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2008 IOWA STATE FAIR WRAP-UP
By Ron Weber, Editor
Des Moines - An estimated 1,109,150 people poured through the gates at the Iowa State Fair in 2008. Great weather and more people taking "stay-cations" closer to home were just some of the reasons cited by fair officials for the event's success. "The 2008 Iowa State Fair was one for the record books. Excellent programming, popular entertainment and fantastic weather resulted in one of our most successful fairs ever," said Gary Slater CEO/Manager of the Iowa State Fair.
From a marketing standpoint, affordability and the value of an event so close to home were stressed. "While there are many that may not be traveling from the far corners of the state, there are many more people locally choosing to attend the fair, and doing so frequently", said Lori Chappell, Marketing Director for the event.
Gate admission was $10 for adults and $7 in advance and children were $4 and $3 in advance. Children under 5 were admitted free.
The fair offered free admission from 5 - 8:30 am the first day and $8 gate admission on August 8th. The fair also promoted their 1/2 price after 5pm promotion Mon - Thurs and Extreme Sunday where admission was half price on closing day.
The fair's marketing budget remained the same as in 2007. With the rising cost of ad prices, media partnerships became even more invaluable. The Iowa State Fair has a very successful trade program with smaller market radio and television stations that helps the fair augment its limited paid advertising. In addition, stage and program sponsorships with Central Iowa media (radio, television and newspaper) greatly supplement the Fair's efforts. "We simply would not be as successful without such support. Those partnerships combined with ongoing publicity efforts help the Fair stay top of mind with Iowans", said Chappell.
Ads focused on the message of affordable family fun, highlighting discounts during the week. Opening day, typically the slowest day of the fair, was a record for the fair and the 5 - 8:30 free admission was deemed a success.
About 95 food concessionaires and 175 merchandise vendors make up the fair's independent midway. All food and merchandise space is rented at a percentage of gross sales. Food and soft drink vendors pay 17.5% and merchandise vendors pay 15%. The Iowa Pork Producers, the Beef Promotions of Iowa and Campbell's Concessions had the highest reported revenue during the event.
Vendors were encouraged to try to keep prices at 2007 levels but due to the rising cost of food some small price increases were implemented by vendors. Most food vendors reported higher grosses but much of the increases were due to the price increase.
On the environmental front, in 2008 the Fair introduced a grease recycling program and a pre-Fair cardboard recycling program for vendors to use during set-up. The Fair also salvages and re-uses as much construction material as possible.
Since 2007 the fair has had a fully functioning wind turbine operated by Mid-America Energy. The turbine has an educational use, teaching Iowans about renewable energy and it has the ability to provide for up to 25% of the energy needed to operate the fair.
US Cellular sponsored the grandstand lineup with musical entertainment as well as a tractor pull, demolition derby and racing. Acts and pricing were as follows:
Thursday, August 7 - Michael W. Smith with special guests Natalie Grant and Matthew West, 8 p.m., $25
Friday, August 8 - Josh Turner with special guest Craig Morgan, 8 p.m., $32
Saturday, August 9 - Rick Springfield with special guest Patty Smyth and Scandal, 8 p.m., $25
Sunday, August 10 - Foreigner with special guest Night Ranger, 8 p.m., $25
Monday, August 11 - Deery Brothers Summer Series for Late Models, 5:30 p.m. Hot Laps, 6 p.m. Races, $15 adults, $5 children ages 6-11
Tuesday, August 12 - Tour 2008 Volunteer Jam - The Charlie Daniels Band, 38 Special, Shooter Jennings, 8 p.m., $32
Wednesday, August 13 - Grand Outlaw National Tractor and Truck Pull sponsored by Iowa Farmer Today, 2 p.m., $20 Adults, $10 children ages 6-11
Thursday, August 14 - Vanessa Hudgens and Corbin Bleu, 8 p.m., $30
Friday, August 15 - Tracy Lawrence and Blake Shelton, 8 p.m., $28
Saturday, August 16 - Demolition Derby with Doctor Danger Daredevil Stunts, 10 a.m., $12 adults, $5 children ages 6-11
Saturday, August 16 - Def Leppard with special guest Everclear, 8 p.m., $45
Sunday, August 17 - Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" The Rhubarb Tour with special guest Suzy Bogguss sponsored by Iowa Public Radio, 8 p.m., $25
Free entertainment acts also helped draw the crowds. Notable musical acts included the Nadas, the Envy Corps, Eve 6, Hairball, The Blue Band, Foghat, The Blenders, Gregg Rolie, former singer for Santana and Journey, Rare Earth and Elvis impersonator Travis Le Doyt.
Other popular acts included hypnotist Ron Diamond, the Extreme Canines Stunt Dog Show and Bandaloni's One Man Band performances.
On the midway, Jim and Linda Murphy's Mighty Bluegrass Shows provided over 40 rides and attractions. A Mega Pass was offered for $25, allowing fair guests to enjoy unlimited mechanical rides any one fair day from open to close. Passes were available at Walgreens, Des Moines-area Hy-Vee stores, the State Fair Ticket Office and megapassusa.com through August 6. The passes were then exchanged at the fair for the daily ride wristband.
Thrill rides were moved from their previous home on Expo Hill to a location on the main part of the grounds west of Walnut Square. The newly relocated area featured an Ejection Seat and the Skyscraper that blasts Fairgoers 160 feet in the air in mere seconds, exceeding speeds of 70 mph. As the Skyscraper slows and stops, fairgoers got a bird's-eye view of the fairgrounds from the new location.
Replacing the thrill rides on Expo Hill were attractions for young and old. Mechbash Robot Combat had shows running daily at 11 a.m., 1, 3 and 5. Highly-charged mechanical robots went head-to-head in an all out war. Other ticketed attractions on Expo Hill were Boogie Bodies, Remote Control Cars and Water Wars.
Looking ahead to 2009 and beyond, the fair's multi-phase capital improvement plan will continue through with a state-of-the-art Ag Exhibition Center debuting at the 2010 Fair. Fair officials will be watching fuel prices to assess their impact on the economy.
The 2009 fair will be held Aug. 13 - 23 with the theme "State Fair Time".