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Delaware's Attendance Increase Formula: Updated Marketing, New Facilities, Bigger Midway, Sold-Out Concerts

8/25/2014

By Timothy Herrick

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Fair organizers declared the 2014 edition of the Delaware State Fair successful, but no single reason can explain the positive result. The main factors were conducive weather, a concert line-up that beat the booking challenges plaguing this summer's entertainment market, a re-imagined plaza that encouraged fairgoers to stay longer and an expanded midway - and while individually each factor may not have been sufficient on its own, together they added up to a popular, thus prosperous, 2014 Delaware State Fair.

"The fair did incredibly well in the aggregate, per-capita spending was up across the board," said William J. DiMondi, General Manager. "We are not a percentage sale fair and so our informal polling of the concessionaires indicated sales were up significantly. Everyone was very positive about this fair."

Slow Grazing Temperatures
He added, "there were more bodies, the meteorological conditions were favorable, which lended itself to cause slow grazing by the fairgoers, they were eating and drinking more. They couldn't help but come earlier than they usually might to the fair, and were slow to go to their cars. When we have a heat index of 105, after the show people made a beeline to their cars."

Although late spring and early summer tended towards the wet and stormy for the Mid-Atlantic region, by midsummer the temperatures hovered in the comfort zone of the 80s. The Delaware Sate Fair saw attendance jump by nearly 25 percent - topping 282,000 - for this July event, which ran July 23 to August 1. "The biggest contributor was the weather," said DiMondi. "We had a string of ten days and ten nights, where it was low temperatures and mild weather. At night, people were wearing sweatshirts and hoodies. Usually we have boiling heat for least a few days, but not this year."

Improved Economy
According to Danny R. Aguilar, Assistant GM & Director of Marketing, some of the uptick in attendee numbers can also be attributed to an improving economy, which fair promotions help extend by offering discounts and other price promotions. "The concert attendance and overall gate attendance does represent a recovery of purchasing power and disposable income for fair patrons."

Things may have improved, but money is still tight and many of more effective promotions the fair implemented revealed a sensitivity to patron's pocketbooks. Delaware State Fair promotions were underscored by offering fairgoers value.
"With the recession it is challenging for folks to justify spending," said Aguilar. "In order to make the fair more accessible in times of recovery, we offer multiple days for admission discount, as well as discounted multi-day passes, carnival ride deals and discounts, etc. The challenge is still out there as the region rebuilds from economic hardship, however, with 3 sold out shows, and increased gate attendance, it is recognizable that recovery is in progress."

Major promotions for the 2014 Delaware State Fair included: Pepsi Day - $2 off admission with any Pepsi Product; Food Lion Hunger Relief Day - free admission for five Food Lion (a regional supermarket chain) brand canned goods, which were then donated to the Food Bank of Delaware; Monday Ride Madness - discounted carnival ride discount available at 10 local Food Lions; Kids' Day - free gate admission for those 17 years and younger; Seniors' Days - two days of free gate admission to senior citizens, 65 years and older; Armed Forces Day - anyone with valid military identification receives free gate admission.
 
Concerts Sell-Out
The concert lineup at the fair's M&T Bank Grandstand included name acts such as Train, McClain, Keith Urban, Brantley Gilbert, Jeremy Camp, and Lady Antebellum, with ticket prices ranging from $16 to $94.

According to DiMondi, this year's line-up and profitability were an improvement over last year, with 3 sold out shows. But considering the talent buyers' market, he attributes the success to "luck."

DiMondi describes the situation as a sellers market, with competition and challenges as stringent as ever. "It is increasingly difficult to get big name groups and acts, especially in the country genre, because there are so many sheds and now so many festivals and only so many tours. Booking windows have tightened, and there are more radius clauses in contracts."

The Delaware State Fair is equidistant between Philadelphia and Washington D.C./Baltimore, thus impacted by radius clauses from two vastly profitable urban markets, further complicating booking. "It takes longer and longer for confirmation," he said. "It's best if you can put some shows on sale by Christmas but now it's closer to January and February. But that is only one or two, and we are booking perilously closer to the fair date. If they are not touring, then you are into paying for a one-off, flying them in, renting equipment and instruments for their backline, but that gets cost prohibitive."

Unfortunately, DiMondi doesn't see the entertainment market shifting closer to a more favorable buyer's climate. In addition to nationally renowned music acts, the grandstand also featured two demolition derbies. Aguilar added that the fair's "rodeo was revamped, and brought back to the main stage at the grandstand."
 
Re-Invented Plaza
 The 2014 Delaware State Fair also featured the grand re-opening of the Discover Bank Plaza, which underwent a comprehensive renovation and expanding, transforming the facility into an anchor of the fair, featuring seven hours of daily entertainment and new food vendors.

