The Ohio State Fair, which completed its 160th year, was supposed to get its start in 1849, but an outbreak of cholera delayed the then-three-day event for a year. At that time, admission was only 20 cents, and exhibitors could buy a $1 badge to admit their entire families. From 1850 to 1885, the fair was held in various cities throughout Ohio, but in 1886 it moved to its current home at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio. These days, cholera is the furthest worry from fair organizers' minds.
"The fair is safe, clean, and has a comforting, family-friendly atmosphere," said General Manager Virgil Strickler.
This year's fair was held between July 24 and August 4. It broke the 12-day attendance record with an estimated 903,824 visitors, an increase of 8% over the previous year and more than 6% over the previous record set in 2004.
Admission costs did not change from 2012. Adult admission was $10, youth admission (ages 5 to 12) was $8, senior admission was $8, and children under the age of 5 were admitted for free. Advanced sale tickets were only $6. Admission to non-ticketed events was free with fair admission, and concert tickets purchased in advance of the fair included fair admission.
The fair offered several special promotions, one for each day, in fact. These included but weren't limited to: $3 admission until 3 pm on opening day, $3 admission with canned food donations, free admission for veterans and active military, $4 admission for AAA members, $4 admission for anyone with a non-winning Ohio lottery ticket, and free admission for Ohio soybean farmers. The Ag is Cool program, created in 2011, provides free admission to exiting fourth grade students and their teachers.
"This program has not only helped to educate Ohio's youth about the state's largest industry - agriculture - but has exposed more Ohioans to the fair and its offerings," said PR and Marketing Director Alicia Shoults.
Free, non-ticketed event offerings were diverse. Some events included the Sea Lion Splash Show, pig races, a petting zoo, several strolling/rolling entertainers, free entertainment stages with music and hypnotists, a sand sculpture carved within the first days of the fair and then used as a photo opportunity throughout the duration of the fair, and a natural resources park with free activities like free kiddie fishing, kayaking, and archery.
"We have an indoor, air-conditioned concert venue, the Celeste Center. The concert series was profitable," said Shoults.
Concerts and live events included performers like Jeff Dunhan, Martina McBride, Carly Rae Jepsen, and the Steve Miller Band.
This year's spending on Midway rides increased 17%. New Jersey-based company Amusements of America, which has been working with the Ohio State Fair since 1993, supplied 74 rides. Amusements of America is listed in the Guinness World Records as the largest traveling amusement park in the world, with more than 100 rides and attractions. Currently, their assortment of rides includes the Giant Wheel, Wave Swinger, Crazy Mouse Coaster, Avalanche Coaster, and the Fire Ball.
In addition, spending on food and beverages increased 10% over 2012. The fair has approximately 188 food vendors. The fair offered guests two ways to find delicious eats: a text food-finder, which required mobile phone users to text "FoodFind" to 88588 for a link to the mobile food finder, and a Mobile Food Finder smartphone application for iPhone and Android. At the Taste of Ohio Cafe, hungry fair-goers could enjoy a slice of Ohio-grown watermelon with a sandwich or salad, all provided by Ohio's agricultural commodity groups. More ambitious guests could also learn how to prepare meals with Ohio-based ingredients at the Cafe's Heartland Cuisine Cooking Demonstrations.
Food-based events and competitions also showcased some Ohio's best food and most talented cooks. On July 30, the Pork Rib-Off had eight teams competing for the title of best pork; the restaurants prepared both ribs and pulled pork, which were judged by a panel of five for taste, tenderness, and appearance. The Ohio Soybean Council also presented a trophy for best BBQ sauce using soybean oil.
In addition to offering entertainment and amusements, the Ohio State Fair places great emphasis on its livestock exhibitions and sales. The Sale of Champions livestock auction, held August 4, broke numerous records, with more than $334,000 raised through the sale of reserve grand champion market barrow, reserve grand champion market lamb, grand champion meat chickens, reserve grand champion meat chickens, grand champion market goat, grand champion market turkey and grand champion Swiss cheese. The auction showcased Ohio's premium livestock, premier Junior Fair exhibitors and generous supporters.
"We are incredibly thankful for the support of our buyers," said Strickler. "Not only was this great for the champions, but it will provide support to youth participants for years to come with a record breaking $267,400 raised for the Youth Reserve Program."
The Youth Reserve Program was developed in 1995 to reward junior exhibitors, and the funds to support the program come from dollars received over a cap that is placed on the amount an exhibitor can receive from the Sale of Champions.
New to this year's fair was the unveiled first phase of the Cardinal Corridor, a long-term project designed to beautify the Ohio Expo Center with more shade cover and to help reduce the environmental impact of storm water runoff from acres of pavement.
"We are constantly making improvements and working to beautify our facility. The new Cardinal Corridor inspired by Governor Kasich is one of those wonderful enhancements, allowing guests to enjoy an additional shaded area with seating to rest," said Strickler.
The fair's advertising budget was $330,000 (the fair's total annual budget is $7.5 million). According to Shoults, the fair has a diverse media mix with many elements including, but not limited to, television, print, radio, web, Facebook, outdoor, mall, movie theater, and web video pre-roll.
"We use Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Pinterest, and YouTube. We use social media to engage with fairgoers and potential patrons, provide customer service, and promote the fair," said Shoults. "We also use these outlets to administer contests to generate buzz about concerts and the fair."
Next year's dates are already set for July 23 to August 3, and guests can expect more shaded and green space.
"We were a part of a great initiative to add more green space and shaded areas to our facility this year, and hope to continue this pattern with additional clusters of trees to be added to the Ohio Expo Center over the next few years," said Shoults.