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150th Nebraska State Fair Reaches New Highs

9/15/2017

By Mary Weber

Photo courtesy of Medium.com

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The 2017 Nebraska State Fair saw a 5% attendance increase from 2016; 361,107 people visited the fair in 2016 and 379,108 people came to the fair in 2017. 

According to Nebraska State Fair General Manager, Joseph McDermott, the 2017 state fair was focused on celebrating the 150th birthday of the state of Nebraska. Guests at the Nebraska State Fair enjoyed plenty of food, fun, and entertainment making it one of the best Nebraska State Fairs yet. 

Regular, adult admission into the Nebraska State fair is $12 per person and children are $3 a person. The fair also offers a season pass gate admission for $55: a ticket that allows one person one entry for all 11 days of the fair. 

There were also several admission special days where fair guests could coPhoto By Medium.comme to the Nebraska State Fair at a discounted rate. On Monday, August 28th and Wednesday, August 30th, adult gate admission was $5. The fair also featured Two Dollar Tuesday on August 29th; on that day, adult and gate admission was $2 and rides were $2 each.  Lastly, $3 Thursday on August 31st permitted adults and children to enter the fair for just $3. Providing a season pass for admission and discounted rates throughout the weekdays of the fair made attending the Nebraska State Fair more affordable for families, helping increase attendance.

The first weekend of the 2017 Nebraska State Fair had two, large outdoor concerts. The opening weekend concerts featured Brad Paisley and Pentatonix. 

According to McDermott, both concerts were a huge success; "Our outdoor concert venue holds about 13,000 people and Pentatonix sold just about 13,000 tickets," says McDermott. After opening weekend, the concerts move to the indoor venue. Performers such as King And Country, Lynard Skynyrd, Joan Jett, and Cole Swindell drew big crowds and kept the energy consistent throughout the fair. Tickets are required for the MainStage concerts and all groups featured this year sold very well according to McDermott. 

In addition to main stage concerts, the Nebraska State Fair featured a draft horse hitch show on August 25th, 26th, and 27th as well as a draft horse pull on September 1st. Tickets tot he horse hitch/pull cost $5 per person. There were several grounds acts for families to enjoy free with admission at this year's fair. A BMX freestyle stunt show, Dan Dan the Farmer Man, racing pigs, the Great American Duck Races, and Sinbad High Dive Show were just a few of the acts guests could enjoy on the fairgrounds. When asked how the fair decides which entertainment acts to book each year, McDermott says, "We try to mix it up. Dan Dan the Farmer Man, the duck races, and the high dive show are new but there are some favorites we bring back from year to year."

Wade Shows provides the carnival midway for the Nebraska State Fair. This year, Wade Shows brought a great variety of rides from super spectacular attractions to family rides for the whole family. Gary Zaitshik, Wade Shows' Chief Operating Officer, felt that this was a great year for both Wade Shows and the Nebraska State Fair in general. "We had really nice weather throughout the fair with the exception of one storm that rolled through the fairgrounds in the middle of the night," says Zaitshik. 

The wind speed of the storm caused the Wade Shows office top to come off and blew down some ride fencing and privacy screening put up by the Wade Shows team. Zaitshik and other members of the Wade Shows crew were able to take a few hours and reset the equipment to where it needed to be before the fair even opened. 

Some of the more popular attractions provided by Wade Shows were the Super Cyclone roller coaster, the Street Fighter 360, and the Giant Ferris Wheel. "The Giant Wheel was very popular with families. It is in a great location and anyone riding it can see most of the fairgrounds while on the wheel and get a really cool lay of the land," says Zaitshik. 

The Sky Tram was also popular with Nebraska State Fair guests. This year, Wade Shows featured a ride all day wristband exclusively for the sky tram for just $10. According to Zaitshik, this was a successful promotion and something they will definitely consider continuing in the future. 

Zaitshik also mentioned that Wade Shows offers Mega Passes and unlimited ride wristbands at a discounted rate in advance of the fair. The advanced sales (especially the Mega Pass) are very popular with customers and the advance sale seems to increase year to year according to Zaitshik. "The Nebraska State Fair does a great job; there is plenty to see and do here. We have a great partnership with Joseph McDermott and his team we work very well together and as The Nebraska State Fair grows, Wade Shows grows with it," says Zaitshik.

4-H and FFA groups have a strong presence at the Nebraska State Fair. In fact, 4-H and FFA have their own building on the fairgrounds which features domestic exhibits for competitions in fine arts, foods, needlework, photography, and many more. 

"Livestock dominates the second weekend of the fair," says McDermott. However, livestock was certainly pervasive throughout the entire fair. Opening weekend featured draft horses, dairy cattle, sheep, boer goats, llamas, alpacas, Texas Longhorns, dairy goats, and open class poultry and waterfowl in the fair's new livestock barns. 

Part of the livestock sections included informational signs and displays for guests to learn more about different cattle breeds, sheep, swine, and rabbits. The exhibits also featured Nebraska's largest steer and boar. A birthing pavilion gave guests the opportunity to view the birth of new animals at the fair and the milking parlor hosted milking demonstrations daily. 

A unique feature in the livestock portion of the Nebraska State Fair are the cattle dog performances which took place on Monday and Tuesday of the fair. The performing dogs are trained to work cattle on a ranch. Dogs compete against one another for prizes and The Nebraska State Fair has become the premier Cattle Dog Trial in the country. Labor Day Weekend was particularly busy for the livestock areas of the fair. 4-H and FFA competitions in beef, sheep, swine, goats, poultry, and rabbits took place that weekend.

McDermott says that a majority of the fair's advertising is digital these days. "We moved from Lincoln to Grand Island 8 years ago and make sure we continue to advertise to the entire state," says McDermott. The digital advertising is housed in a massive social media campaign mainly on Facebook and Twitter. The fair keeps people updated through posts and also hosts contests to give away admission and concert tickets to people who enter. In addition to digital advertising, the Nebraska State Fair invests in tv, radio, and some newspaper advertising. 

The Nebraska State Fair generates about 50% of their budget from fair revenues and the other 50% comes from proceeds received from the Nebraska lottery. 

McDermott, having been in his position for 9 years relies on his full-time staff of 12 people and his team of 800-1000 volunteers who give about 12,000 hours of their time to make the Nebraska State Fair a success. "We focus on good value and customer service. These two things are very critical to a good fair experience and our volunteer program does a great job of providing that to our customers," says McDermott.

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