Tampa - The Florida State Fair recorded a very successful 2008 event, drawing 490,513 through the gates, a 7% increase from 2007. The independent ride midway grossed just a hair under 4 million at $3,919,469. Food and games are booked on a rental basis so grosses for these segments were not available.
Florida State Fair Authority officials believed the increased attendance was the result of better headline entertainment and excellent weather conditions in 2008. Gate admission was $10 for adults 12 and older, $5 for ages 6 - 11 and free for kids 5 and under. Tickets were also sold at a discount in advance of the event for $6 for 12 and over, and $4 for ages 6- 11.
For the first time, the fair used an electronic ticketing system called TyTix owned by Gene Tylander. It is the same system used by other fairs including the
South Florida Fair and Central Florida Fair. The system met the fair's expectations during the event.
The 2008 Florida State Fair featured 91 rides and more than 200 games and attractions throughout the grounds. Fred Brown, Director of Operations for the Florida State Fair, reviews all application for rides, games, food concessions and straight sales before participants are selected. He is also responsible for the layout of the various fair midways. Brown has been with the Fair Authority for 28 years. Prior to working at the fair he honed his talents as an independent concessionaire operator and midway manager for 15 years.
The Fair's midway showcased two new roller coasters this year, bringing the total number of coasters on the midway to five. "I have never seen a state fair with four major roller coaster rides and to my knowledge, this is the first time across the U.S. that a fair has had this many coasters at once. The Florida State Fair has the largest, independent midway in the southeast and we are always excited to bring new additions to our Midway", said Brown.
The "Hydro Shock" roller coaster, formerly known as the RC48 roller coaster, was booked by Wade Shows and the G-force roller coaster, booked by ARM, were the two new exciting rides on the midway this year.
The "Hydro Shock" was named by Chris Nichols, a 15-year-old teenager from Lutz, Florida, who won a $500 cash prize as part of the fair's "You Name It" roller coaster contest. The ride was the largest, portable, non-looping coaster to ever debut at a state fair. Prior to debuting at the 2008 Florida State Fair, the RC48 roller coaster had been in storage for several years after running at Morey's Pier in New Jersey. It was the first time the ride had been featured at any state fair and Wade Shows plans to take it around the country to other major events.
"We were the first major carnival to participate in the independent midway here in 1992 and we are glad to be back to the same level we were after our return four years ago", said Frank Zaitshik, president of Wade Shows. "We hope to improve the quality and quantity of our rides here next year".
Other carnivals having a presence at the Florida State Fair included Reithoffer Shows whose top grossing piece at the fair was their Wild Maus coaster said Rick Reithoffer. Reithoffer said they had an excellent fair with their equipment.
The show is looking to book in some new and different equipment for the 2009 Florida State Fair. Recently, they purchased a new Kite Flyer from Zamperla and a One Truck Himalaya from Wisdom which is set to be delivered in July. Reithoffer said buying anything European is just not feasible right now with the exchange rates being so high.
Reithoffer reported that the show had a great run in Naples at the Collier County Fair and in Ft. Myers where he heaped praise upon the committee there. "They have been doing a great job with the fair and it has been improving every year that we play it", he said.
Another happy participant on the independent midway was J.J. Murphy and his Mighty Bluegrass Shows. The top MBGS piece was the Dream Machine. "It had an excellent location on the main midway across from Wade's Hit-In-2000", said Murphy. Other rides from MBGS included the Big Ben, Power Surge, Ring Of Fire, Tilt, Scrambler, and Wacky Worm. Murphy said the first Friday of the fair was exceptionally good. "All public schools in Hillsborough County had the day off and the fair gave all kids free admission. They ran a POP special that day which was very successful".
Several other shows provided attractions for the midway. Wood Entertainment, Deggeller Attractions, S&T Magic, Arnold's Amusements, Dreamland Amusements, Mike Lauther, Wonderland Amusements and F&B Attractions all had a significant presence on the midway.
Advance pricing for ride tickets (30 tickets per sheet) was $24. Armbands were $20 in advance. During the Fair ride tickets are sold at $20 for 20 tickets or 4 ride tickets for $5. Armbands are $25 good on only 5 select days.
There were 200 food concessionaires participating in the 2008 Florida State Fair. The largest vendors were: Netterfield's with a total of 12 stands, O'Briens with 10 stands and Best Around Concessions, Fun Food, Baker Foods, and Wade Shows all with six food stands.
The fair said that based upon general comments they received from their food concessionaires grosses appeared to be up from 2007. Todd Desgranges of Stuart's Confections concurred. "We were up a little over 10% from last year", he said. Desgranges said he was adding a second popcorn stand to his Florida State Fair presentation next year. He recently purchased two additional popcorn trailers from Butch Netterfield bringing his total to four trailers.
