West Allis, WI - The Wisconsin State Fair posted strong gains in 2008, drawing 872,458, a 9% increase from 2007's numbers. Gate admission pricing, which has remained the same since 2003, was $8 for adults. Seniors and disabled persons were $6, children 7 -11 were $3 and kids 6 and under were admitted free.
Patrice Harris, Public Relations and Communications Director for the fair, said there were several factors contributing to the increase in attendance. Chief among these were weather and the economy. With moderate temperatures and significantly less rainfall than 2007, there was a perfect environment for a fair visit.
Haris said the fair also promoted themselves as a "Stay-cation", a term very much in vogue with the rising cost of gas and travel. "The Wisconsin State Fair is by far one of the most affordable fami
ly entertainment options of the summer season, both locally and throughout the state", said Harris. Advertising focused on the amount of free activities available inside the gates and the affordability of the overall experience.
While the marketing budget has remained constant from the past five years, the fair did adjust its message to reach some of the outer markets 60-90 miles from the event. Promoting and advertising an event that appeals to a broad audience with a budget that has not changed in several years forces the event to be creative in order to leverage the most amount of impact from each advertising dollar. By emphasizing the constant traditions of the fair, with all the family fun and affordability of the event, the marketing team was able to accomplish that goal.
New promotions were led by the 3-Day "Fair Play" pass that was sold on the fair's website, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino and the fair box office. Although the cost of the 3-day pass was the same as it would have been for three single day advanced admission tickets, the casino offered $10 in free slot play with the purchase of the ticket.
Over 4,000 3-Day passes were sold from April 1 through June 30 and the total exceeded all expectations. The majority of the tickets were sold at the casino, helping to drive traffic to one of the fair's sponsors.
Another new savings opportunity the fair introduced this year was the Fair Advantage Coupon Book. The book was free to fair guests and featured special offers from participating vendors. "It was a huge hit with Fairgoers and it was a great talking point with the media during stories about what the Fair was doing to keep the Fair affordable for Fairgoers", said Harris.
The Wisconsin State Fair also expanded their partnership with the Milwaukee Brewers using their "4 for $24 promotion". The promotion offered people the opportunity to select one of six select baseball games from April through September and receive two fair tickets in the package. Two Fair admission tickets and two tickets to the Brewers game they selected sold for only $24.
Pedal to the Park, sponsored by Wheel & Sprocket, promoted bicycling to the Fair Park and offered free, secure bicycle parking that was staffed by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. The program was extremely well received. People saved money on gas and parking, and hundreds of cyclists took the opportunity to Pedal to the Park in 2008.
UW-Madison Day was also new to the Fair. A discount on ride wristbands was offered to those who brought school supplies to benefit the students attending Milwaukee Public Schools. Also notable was the continuation of an opening day promotion with Time Warner Cable and Hunger Task Force, with a $1 special midway component.
On the midway, Murphy Brother's Expositions provided the midway once again with several new rides available for fair guests. A Wisdom Viper, Silver Streak and Chopper Train all made their midway debut.
In a unique partnership, Toyota used a traditionally unused sloped space on the midway to present their mobile hybrid tour, "Highway to the Future". Fairgoers were able to learn about alternative fuels and technology and then actually ride and test drive three different Toyota hybrid models. The attraction was open daily from 10am until dusk and was very popular with midway visitors.
Jerry Murphy said his show, like all others, was facing some tough times with rising fuel costs. He said many of his fairs were charging a fuel surcharge on tickets to help cope with the costs.
Murphy said the show had also picked up a major new event. "We picked up the Red River Valley Fair for 2009 which is located in Fargo, North Dakota. This is a major fair for us. The event will be right before the North Dakota State Fair", he said.
On the independent midway, the number of food and beverage vendors held steady at approximately 250. In an effort to keep the fair affordable, the fair asked vendors to try and keep costs comparable with last year and most vendors were able to hold their prices at 2007 levels.
Though sales numbers were not yet finalized at press time, Harris estimated food and beverage sales to be in the range of $12.6 million, up about 10% from 2007.
The affordability theme for the fair was also extended to the Main Stage area, presented by Toyota. Most shows sold for $10 for reserved grandstand seats and $20 to $30 for reserved track seating. Main Stage acts included Mixed Martial Arts, the Doodlebops, the Charlie Daniels Band, Josh Turner, Boyz II Men, Queensryche, REO Speedwagon, Blake Shelton, Vanessa Hudgens & Corbin Bleu and Jeremy Camp.
The Cousins Subs Amphitheater with nightly entertainment was presented by Leinenkugels. This free stage featured regional and national headliners. Entertainment Director Bruce Sullivan moved the headliners earlier than they had been in past years. Sunday through Thursday, headliners took that stage at 7pm or 7:30pm and on weekends they took the stage at 8pm or 8:30pm. In past years, headliners took the stage at 9:30 or 10pm.
There was a diverse line up of artists with capacity crowds. Bands included Herman's Hermits featuring Barry Whitwam, Think Floyd (a Pink Floyd cover band), the Elvis Extravaganza Impersonator Contest, Gin Blossoms and Eve 6, and the Kids From Wisconsin performances. Moving the headliners earlier in the evening helped to draw a bigger audience for all of the shows.
In addition to the stage acts, The Golden Dragon Acrobats from China were a fantastic draw for the Jeffrey Scott Activity Stage. Huge crowds provided standing ovations for this new attraction.
The National Diving Dog Tour performed for the final three days and was very, popular. "People loved it! ", said Harris.
Looking ahead to 2009, Harris said fair staff would be considering how to present a better fair for Wisconsinites in 2009. "I think one of the most important things our staff does is that we are continually focused on what we can do better, how can we continue to improve the experience of our Fairgoers".
Throughout the fair, staff members takes notes - mental or written, and then two or three days following the conclusion of the event, they meet for their first recap meeting. "We don't spend time patting each other on the back, we focus on what we observed that needs to be improved upon or addressed for the following year's Fair. Every department shares their thoughts, and the focus isn't exclusively on the department they represent", said Harris.
While all the "Next year we should..." lists have not been compiled yet, some considerations for the 2009 fair will include fuel prices and their impact on travel in the new year and economic conditions in 2009.
The 2009 Wisconsin State Fair will be held Aug. 6 - 16.