The first Orange County Fair, held in 1890 in Santa Ana, California, was primarily a horse race with a few agricultural exhibits. One hundred twenty three years later, the Orange County Fair (known more commonly as OC Fair) is an agency of California's 32nd District Agricultural Association and attracts 1.37 million people, who come for the carnival rides, fair food, summer concert series, pyrotechnics displays, and agricultural showcases. This year's fair, which ran from July 12 to August 11, drew the second-highest attendance in its history.
"This fair has been experiencing a good growth pattern for several years. Our promotions campaign has been very robust, and we have strong attendance on promotional days," said OC Fair CEO Doug Lofstrom. "This year we had some of the best fair weather we've ever had - 72, 73, 74 degrees all the way through. If the 2012 fair had not had the blistering heat and humidity, it probably would have been more successful."
Lofstrom began his tenure at the OC Fair in 2000 and was vice president of events before he retired. He's currently serving as interim CEO while the governing board, consisting of 9 people appointed by the California governor, finds a permanent replacement. Approximately 90 people are employed by the fair full time, and 1400 to 1500 people are hired temporarily for the duration of the fair.
"It's more than a full-time job. Spending 12 years of my career here, I've been close to the staff and the growth of this fair so it's very easy to come back because of my strong feelings about the staff and this organization," said Lofstrom.
Lofstrom also attributes high attendance to the fair's effort to reach out to particular cities throughout Orange County. For the City Salutes promotion, a different city was honored during opening ceremonies on designated days.
"We made a real focus on reaching out to the cities in Orange County in getting them to participate in our opening ceremonies, and we did see well over 18,000 people that came as a result of that. The other thing we did is we tied in a production at night called Summer in the Cities, a seven-minute multimedia presentation choreographed to music and pyro," said Lofstrom.
Another notable promotion was We Care Wednesday, which promised free admission and one carnival ride per person with donation. For each Wednesday, a different donation was requested: cans of food, children's books, gently used clothing items, and school supplies.
The advertising budget is not disclosed, but the media mix includes print, radio, television, out-of-home, and digital. A robust social media campaign attracts attention from fans. The OC Fair Facebook page has more than 66,000 likes, and the Twitter account has more than 11,000 followers. The fair also has its own iPhone app, which "helps you find your favorite deep-fried and on-a-stick food items and remembers where your car is parked using our interactive maps," according to the description in the iTunes store. The app also includes a day planner so visitors can plan their day accordingly.
"We use it [social media] to communicate with our guests, share photos, do ticket giveaways via contests, it also serves as a form of customer service and great way to spread the word about the fair and its related activities," said Robin Wachner, Communications Director.
This year, general admission prices ($11) remained the same, but the cost of parking increased. Admission for seniors (60+) was $8, and admission for children ages 6-12 was $6, while children under 5 were free. Included with admission was free entertainment like an All Action Sports Arena, live blues and jazz music at the Baja Blues Restaurant Bar and Grill, a variety of assorted music acts, a U.S. Army Village, a Fun Zone stage with family comedy, circus and trapeze acts, racing pigs, and karaoke. Free exhibits included the Palace of Exotic Wonders and Centennial Hall, a year-round, four-acre demonstration farm dedicated to agricultural education, highlighting California's rich agricultural heritage.
In addition, competitions encourage local artisans, cooks, farmers, and children to submit their best efforts in a variety of categories: youth, visual arts, craft and hobbies, culinary/beer/wine, and plants and animals.
Ray Cammack Shows of Levine, Arizona has been providing the fair's midway since 1995. This year, guests could enjoy 65 rides, including a carousel, the Cobra Coaster, a Superslide, and the Giant Wheel.
Abundant dining options at the OC Fair included the all-newFood Truck Fare Thursday. Every Friday from noon to 4 pm, guests could sample designated fair food for just $2: chicken crepes, tiki teriyaki bowls, meatball sliders, cinnamon rolls, fried zucchini, cheese bread, kettle corn, and cheesecake bites are just a few examples. Local publication OC Weekly even published a 32-photo slideshow dedicated just to fried food at the fair (http://www.ocweekly.com/slideshow/deep-fried-food-the-oc-fair-37413930/#1)
At the Pacific Amphitheatre, an intimate 8.200-seat venue located on the fairgrounds, guests could buy additional tickets to attend the Toyota Summer Concert Series, which ran for the duration of the fair. The concert series attracted big-name acts like Colbie Caillat, The B-52s, Counting Crows, ZZ Top, Styx, and The Wanted. Originally developed by private promoters, the Pacific Amphitheatre, now owned and managed by the OC Fair & Event Center, produces year-round cultural and community events.
Dates for next year's fair are not yet set, but visitors to the 2014 OC Fair can expect a major change to the fair's Pacific Amphitheatre, which will be undergoing phase two of a $13 million renovation next month.
"I'm working around a dedicated group of people who are highly passionate about what they do. And that resonates with the customer as evidenced by our growth. So you put the pride and passion and dedication from the state, from vendors, and from merchants, and you see the customer responding," said Lofstrom. "The fairgrounds is a special place for special people to do special work."