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Wisconsin State Fair has success with Independent Midway in 2012
Ride gross up in 2012 over 2011

10/8/2012

By Matt Cook

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MCW interviewed Adam Heffron, Director of Event Services of the Wisconsin State Fair about the implementation of the fair's independent midway program. Our questions, and Adam's responses:

              

1)     How did the first year as an independent midway go?

It went very well.  Here is a direct quote from a fairgoer regarding SpinCity: 
 

"Overall it was a very positive experience!  The kids had a great time. They even won two prizes each!  And my husband and I had the overall impression that the Fair had really taken great strides to give the midway a better impression!  I can,t imagine the amount of time that must have been spent on thinking about how to overhaul the midway, but all your time and effort paid off!  It was amazing!"
 

I think that says exactly what everyone thought about SpinCity's first year of operation.

 

Spin City entrance2) How many rides did you have and who brought them?

51 total rides (26 adult rides on the adult side of the lot and 25 rides on the kid's side of the lot).  Please click here for a complete list

 

3) What challenges did the fair face transitioning to an independent midway?

There was a great amount of planning and staff participation that went into producing the SpinCity mobile amusement area.  We were fortunate from the standpoint that our board believed in our vision to produce our own mobile amusement area, we have experienced and professional staff willing to be challenged by this programming enhancement, and professional ride, game and attraction owners willing to take a risk by being involved in our first year of production.

 

Having involvement and oversight of almost all of the activities surrounding SpinCity, I must say there were no real challenges with the project.  We made slight modifications to our plan as we progressed from planning to implementation stages, but nothing that took us off our course or made us reconsider our decision to produce our own mobile amusement area.

 

4) Who were the important team members in its implementation and what were his or her roles?

So many people contributed to our success both full-time and part-time employees.  Almost every State Fair Park employee played a contributing role in making our fair-managed amusement area a success in year one.  Here are the names of a few of the key staff members:

 

Rick Frenette, Chief Executive Officer

Adam Heffron, SpinCity Director

Steve Reinhardt, Director of Exhibitor and Vendor Services (food and beverage)

Andrew Schmidt, Associate Director of Event Services and Ticket Weigh Coordinator

Carla Midthun, office assistant

Tom Atkins, Rides, Attractions Team and Electrical Manager

Chris Walden, Games, Guest and Operator Relations Team Manager

Kathleen O,Leary, Marketing and Communications Director

Jeff Gittins, Box Office Manager

Bob Eberle and Lucy Racliff, Business Office

Safety and Inspection Contractor: Joe Bixler with International Leisure Consulting, Inc.

 

Spin City Staff5) Was the ride gross up or down this year?

 

It is difficult to draw comparisons from the previous year to this one because the financial arrangement with the previous carnival operator was based on a flat, guaranteed payment.  However, the ride gross reported to us in 2011 by our carnival contractor was $1,672,115.  This year, our first year of operating SpinCity our ride revenue was $1,852,327.

 

6) Anything come up that you didn't plan for?

Games accepted tickets this year for the first time, therefore, it was critical that we promote the purchasing of tickets and get as many into the hands of guests as possible.  In addition to other methods of promoting ticket sales, we planned a one day promotion that had all rides and games accept three tickets to ride a ride or play a game, the promotion was called "Three Ticket Thursday."  Much to our chagrin, it rained all day on Thursday and the promotion never really got its legs under itself.

 

7) Are independent midways a possibility for all events?

If you are asking if an independent midway is possible for all North American fairs to produce, the answer is no.  I do believe, however, that many more fairs could certainly orchestrate a successful fair-managed midway.  There must be several things in place before the venture is undertaken.  Fair management must have board support, staff to develop and follow an operational plan, and resources.  By resources I mean items such as a site for the midway, living quarters and deadhead storage space, financial resources and a team of knowledgeable consultants like Tom Atkins, and Chris Walden that have been around the carnival industry for a long time and bring a lot of integrity to the process.  Equally important is the ability of ride and game owners to route rides, games and concession equipment to the fair.  The Wisconsin State Spin City midwayFair is fortunate because our fair dates and the Minnesota State Fair's are very compatible from a routing standpoint.  Many of the same owners and equipment travel to both our fairs.

 

What should be encouraging for fairs of our size and scope (short of one million in attendance and a twenty million dollar operating budget), is that if we can be successful, they can be as well.  

 

8) Logistics: Who provided boxes, wire, power, sellers and insurance?

