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Ohio State Fair up over 2007
Viral Marketing helps lead the way


By Ron Weber

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Columbus, OH - The Ohio State Fair sailed to a final attendance of 809,321, up by about 3,000 people from 2007 numbers. Gate prices were raised to $10 for adults and $8 for youth and seniors. Despite the price hike at the door, advance sale tickets remained the same price available through Kroger, AAA and Ticketmaster outlets, giving fair customers a strong incentive to purchase tickets in advance.

Christina Leeds, Marketing Director for the Ohio State Fair said the event placed a special emphasis on the fair's value and proximity. One TV spot directly addressed rising gas prices and the low cost of admission for a world-class event close to home.

"Our marketing focused on two points: value of the Fair and an escape from the ordinary", said Leeds. "We understand there is serious competition for the entertainment dollar and continuously focus on the value and uniqueness of our event", she added. The fair offered a variety of discounts and special days, along with numerous opportunities for additional savings at the event in the form of free item giveaways and vendor coupons. Guests purchasing a concert ticket before arriving to the fair received free fair admission.

Getting the message out was even a little more difficult this year due to a small cut in the fair's marketing budget of about 3%. Leeds creatively turned to viral marketing to help make up some of the gap. "We offered a personalized electronic eCard that was widely used and talked about", said Leeds. The cards depict a fair scene where customers can insert their own picture. Some examples can be found on the fairs web site.

The fair's emphasis on viral marketing also included pages on social networking sites. Popular sites such as Facebook and MySpace are increasingly being used to reach teens and young adults in a fragmented media environment that faces stiff competition from new devices such as IPods and DVRs.

On the midway, Amusements Of America grossed over 1.8 million dollars, bringing over 70 rides and 40 games to the event. New rides this year included the Mondial Heartbreaker, Chance Inverter and Wisdom Viper. The fair also had an adult bumper boats.

This year also marked the debut of Amusements Of America's refurbished Wave Swinger. Dominic Vivona, Jr., CFO of Amusements Of America said the company was pleased with the way the ride turned out as well as the run they had at the Ohio State Fair. "We had a good run, ride gross was up and the Wave Swinger is a great ride to have back on the midway", he said.

Kiddieland was also reconfigured to improve the traffic flow through the area to the other parts of the grounds.

Luis Perez, Assistant General Manager said, "Amusements of America worked well with us to present a spectacular Midway. We had several new rides, along with a new layout for Kiddieland. We received lots of positive feedback from fairgoers."

Other segments of the event had good years as well. The fair's permanent sky glider was up 16% over 2007. The fair had approximately 175 food and beverage concessions, in addition to the 15-20 stands booked by Amusements of America. Food and beverage sales were up 9% from 2007.

The 2008 "AEP Ohio" Ohio State Fair concert series is another big attraction for the public. The fair had a full lineup of entertainment with show prices ranging from free to $30:

Concert/Event: Ohio Lottery presents the Cash Explosion Road Show live taping*
Date: Wed., July 30
Cost: FREE

Concert/Event: Dierks Bentley presented by Bud Light / Miranda Lambert
Date: Thurs., July 31
Cost: $30

Concert/Event: Musiq Soulchild
Date: Fri., Aug. 1
Cost: $12

Concert/Event: Melissa Etheridge
Date: Sat., Aug. 2
Cost: $30

Concert/Event: All-Ohio State Fair Band & Youth Choir Concert*
Date: Sun., Aug. 3
Cost: FREE

Concert/Event: Lupillo Rivera**
Date: Sun., Aug. 3
Cost: $25

Concert/Event: tobyMac
Date: Mon., Aug. 4
Cost: $12

Concert/Event: The Four Freshmen
Date: Tues., Aug. 5
Cost: FREE

Concert/Event: Peter Frampton
Date: Tues., Aug. 5
Cost: $20

Concert/Event: Blake Shelton with special guest Candy Coburn
Date: Wed., Aug. 6
Cost: $20

Concert/Event: The Oak Ridge Boys / The Charlie Daniels Band
Date: Thurs, Aug. 7
Cost: $25

Concert/Event: Chaka Khan
Date: Fri., Aug. 8
Cost: $20

Concert/Event: Ted Nugent
Date: Sat., Aug. 9
Cost: $20

Concert/Event: Sale of Champions Livestock Auction*
Date: Sun., Aug. 10
Cost: FREE
Total Sale : $202,500
Youth Reserve Program earned today: $133,500

*Indicates new record

The Sale of Champions is a major event at the fair, raising money for the Youth Reserve Program. The Youth Reserve Program was established in 1995 to reward junior youth exhibitors. The Youth Reserve Program is funded by dollars received over a cap placed on the amount exhibitors earn from the livestock sale. The program distributes the money among carcass contests, scholarships, the outstanding market exhibitor program, breeding, showmanship, skill-a-thons, dairy cattle, 4-H and FFA. Since its inception, the program has awarded more than 16,500 youth exhibitors over $1.3 million.

During the auction, new price records we set for the Reserve Grand Champion Meat Chickens ($11,500), the Reserve Grand Champion Barrow ($26,000) and the Reserve Grand Champion Market Beef ($26,000).

Virgil Strickler, General Manager of the Ohio State Fair, ran the livestock aspect of the fair for many years before ascending to his current position. He was especially excited about the success of the Sale of Champions and the fair in general. "We are extremely pleased with the success of this year's Fair. We worked hard to produce an outstanding quality event, and fairgoers came out and enjoyed everything we put together. In addition, attendance and revenues were up, along with three new records at the Sale of Champions. It was a great year", he said.

The 2009 Ohio State Fair will be held July 29 - August 9.

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