The fair credited headline entertainment as one of the major reasons for the attendance increase in 2008. All of the 2008 Fair's headline entertainment took place indoors at the Sweetbay Entertainment Hall that seats nearly 4,000 people.
One of the first headline acts of the fair was "Glitz! - A Las Vegas Revue," presented by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The revue featured three 45-minute shows daily from February 7-13, during the first seven days of the fair.
The family-friendly musical was custom-produced for the Florida State Fair by Four Star Entertainment, Inc., whose clients include The Tropicana Casino, Lady Luck Casino and Six Flags Amusement Parks. Fairgoers enjoyed sequined dancers, musical tributes and amazing celebrity impersonators including Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Shania Twain, and Madonna.
Supported by a special two-day promotion in January, the Country Gold Tour™, returned to the fair on February 14 for two shows at 12 and 4 p.m. The Country Gold Tour™ 2008 featured Leroy Van Dyke, Jim Ed Brown, Helen Cornelius, Bobby Bare, Steve and Rudy Gatlin (The Gatlin Brothers), Narvel Felts, Ronnie Prophet, Moe Bandy, and T.G. Sheppard. Despite being the only act that required a separate concert fee of $10, the concert drew a large crowd.
The fair did some event marketing tie-ins for a 2-day only discount sale to promote the concert. This increased our advance concert ticket sales in the month of January and helped pack the house for the Country Gold TourTM.
Another headline event was FCW Wrestling featuring WWE Stars of Tomorrow on February 15. The Sweetbay Entertainment Hall was transformed into a wrestling ring with matches at 6 and 8 p.m. Fairgoers got to see a 20-man Battle Royal, a Florida heavyweight title match, a diva title match, and a tag-team title match with WWE Tag-Team Champions John "The Lizard King" Morrision and Mike "The Miz" Mizanin against Ted DiBiase, Jr. and "Handsome" Heath Miller. "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes also made a special appearance.
On the following day, Elvis invaded the building. Again and again … and again. The Elvis Extravaganza Impersonator National Finals headlined the last weekend of the fair on February 16 and 17.
The Elvis Extravaganza featured the best Elvis Impersonators from all across the nation competing in Tampa for the national title. Contestants were judged on vocals, authenticity, appearance, and delivery backed up by an 8 piece show band. Cash prizes were awarded to the Best Overall Elvis ($2,500), Best Sound-a-Like ($1,000), and Best Look-a-Like ($1,000).
To promote the event, the fair held an Elvis impersonator photo shoot four months prior to the event. Elvis impersonators were invited to attend the photo shoot with the chance to be featured in the Fair's 2008 ad campaign. Ads appeared in Sweetbay Supermarkets, on outdoor billboards, in print ads and live promotions on TV and radio. The very successful promotion created a huge buzz in the community amongst Elvis fanatics.
The final headline event of the fair was held February 18; Sunshine Skate 2008 - The Florida State Roller Derby Championship. This event returned due to popular demand for a second year in a row. The tournament featured six Florida all-women's roller derby teams competing for the title of State Champion with prizes awarded to the first, second, and third place teams.
Headline entertainment, with the exception of Country Gold, attractions and performances were free with a fair admission ticket. Denise Shreaves, Marketing and Public Relations Manager for the fair said they "received tremendous feedback from visitors who were excited to be able to see such spectacular entertainment at no additional cost".
To increase its marketing outreach to Hispanic customers, the fair decided to reinvent the way they utilized an outdoor exhibit space that was not generating revenue. In its place, they created a Hispanic Village. The fair received positive feedback from visitors, vendors and concessionaires who were excited to see new entertainment in the Dome and authentic Hispanic foods representing various countries. The increased traffic to this area also benefited vendors nearby who reported increased sales over 2007's fair.
The Florida State Fair has a strong agricultural and educational component. Their Ag Venture program brings school children to the fairgrounds on a year-round basis for a chance to touch, taste, and see Florida agriculture in a fun-filled atmosphere. Hillsborough County Ag in the Classroom administers the Ag Venture program, sponsored by the Florida State Fair Authority, 4-H/Hillsborough County Extension, Hillsborough County Farm Bureau, and Florida's Agriculture Commodity Organizations.
The Florida State Fair also has a school field trip program during the fair that includes many Ag Venture activities. They have 13 educational exhibit areas at the fair including an Ag Venture tent where students can participate in hands-on activities.
With strong marketing and promotions, headline entertainment and beautiful weather, the 2008 Florida State Fair was one to be remembered.
Click here to download the 2008 Florida State Fair Ride Gross Report