Resources to operate a fair managed mobile amusement area are extensive and give me a great appreciation for what carnival owners deal with day in and day out.  The lifeblood of carnival operation is the electrical infrastructure.  It was important for us to manage that aspect of the operation in the most effective and professional manner possible.  The first thing was to hire an industry expert - Tom Atkins formally with The Mighty Thomas Carnival and then to rent the best possible generators and distribution equipment.  We rented generators from Hertz and distribution equipment from the Minnesota State Fair which they had specially manufactured by Showmen's Supplies several years ago.

 

We rented ticket boxes from several carnivals as well as the Minnesota State Fair.  Purchased and placed many branded benches, picnic tables, umbrella type structures, and tents and placed nearly 150 planters throughout the area.  Game canvas, flags and uniforms were all uniform in color, bright and attractive.

 

Ticket sellers, the ticket weigh operation and financial support were all coordinated and staffed in-house.   

 

Chris Walden9) Does the fair take on increased liability because they are now the midway managers?

I believe the answer to that question is no.  During the planning process we met with officials from the state's department of risk management and we explained how we were going to operate SpinCity.  Specifically we would require full policies - not just certificates of insurance - from all owners for general liability insurance, worker's compensation and automobile insurance.  We would also hire a consultant to review all policies to make certain we had all our specifications met for each policy.  In addition, we explained that instead of one show operator providing proof of coverage for the entire carnival we would require full policies from each and every one of the 35 ride and game operators who would be onsite overseeing their equipment and operation.  Moreover, we hired a third-party inspection and safety consultant, Joe Bixler with International Leisure Consulting to oversee our safety and training program.

 

With all that said, risk management officials left our meeting stating that in their eyes we were actually reducing the state's exposure due to our rigid insurance requirements, aggressive inspection program, the extensive owner involved, and our teams management experience with carnival operations. 

 

10) How was POP money distributed?

We developed a unique yet simple approach to accounting for and distributing pay one price wristband revenue.  Our goal was to be as transparent and fair as possible, learn ridership habits and attempt to reduce the frenzy that can take place on a carnival midway with wristband riders attempting to ride as many rides as possible.

 

Our process was to require the forfeiture of a wristband ticket with each wristband worn upon entering each ride and/or attraction by a patron as a condition to ride on a ride or walk through an attraction.  When a patron purchased a wristband, they were given a booklet of ten 1"x2" wristband tickets to use in conjunction with their wristband.  Once a rider ran out of their 10 wristband tickets they could go to any of the 16 ticket booths to show their wristbands in order to get another book of ten wristband tickets.

 

Each ride and/or attraction had a wristband ticket collection box they dropped the wristband ticket into.  The following day owners turned in their wristband tickets to be weighed in order to get credit for the previous day's count of wristband tickets.  Operators separated and we weighed the normal 1,x1, ride and game tickets and accounted for them separately.  At the end of the weigh schedule when all the wristband tickets were accounted for, a percentage of total tickets per ride and attraction were automatically calculated.  Using the net revenue available to share with the operators based on gross sales, minus sales tax and the fair's privilege amount, we divided the wristband net revenue up in accordance with a particular ride or attraction overall percentage of the whole.  Therefore, if the Tilt-a-whirl received 5% of the wristband tickets they would receive 5% of the wristband net revenue. 

 

The end result was the ride owners liked the system because it was transparent and fair, wristband riders really embraced the concept and from my perspective we now posses interesting data that would not have existed if we did not collect wristband tickets.

 

Sky Attractions - Stratosphere11) What were the top rides and grosses?

1

SJ Entertainment

Windstorm Rollercoaster

2

Blake's Concessions

Alpine Bobs

3

Sky Attractions

Stratosphere

4

Poor Jack Amusements

Freak Out

5

Lazer Fair, Inc

Star Ship 3000

6

Sky Attractions

Fun Factory

7

2010 Amusements, Inc

Bubble House

8

Playworld Unlimited

Cliffhanger

9

Fun Attractions

Arabian Days

10

Rose's Rides, LLC

Raiders

 

12) Who selected games and food and how did they operate? Percentage, flat, tickets etc?

The Wisconsin State Fair had eleven quality operators with 38 games of skill at the fair with many more registering to be a part of SpinCity.  Our process for licensing games, much like our rides, involved registering by the owner, and a review and selection process that was conducted by fair management.  Food and beverage concessions were chosen for their menu selection, experience, product mix, operation, and appearance of their concession operation.  Food and beverage concessions pay a privilege which is 24% of their net gross sales minus sales tax and they accepted cash, not tickets.

 

13) What were the top concessions?

Food and beverage:  L& M Concessions (grab); Super Dog (corn dogs); Rick's Concessions (Pizza)

 

14)  Could you provide us a list of the rides and how they ranked?

Click here to download

 

CLICK HERE to view photos from the 2012 Wisconsin State Fair

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