The Wisconsin State Fair saw a slight decrease in attendance in 2009, drawing 833,285 guests, down from 872,458 in 2009, a drop of 4%. Gate admission increased by $1 for the first time in seven years, Adults went from $8 to $9, youth increased from $3 to $4. Senior tickets and disabled guest tickets remained the same at $6 and children six and under continued to be admitted free.
"Affordability has always been at the core of our mission at the Wisconsin State Fair and this year was no exception. People came out to enjoy the Fair, and with so many people staying closer to home they came out to enjoy the value offered by the Fair", said Patrice Harris, Director of Public Relations and Communications for the Wisconsin State Fair.
The biggest impact on attendance was the weather. The fair had three days of heavy rain on
the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday with severe weather fronts moving through on Sunday. The final day of the fair also had scattered showers that may have had some impact on attendance.
Overall, fair officials believe the economy actually has a positive effect on the fair. They emphasized the value the fair offered in order to attract budget-minded consumers.
"Value messaging is always part of our public relations and advertising efforts and with the economic challenges that people are facing we focused heavily on promoting the admission offers and all of the free entertainment and attractions the fair offered" said Harris.
On opening day, the fair continued its partnership with Hunger Task Force, a local food pantry. Fairgoers who brought at least two nonperishable food items to any gate between 8am and 6pm received $2 admission. While this has been very successful in the past, this year Hunger Task Force $2 Day shattered all records. In 2008 the promotion drew 29,958, donating 106,000 pounds of food and in 2009 59,236 came out donating over 180,000 pounds.
To combat the heavy first weekend rains, Tuesday, August 11, was promoted as "Fair Weather Twofer Tuesday." Initially slated as Crazy Grazin, Day where a number of vendors offered select menu items at a discount, the fair added an admission component of two-for-one admission on adult tickets purchased at the gate between 8am - 6pm, a midway component of $2 off all rides from 10am-6pm and they tied in the Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy and Candy Coburn concert at the Time Warner Cable Main Stage by offering two for $20 tickets on the upper levels of the grandstand seating. The promotion tied together all aspects of the fair and the weather cooperated, giving the event one of the best summer-like days of the fair.
Another program was the new day sponsorship with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Wisconsin presented by Cedar Crest Ice Cream. Free admission was offered to scouts in uniform on Wednesday, August 12 and scout leaders in uniform received $2 off regular adult admission. There were also activities in the Central Mall raising awareness of scouting.
Also new was Military Recognition Day with Walmart. Walmart offered coupons in participating Wisconsin stores for veteran and active duty military personnel that provided $3 off regular adult admission. On the final Sunday of the fair, August 16, Walmart hosted activities in Central Mall that included thank you banners for the public to sign and send to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to other activities, the mall was also decorated with American flags.
On the advertising front, the fair launched a Facebook page which quickly grew to over 10,000 fans. They promoted their advance admission promotions as well as concerts, new attractions and other relevant information on the Facebook page. The fair also started Tweeting this year. Due to a shortage of staff, the fair's ad agency tweeted for them this year, but in the coming year they will be bringing that function in-house.
Online advertising was increased by the fair in 2009. They used more targeted messaging in outer markets and promoted different elements of the fair that may have had more relevance to people in those markets. For example, in northern Illinois, they had messages focused on an Illinois Day admission promotion whereas local ads on the Time Warner Cable network focused on the Main Stage line up. Online marketing provided a call to action on various promotions and click to print coupons to drive the gate.
Speaking about the specific challenges of online advertising Harris said "you have to have concise messaging that communicates the key elements of your message in a visually stimulating environment. You also have to be extremely conscientious of how you are communicating your message if you are trying to drive click-thru to more information or for a purchase."
In a cost-saving measure, the event brought the creative development for their ad campaign in-house, freeing up $40,000 additional dollars for their media buy. The media mix maintained a balance of print, television, radio, transit and digital outdoor. Outdoor advertising was deemed a big success in 2008 and the fair expanded the use of this medium, displaying different messages to targeted markets.
Along with an increase in online advertising, the additional funds helped the fair to focus more on outer markets, people living 90+ miles from the event. The overall marketing budget for the fair remained the same at around $500,000.
In advance of the fair, there was a concerted effort to establish more on air promotional giveaways in markets that were 70+ miles away. This allowed those looking for a staycation an even stronger reason to attend. They also worked with fair partners - Budweiser, Miller/Coors, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Coca-Cola and Sprecher Brewing Company to expand their retail promotions for the fair beyond southeast Wisconsin and take them statewide in retail outlets, bringing value driven offers to potential visitors in outer markets.
