North America's Top 50 fairs held their own in 2008, dropping only 2% from 41,468,926 in 2007 to 40,670,657 in 2008 in a year that posed difficult challenges.
Chief among the concerns for 2008 was the price of fuel. Guests at North America's largest events can travel many miles to attend the event and managers were concerned fuel prices would adversely affect business, both in terms of cost of travel and the amount of money available to spend.
The year started out well with several early fairs posting significant gains. In January and February, the South Florida Fair in West Palm Beach and the Florida State Fair we up 2% and 7% respectively. In the west, the national Western Show was up 4% in Denver in January and the San Antonio Livestock Show and Exhibition was up 8% in February.
By July and August, the year looked promising with fairs such as the Iowa State Fair posting an 11% increase and the Top 50's biggest gainer, the Illinois State Fair, posting a whopping 21% increase!
As Labor Day came and the fall fair season started however, many fairs fell victim to inclement weather. Perennial powerhouses New Mexico State Fair, York (PA) Fair and the Big E all posted double digit drops of 19%, 17% and 14% respectively. October saw more of the same with the Arizona State Fair, The North Carolina State Fair, Mississippi State Fair and the South Carolina State Fair all showing losses in attendance numbers.
The fall was not without its bright spots however. The Arkansas State Fair and the State Fair of Louisiana were both up 6%.
The top three fairs for 2008, the Texas State Fair, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo (1,802,158), the Minnesota State Fair (1,693,553) held their respective places but the Canadian National Exhibition (1,310,000) moved into the fourth place spot with a 6% increase over 2007, replacing the Los Angeles County Fair (1,303,655), which fell to fifth place.
Other big movers on the list included the San Antonio Livestock Show and Exhibition (1,300,513), which moved up to the sixth place spot from tenth place with a 8% increase. The Iowa State Fair was up 11%, the Wisconsin State Fair 9%, the Indiana State Fair 14% and the biggest increase this year, the Illinois State Fair, up an incredible 21%.
Making their first appearance on the MCW Top 50 list were two fairs: the Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, MA with 466,000 and the Wilson County Fair in Lebanon, TN with an attendance of 466,119.
Two fairs dropped from the list this year. The Pensacola Interstate Fair (FL) was nudged out for the first time in recent memory and the Dixie Classic Fair, making its MCW Top 50 debut in 2007, fell from the Top 50 after some bad October weather.
While gas prices have fallen by year's end, the economy is becoming more and more of a concern and fairs will have to devise new and innovative ways to market themselves for the shrinking disposable income of fair guests. As we move into 2009, all eyes will be on attendance and midway spending to see if the industry truly is "recession-proof".
Click here to dowload the 2008 TOP 50 FAIRS and CARNIVALS list!!