Raleigh - 858,611 came through the gates during the Oct. 12 - 21 North Carolina State Fair, shattering the record of 846,724 set in 2000. "We had warm, sunny weather except for some rain showers on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 18 & 19)", said NC State Fair Manager Wesley Wyatt. "Most importantly, we had a safe fair", he added.
Wyatt also pointed to the extremely hot weather North Carolina endured this summer as a contributing factor, with families ready to enjoy an outdoor activity without the extreme heat. Five sellout shows in the arena also helped to spark interest in the fair this year.
Fair advertising is a mix of electronic, print and outdoor purchases. As with many fairs today, the event spent an increasing amount of money on web-based advertising and promotions. Partnering with private partners is another way
the fair gets the word out. They developed several promotions that were advertised with private partners.
Adult gate pricing rose from $6 to $7 in 2007, while the children's ticket (ages 6 -12) remained the same at $2. Advance sale pricing stayed the same for adults, groups and children at $5, $4.75 and $1 respectively. The fair has a very high ratio of paid attendance to total attendance with 715,662 paid. Food Lion's Hunger relief day attendance was 39,508. On this day, guests could be admitted free by bringing four canned goods to the fair. Proceeds from the promotions benefited the Food Bank of Central and Eastern Carolina. Over 2 million pounds of food have been donated over the 12 years the event has taken place at the fair.
As Wyatt noted, Dorton Arena acts did very well at the fair this year. Sellouts were Mercy Me ($10), Paula Deen ($20), Josh Turner ($10), Daughtrey ($10) and Kelly Pickler ($5).
Other acts were Sara Evans ($15.00), Ruben Studdard ($10.00), Anthony Hamilton ($15.00) Steven Curtis Chapman ($10.00) and Trace Adkins ($20.00). Free entertainment was provided by Ty-rone & Friends, Sayer-McShane, Magic 4 , Raggs Kids Club Band, Dale Jones, Smithfield the Painting Pig, Carrie McQueen, Circle "C" Racing Pigs, Keith King Bicycle Stunt Show, Washboard Willie and Wanda, Statueviva, Al The Artist, Leon Jacobs and The Wells Family. Fireworks were provided by Zambelli. Wyatt said they were "the best display the fair has ever had". Paula Deen, the Food Network celebrity, was an unusual pick for an arena act. She paid off with a sellout and created quite a media buzz.
The fair had a contest with Subway Restaurants to create a new sub sandwich. Subway's advertising augmented the fair's own ad campaign. there was also a contest with the county high schools to create decorated and themed fiberglass animals. All of these promotions were well received.
Food for the fair is booked on a front footage basis so numbers were not available. Wyatt said his reports said grosses were about on par with previous years. The fair books about 200 food vendors and some of the larger operators include McBride Concessions, Salad Boys, Dr. Vegetable, O'Brien and Beavers Concessions. The fair also has many church locations that provide food and seating for guests.
On the midway, Power's Great American Midway returned for a second year with rides supplemented by Wade Shows. The two shows fielded what was billed as a North American record of 113 rides at a single fair. 112 were reported open and operating at noon on opening day.
The ride gross from Powers Great American Midways was not available to the fair. Their payment structure is based on per capita paid attendance. The carnival received a payment reduction for two spectacular rides, the "Lucky Lizzie" and "G-Force" as provided for in their contract.
Wyatt said the basic footprint of the carnival did not change this year. The fair made a $1.6 million improvement to the parking lot beside the Scott Building. A complete makeover was done that allowed better setup for the carnival and independent concessionaires. It included new wiring, lighting, water, sanitary and storm sewer, grading, paving and landscaping.
When asked about the future of the midway contract, Wyatt said we may have some news on that front before Thanksgiving.
The North Carolina State Fair has a 12 million dollar budget. The fairgrounds is also utilized throughout the year for off-fair rentals. The events during the busy off-season familiarize additional people with the facility while benefiting the fair financially.
Some of the key people assisting Wyatt with fair administration are Mike Pleasant, Ray Frost and Letrice Vines. Ms. Vines takes care of the booking and helps select independent concessions. Mr. Frost stays busy laying out the midways, spotting independent concessionaires and is the main point of contact with the carnival. Mr. Pleasant has responsibility of the arena and grounds entertainment during the fair.
Officials are already busy planning for the 2008 fair, October 17 to 26. They will be undertaking another infrastructure project between the grandstand, arena and major exhibit buildings. This is the core area for the independent food concessionaires. It will be a complete renovation of all utilities with the addition of new equipment, new paving, new lighting and a "food court" concept in the interior space behind current locations.