Despite the challenging economic times, fair sponsorship was up nearly 5% which is a testament to the fair's ability to drive home the message offered by sponsors both old and new. Additionally, mobile marketing opportunities increased significantly in 2009 with over 20 tours participating during the 11 day Fair.
The Wisconsin State Fair is a self-sufficient state agency and they do not receive funding from the state as some other fairs do. This does not exclude the agency from feeling the budget pinch because they are subject to furloughs and lapses for the general fund.
Interim Executive Director Craig Barkelar had the forethought to start working with the staff early to identify areas where they could make cuts that while painful, would not have as great an impact on the fairgoer,s experience. The staff was challenged to cut budgets in the fall not only for the current fiscal year, but also for the coming fiscal year as both fiscal years had an impact on the 09 Fair.
Jerry Murphy's Murphy Brothers Exposition fielded 55 rides on the midway. While there were not any new rides at the 2009 fair, Murphy added that he and partner Jimmy Reed plan to purchase around $1 million in new rides and attractions for the 2010 fair season. Murphy said they spent over $4 million on new equipment two years ago with the addition of a Technical Park Street Fighter, Bertazzon Wave Swinger, Fajume Wacky Worm, among others.
Regarding the 2009 fair, Murphy stated, "The 2009 fair was good when we had the weather. The Wisconsin State Fair management team does a great job of running the fair. One area for improvement is in the security department. We need to try and keep the trouble makers under control so families feel safe and welcome at the fair at all times."
Murphy Brothers offered several promotions for fair guests.
A single day "ride all day" wristband was offered in advance from April 1 - June 30. In a change from past years, the wristband was not limited to weekdays. People could utilize the pass any one day of the fair with a $20 advance wristband purchase.
The new Midway Mega Pass was $55 and offered unlimited rides all 11-days of the Fair. It was non-transferable and came with a picture ID. The pass was available for purchase at the discounted rate until July 31, and after that it was available during the Fair.
On Opening Day, Thursday, August 6, there were $1 rides on the Midway from 10am until 6pm. There were also some limited offers tied in with a couple of day sponsor promotions that provided a $5 off coupon for a ride all day wristband.
Harris said there was some discussion within the fair about the possibility of offering a request for proposals for the carnival midway contract in the coming year. The timing and process of any action was still being discussed.
The Wisconsin State Fair had 202 food and beverage vendors at the event this year. The final numbers are not available yet as audits are still underway, but projected revenue is $2,351,000, which exceeds the 2009 budget.
There were a number of new items this year; one of the more unique items was chocolate covered bacon on a stick which was offered by The Machine Shed Restaurant. Fairgoers loved the salty-sweet combination and purchased over 50,000 orders, which totaled more than 100,000 slices. The Machine Shed Restaurant also introduced deep fried peanut butter and jelly on a stick.
Door County Fish Boil served Cherry Pie on a Stick. Foods on a stick were a huge fascination this year with both the public and the media. Other foods on a stick included crab cakes from Catfish Johnny's, mini burgers from Derynda's, a Reuben from Slim McGinn's West, cookie dough dipped in chocolate or butterscotch by D&T concessions, boneless chicken wings from Saz's at the Fair and popcorn shrimp and popcorn chicken at Door County Fish Boil.
Concert sales had moderate success in 2009. Featured entertainers included Foreigner, Demi Lovato, Mercy Me and Big and Rich. The fair made some cost cutting measures to the expense side of the ledger so they hope to realize a profit on the Time Warner Cable Main Stage despite sluggish ticket sales.
One new successful entertainment addition to the fair was a new comedy show - State Fair Funnies - on our activity stage that featured family friendly comedy. The Fair teamed up with a local comedy club, Bonkerz, to put the lineup together and it was very well received by fairgoers.
The Wisconsin State Fair is very environmentally focused, and in addition to their recycling and renewable energy programs, they incorporated green entertainment. There were two shows on the Assurant Health Family Variety Stage - Steve Trash's Green Magic Show and The Recycle Show. Large, diverse crowds watched both acts and feedback from patrons said they found the shows were entertaining, interactive, fun and educational. The shows were a great way to raise awareness about green initiatives and guests learned behaviors to help the environment while they were entertained.
In agriculture, the 4-H Champions Challenge featured horse speed events one evening in the Coliseum which proved to be tremendously successful. The Coliseum was full of a broad cross-section of fairgoers wanting to see the events and it was very exciting new attraction they hope to bring back in 2010. There was also a Tractor Extravaganza presented by The Machine Shed Restaurant during four days of the fair in one of the agriculture barns that had down time in between animal changeovers.
Planning is now underway for the 2010 event.
2009 Fair Photos:
More Photos are Available in the CarnivalWarehouse.com Photo Gallery! Click here and then click on the "Murphy-Reed" photo gallery to view more!