural ride on the fair's sky ride the day before the fair opened. "We created a unique experience for the inaugural ride on the fair, "said Kramer.
The inaugural ride was integrated into a sneak peek at the fair, which also included a full tour, all of which was captured on social media. This sneak peek was the first "pre-opening" event conducted by the fair. "We had more lead time to create these events, and they are important for their uniqueness and that they include our fairgoers," said Kramer "We created it to get buzz and that took that buzz all the way through opening day."
La Grande Wheel XL
On opening day, the buzz creation initiatives continued on the center of midway with the debut of the La Grande Wheel XL by the Orange County Fair's long time carnival company, Ray Cammack Shows (RCS). Also known as the La Grande XL Observation Wheel and the R50XL. La Grande Wheel XL is considered the largest traveling observation wheel in North America and was manufactured in Europe by Ronald Bussink of Professional Rides AG. It is transported on 22 semi-trailers and requires an 80-ton crane and a 10 person assembly team. The wheel features 36, glass encased air conditioned cabins accommodating up to eight riders each, offering a 360 degree view of the Southern California landscape. The wheel also has 500,000 LED lights and a 10-foot convex LED screen on its center axle.
The fair and ride company gave this impressive piece of equipment a debut it deserves - a ribbon cutting ceremony - fueled by a Social Media contest where the prize was to be among the first to ride this enormous, vividly illuminated amusement ride. In a spectacularly publicized photo-op, winners received an over-sized Ticket to the first Orange County Fair fairgoers to ride the new, over-sized ferris wheel.
"We created giant, golden orange, souvenir tickets," said Kramer. These tickets were given to 100 people who were alerted to the ribbon cutting event via social media, and they joined the fair board and other luminaries. "We wanted to have fairgoers to be part of the inaugural ride event for this new RCS wheel."
"It was a once in a life time deal and it worked out wonderfully," said Chris Lopez, Vice President, RCS. "The giant wheel is always our signature ride, so we introduced the new version in a big splash. The people really loved the Willy Wonka Golden Tickets."
The RCS midway featured 67 rides, 68 games and 20 food stands. According to Lopez, this Golden State event has two challenges - the space is somewhat limited, "we use a lot of higher capacity rides and as we position the rides, we know what we have to deal with. The real challenge is how we well we use the entire space."
The other challenge is that for the most part, this lengthy fair is basically an evening event. "Orange County is a night time fair, so you have to adjust your personnel shifts. But the entertainment they had, like the Steve Miller Band, were great. We did promotions where there were free rides on the new Wheel with a concert ticket, and that brings people out of the show into the midway, They had great entertainment this year."
Other new rides for the RCS midway at the fair included the Endeavor and the Rocking Rodeo Fun House. Of course the attention grabber was the La Grande Wheel, but RCS also included its "signature ride," the Giant Wheel. "It was the first time we had two giant wheels operating at once, and that went very well," said Lopez. "We also added two new group games, including a new Whack-a-Mole. We also have new canvas, and all new signage, and several new food items, like Sonora Dogs, Cheeto Corn Dogs, Nitro Kettle Corn, and Nitro Bubble Tea. "
He agreed with Kramer's assessment about the fair finding a "sweet spot" in terms of attendance, with the emphasis on sustaining a strong turnout. He pointed out that last year was a record year for the carnival. "We met last year's numbers, and we are thrilled about that because we had a record breaking year, so the fair continues to meet our expectations," said Lopez.
Entertainment Chess Game
Entertainment of both the free and ticketed categories proved to be a strong component of this year's Orange County Fair. Five different stages offered free entertainment, including 674 community entertainment groups performing throughout each day of the fair. The Hangar showcased 16 tribute bands, along with The Marshall Tucker Band, Blue Oyster Cult, Trevor Hall, Metalachi, two shows by Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez, plus 300 gamers in the iBUYPOWER GameFest & Tournament Series. At the Action Sports Arena night, according to the fair's press release, offered several spectacle events: "totaling 26 action-packed shows. 63 vehicles were smashed in the demo derbies!"
The Toyota Summer Concert Series at Pacific Amphitheatre hosted 28 shows, including five pre-Fair shows that included Echo & the Bunny Men with the Violent Femmes and even a special show that mashed up the Pacific Symphony with the B-52s. Other ticketed shows at the amphitheater included: Retro Futura, America's Premier 80s Concert with "six blast-from-the-past bands," and the Fab Four celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by playing it in its entirety. Other highlights included Kenny Rogers Final World Tour, Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton, and Jake Owen.
Kramer admitted that the budget for entertainment increased about 10 percent, due to rising costs and artist fees. "We did increase our allocations for booking entertainment, but our customers expect the big names," she said. "We are working on next year's entertainment as we speak. We have so much competition, especially from new festivals. Our team is already working on booking next year and that started before this year's fair opened. But we've built a solid reputation, we and fit nicely in routing. It's always a chess game filling dates."