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Miami-Dade County Fair posts best year since 2008
Carnival revenue, attendance up

4/19/2013

By Alvin Malpaya

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"Entertain the people. That's what it's all about," said Darren Young, one half of the World Wrestling Entertainment tag team duo, the Prime Time Players.

Young was speaking on the Internet radio show, The Roman Show, which was being broadcast live from the 62nd annual Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition. The broadcast immediately preceded the fair's final, and arguably most anticipated, headlining performance: a WWE NXT event in which the Prime Time Players - alongside the Funkasaurus himself, Brodus Clay - received top billing.

"Interact with the people," Young continued. "Have a connection with the people. Give them the best show possible."

While Young was referring to his own approach to the entertainment business, both his comments and his subsequent performance on the final weekend of the fair encapsulated what people experienced in abundance throughout the fair's 18 days: connection, interaction, entertainment - indeed, the best show possible.

This year's Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition arrived with a wide assortment of headline entertainment. Besides the WWE, the fair's lineup included concerts by reggaeton star, Gocho; American punk band, We Are the In Crowd; teen Latin heartthrob, Matt Hunter; and the Christian rock band, Newsboys, from Australia. The fair also booked its second annual Rumble at the Fair, a mixed martial arts event that included appearances by Ultimate Fighters, Marcus Brimage, Tony Johnson and Alex Caceres.

While each of these events were included in the $10 admission, the fair offered a $49.99 Ultimate LIVE! Experience package, which consisted of 16 ride coupons, VIP seating for the event, and meet-and-greets with the event's stars.
This package was one of many promotions that helped to swell this year's attendance to 575,500, an extraordinary 18 percent increase over last year, and the fair's "highest attendance since 2008," according to Bob Hohenstein, its first-year president and CEO.

Other notable fair specials included a buy-one-get-one-free advance ticket promotion, as well as Sunday Fundays!, which, with a coupon and one paid admission, offered free admission for children between the ages of 6 and 12. Children up to age 5 were admitted free every day. Another notable discount package was offered way back in December - three tickets for $9.99 - just in time for Christmas.

"We wanted to do all we possibly could to generate unique pre-Fair publicity to whet the consumers' appetite, and create a sense of urgency to visit," Hohenstein said.

Perhaps the fair's most successful promotion - which, according to Hohenstein, "really assisted us in surpassing our 2013 goals" - was the "$5 before 5 p.m." discount program. Valid every weekday with a downloadable coupon available on the fair's Web site, the $5 discounted cost could be applied not just toward admission, but also a wide variety of foods, merchandise, games and other activities, such as rock climbing and bungee jumping.

The $5 program in particular received "increased marketing emphasis" and - armed with a $450,000 advertising budget - Hohenstein and staff certainly succeeded in spreading the word to a large, bilingual South Florida population through spot television and radio, cable television, print, pole banners and social media.

Several discount ride packages made their debut this year as well, helping to generate revenue on the midway. While a single ride coupon cost $1.25, fairgoers could have paid $12 for a package of 10 coupons, $25 for a package of 22, or $60 for 55 - the equivalent of seven free rides. An unlimited ride pass was available on weekdays for $25 and an express access pass, which granted quicker access to rides, was also being offered for and additional $15. These and other promotions proved to be a huge success, as midway revenue increased by over 12 percent from last year, according to Hohenstein, setting a one-day record on the fair's final Friday.

The midway was again supplied by North American Midway Entertainment, Carnival Warehouse's top-ranked carnival by attendance for seven years running. Their spectacular 100-ride arrangement this year included a handful of new thrillers. Most impressive among these were the side-by-side twin rides called Mach 3 and Speed, each consisting of a 120-foot arm mounted at its halfway point to a supporting base over 60 feet tall. Two pairs of swinging seats are situated at each end of the arm, which spins at a simply terrifying 13 revolutions per minute.

Equally death-defying, however, were a few of the entertainment shows off the midway. Two sets of acrobats showed up this year, including the Zuzu African Acrobats, who, after appearing on the NBC show "America's Got Talent," were in the midst of their first United States tour. The other group, the Shangri-La Chinese Acrobats, also making their Miami-Dade debut, are known for such stunts as balancing a multi-tiered rack of several lit candles and half-full wine glasses on their noses while dancing. These extreme acts complemented the long-established events and entertainment at the fair, such as daily pig races, the Show-Me Safari Petting Zoo, pony rides and other 4-H events.

Always true to its nickname, the Youth Fair was also filled with an abundance of events geared toward children, including culinary cook-offs, creative writing competitions, robotic competitions, fashion shows and a massive art exhibit that showcased the work of close to 40,000 students.

"Our team's approach was to create and develop simple and focused value-based products, messaging and programs," Hohenstein said.

As a nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to promote education, the fair's connection to its community remains indissoluble. In its six decades of operation, it has provided more than $10 million in college scholarships to graduating high school students in Miami-Dade County, providing about $300,000 in this year alone.

While the ambition of Hohenstein's team allows the fair to reach unmatchable heights of grandeur, its commitment to its root cause of community fundraising and educational advocacy shines through every year. And while the fair remains the largest in all of Florida, it hasn't lost its personal connection with the individual fairgoer.

"We wanted to do everything possible to warmly welcome them when they arrived, and thank them when they departed the fairgrounds," Hohenstein said. A simple touch, but effective..

Interaction, connection, entertainment - the makings of one of the world's best fairs.

CLICK HERE to view photos from the 2013 Miami Dade County Fair

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