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Universal Fairs to Produce 6 events in 2008
Amusements Of America, Murphy Brothers, Belle City providing carnival midways

2/27/2008

By Ron Weber

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2007 was Expo South's first venture into the fair business. For 14 years, the company had produced boat shows, arts and craft shows and hunting shows in Memphis, Nashville and Little Rock. With the sale of their hunting and arts and craft shows, the company began looking at other opportunities in the entertainment market.

Preisdent Mark Lovell, noticing that Memphis "had been having its fair share of crime problems" in the city, decided to open a new event, The Delta Fair and Music Festival, in the suburbs of Memphis. The goal was to capture many of the families that had migrated to the suburbs and provide them with a world class fair closer to home.

Using their marketing and promotional experience from their trade shows, Expo South produced an event which Lovell said received "very positive press from local newspapers and T.V."

Billing itself as a safer alternative to the 151 year-old Mid-South Fair, the upstart Delta Fair and Music Festival reported a first time attendance of 170,000 on a budget of just over $1,000,000.

In addition to the Delta Fair and Music Festival, Expo South also produced a second event in Tupelo at the Lee County Agri-Center. The smaller event drew about 30,000 patrons over the 10 day run.

Building on the success of their first two fair ventures, Expo South developed a new division dedicated solely to fairs; "Universal Fairs". The company will produce 6 events this year and Lovell says they have a list of "8 to 12 more" for future events.

Cinco De Mayo - Nashville

Starting the season will be a Cinco de Mayo event in Nashville at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. The event will be the first produced by the organization for a largely Hispanic audience.

Ironically, the event will be held April 30 - May 4, missing the actual holiday on May 5. Lovell said most businesses would not be giving their workers May 5 off and April 30th was a hispanic holiday called "Children's Day". The company hopes to offer free admission to the event for the occasion.

Entertainment will be spanish-language music including several national bands, bull-riding, a rodeo, pig races and appearances by Dora the Explorer, Diego and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

Lovell said he has booked Belle City Amusements and they will be bringing 25 rides, game booths and food stands. Admission has not yet been determined. Lovell anticipates an event budget in excess of $250,000 for the five day festival.

Rocky Mountain State Fair

For their second event of the season, Universal Fairs will be producing the Rocky Mountain State Fair in Colorado Springs, CO at the Norris Penrose Event Center, August 15 - 24.

The Event Center has an outdoor arena that seats 5,700 people and an exhibit hall where Lovell hopes to place 150 exhibitors.

Murphy Brothers Expositions will be bringing a 50-ride midway. Jerry Murphy, owner of the show was the driving force behind the Colorado event. Lovell met with Murphy during the International Association Of Fairs and Expositions convention in Las Vegas and a hole in his schedule on his way out west was quickly filled by the Colorado Springs fair.

The Rocky Mountain State Fair will have 3 or 4 nights of name entertainment, all free with admission. The Colorado State Motocross Finals will also be held at the fair. Other entertainment will include a petting zoo, racing pigs, circus acts and a demolition derby.

Admission is tentatively scheduled at $8 for adults, $5 for youth and free for kids under 3. Lovell said the fair will have wristbands offered every day. Both wristbands and fair admission will be discounted during the week using coupon promotions.

The Return of The Delta Fair and Music Festival

Universal Fairs will kick off their southern set of fairs with the return of the Delta Fair and Music Festival, August 29 - Sept. 7. All four of the southern fairs produced by the organization will be played by Amusements Of America this year, replacing Geren Rides.

Amusements Of America will be bringing 55 rides and Lovell is looking forward to working with another prestigious carnival company. Lovell said that both Murphy Brothers and Amusements Of America were on the list of the companies playing the top 50 fairs in North America and he has looking forward to having them at his events.

"Phil and Dominic (Vivona) of Amusements Of America both visited the Delta Fair and Music Festival last year", said Lovell. "Unfortunately, I was too busy to meet with them so I flew to Lawrenceville, GA to the Gwinnett County Fair to see their show".

At the Georgia event Lovell also met Phil's son Robbie and Dominic's son Marco. He later met Dominic's eldest son, Dominic Jr., at the North Carolina State Fair. The two organizations inked a deal for the 2008 Delta Fair soon thereafter.

At the IAFE convention in Las Vegas, Universal Fairs and Amusements Of America worked on promotions and logistics and Lovell introduced some ideas for additional events.

New to the Delta Fair and Music Festival this year will be a songwriting conference with some big name artists Lovell could not yet reveal. Also added to the lineup will be culinary exhibits, arts and craft exhibits, cooking and baking competitions and quilting contests. Lovell said he was approached by several people interested in producing these traditional exhibits for the fair after they experienced the event for the first time last year.

Sticking with the notion that "people like to see stuff tore up", Lovell said the fair will be adding additional demolition derbies and tractor pulls. The fair will also see the return of headline entertainment, pig racing, petting zoos, commercial exhibits and dozens of food stands.

Alabama State Fair?

The Verizon Wireless Music Center in Pelham, Alabama will be the site for the event Lovell hopes to call the Alabama State Fair. The event is scheduled Sept. 19 - 28, 2008.

Lovell plans to capitalize on the same strategy employed with the Delta Fair and hold the event out of the heart of the city in the suburbs. Pelham is located several miles south of Birmingham in Shelby County.

"We will be using the same template as we used for the Delta Fair", said Lovell. The company is working with Live Nation for headline entertainment and the event will have traditional fair entertainment and exhibits like the Delta Fair.

Amusements Of America will be bringing a 50 ride midway.

Tupelo Fair

After a first year fair at the Lee County Agri-Center and Entertainment Complex, Universal Fairs decided to move to a new home in Tupelo. The Bancorp South Arena will be the new location for the Tupelo Fair, Oct. 3 - 12, 2008

Lovell said the new location is "right across from the old fairgrounds where Elvis used to play". Tupelo was home to a fair for many years until 2006. Universal Fairs revived a small version of the fair in 2007 and this year in their new location Lovell is hoping for an attendance of 50,000 to 60,000.

Amusements Of America will be bringing 35 rides for the midway. The fair will also have concerts, a petting zoo, pig racing and strolling acts which Lovell says are very important to the success of the fair. "The families love seeing that type of entertainment", he said.

Middle Tennessee State Fair

Middle Tennessee State University's Tennessee Miller Coliseum will host the all-new Middle Tennessee State Fair, Oct. 22 - 26. Opened in 2003 at a cost of $21million, the venue is home to national and international horse shows.

Originally scheduled for two weekends, the coliseum had a conflict the first weekend, resulting in a shortened five-day event.

Lovell said they will make use of the coliseum for concerts and bull riding. The arena has a seating capacity of just under 5,000.

In addition to the arena space, the facility also has a trade show area where commercial exhibits will be displayed. Amusements Of America will be providing a 40 ride carnival.

Lovell said the area around Murfreesboro is growing rapidly and he hoped the event would be well positioned to capture the family market. If all goes well in 2008, the fair will likely be expanded to a 10 day run.

A planned 7th event for Universal Fairs in Tuscaloosa was removed from the schedule recently when negotiations fell through for a suitable location. Lovell admitted that six fairs in one year, including four new events, was an ambitious schedule. He believes Universal Fairs has the personnel and experience to produce great events at each location.

Looking ahead to future growth he said "we can build it (the company) as big or as fast as the people we come across". "We have about 10 other possible locations we are looking at."

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