With the various agricultural exhibits - including a new Poultry building - the bedrock core of the Delaware Sate Fair, as well as attractions such as the Hollywood Circus, the Giraffe Menagerie Petting Zoo, and the Hollywood Racing Pigs, fairgoers are often lured to various parts of the fair, while missing other enticements. The Discover Bank Plaza, directly adjacent to the M&T Bank Grandstand, has been transformed into a "hub of entertainment, a friendly gathering place, a central focal point of the layout of the fair and a place to relax and grab a bite to eat," said DiMondi. "We not only renovated, but reconstructed the plaza, increasing its capacity by 75 percent."

The selected food vendors - mainly deserts and a woodfire pizza - reflect a more laid back atmosphere compared to the antic-driven excitement of the fair. This calmer respite from the noisy, glittering fair excitement gave patrons the opportunity to pause, which in turn also achieved a needed objective of any fair- encouraging attendees to linger. "Because of our new plaza, people stayed longer at the fair, and if they stay longer enjoying themselves, they are spending more," said DiMondi.
 
Donuts Delight
 The fair also added new grounds entertainment, further inducing fairgoers not to leave, including Hockey Circus Show featuring Paz, an acrobat and juggler; Junk Rock, which makes music on "found" instruments, such as trash cans and shopping carts, and Cutting Edge Dueling Pianos, an all request show. "These new acts took off, with many great reviews from fairgoers," said Aguilar.

There were 96 food vendors, with new vendors including Chester's Tators & Gators, Georgie's Steamed Crabs, Pickle Barrel Sirloin Tips, Outlaw Fries, and Spaghetti Eddie's Homemade Italian Foods. According to Aguilar, the newest trend in fair cuisine indicates a direction away from the traditional food items. "these vendors offer non-typical fair foods that are just as delicious as their names imply," he said.

The most popular of the newer food concessionaires at the Delaware State fair was Nothing Better, which specialized in mini-donuts. "They offered a variety of donut flavors including the hit flavor, cheesecake."
 
Wade Midway Expands
According to DiMondi, the Wade Shows midway had an increase of 17 percent in revenue and he credits the ride selection. Wade Shows featured 55 rides, the largest Delaware midway for the provider in its 11-year stay at this end-of-July event.

"Wade played it right this year given the cooler temperatures," said DiMondi. "I'm not sure if they routed their units in anticipation of the weather, but they didn't bring the water slide or water boat rides, which people go on to cool down. The rides they brought were weather appropriate and the crowds responded."

"We had a fantastic fair in Delaware, it was either a record or near record," said Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows. "It was the best year in the last five years. We are so weather dependent, but we got great weather, we had great rides and the fair has great management. You put those three things together, you get record revenue."

Wade Shows increased the size of its Delaware ride arsenal for this year, including a First State debut of the Rock Star. "A very popular ride," Zaitshik said. "New rides creates excitement and enthusiasm, but also we were able to add rides, our ride capacity increased and we were able to accommodate demand. When people got to the midway, they were pleasantly surprised and pleased that the waiting times were less."

Zaitshik added that Wade Shows just signed a new long term contract with Delaware, but adds, "We don't look at the length of a contract, we look at our presentation and we make our best presentation every day of the year and at every spot we play."


Market Research & Implementation
Selecting the optimum rides, food vendors and entertainment - and the unplanned pieces of luck like good weather - are all crucial components of a successful summer event.

Delaware added another ingredient creating a cohesiveness making the whole surpass the parts. According Aguilar, while the media mix for fair marketing is undergoing the predictable shift towards increased use of digital platforms, the emphasis is on identifying the various segments of fairgoer, with an approach that "targets multiple generations through our marketing efforts. As we strategize to reach these clusters of fairgoers, we evaluate the best use of media . We still utilize the traditional print medium,  highlighting human interest stories and a full schedule of events in the newspaper. Another traditional marketing tactic we use is radio advertising; targeting similar customer segments through genres/styles of music based on radio station genre and geographic reach."

Delaware Fair 2014 marketing began in the days following the previous year's event. At the conclusion of the 2013 fair, Aguilar implemented a comprehensive marketing study, following a review of the results from a customer survey of that year's fairgoers.

"We researched further how our fairgoers were consuming information," he explained. "How are we reaching the most people based on their responses? With this information in tow, we strategized how to effectively divide our marketing mix and outreach to consumers over multiple platforms while keeping a strong, synergistic approach with the marketing message. We focused in on the most effective ways to reach our consumers that would yield the greatest return for both their information needs and our marketing efforts."

In addition to targeting how to optimize utilizations of traditional media platforms, social media platforms -Twitter, Facebook, Google Ads, YouTube, etc. - were taken advantage of for what they did best:

"Direct marketing campaigns to reach our consumers in a more personable way," said Aguilar. "With the average consumer demands for increased, personal customer relationship needs and connection to a brand, we have found that continuing to be highly interactive and present through social media has benefitted the overall social media efforts of the Fair. Consumers are looking for a more specialized experience, and interacting directly with our consumers through social media during the off-season and through Fair week promotes the customer-brand connection we are looking to have with fairgoers."




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