Wood Entertainment fell short at this year's Minnesota State Fair compared with previous runs in St. Paul. Independent operator and company owner Michael Wood feels the addition of some new pieces in Minnesota ate into his ride receipts.
He's not disappointed by any means. The event, which this year drew about 45,000 fewer fairgoers than last year's record attendance of 1.82 million, remains a marquee spot for all ride owners doing business at the fair, Wood Entertainment included. Wood had its Magic Maze Glass House, Techno Power and Magnum set up on the primary midway. Its Safari Train and Daytona were part of Kidway.
The Techno Power and Magnum were both 5 percent down in ride grosses compared with 2014, according to Wood. The
Magic Maze was down by 1 percent, he said.
Wood, a veteran of multiple Minnesota state fairs, pointed to three new attractions he believes affected his bottom line: Myers International Midway's New York New York fun house, plus Kyle Wisdom's Equinox and Playworld Amusements Super Nova roller coaster. The fair added a second coaster this year behind Steve Vander Vorste's Crazy Mouse, a longstanding tradition in St. Paul. The fun house and the coaster were his closest competitors for business, Wood said.
"There is only so much money to go around," he said. "Something had to come down. The fair had been running with just one coaster for several years before they put the second one in there. It's just the way it is. My stuff has been around for awhile."
Presently, Wood Entertainment, whose headquarters are in San Antonio, has the same attractions set up at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas. The fair began Friday Sept. 25 and continues through Oct. 18.
"The economy is good in Texas [despite oil prices dropping below $50 a barrel] and people are spending money," he said.
Wood feels the Texas fair is spending more money on advertising the event, especially on television. Based on his experience, it's never been a big priority for state fair officials, but this year, he's seen more commercials airing before the event than he can remember in a long time.
"They're getting the word out, and the Texas-OU football game ... is always a wake up call," he said. "It's like the switch turns on."
The Oct. 10 game at Cotton Bowl Stadium remains a centerpiece of the state fair. This year, as fans gorge on corn dogs and new bacon-infused specialties served by stadium concessionaire Ed Campbell, the struggles tied to the Texas football team and the athletic department in general provide an interesting backdrop to the Red River Showdown.
The school fired Athletic Director Steve Patterson earlier this month and finds itself with empty seats for home football games in Austin at a stadium with more than 100,000 seats.
Regardless, Wood feels the Cotton Bowl,which seats 92,100, will be filled for one of college football's fiercest rivalries. The game typically draws a 50-50 crowd split down the middle, for which the dividing line can be seen by the burnt orange and crimson red shirts worn by fans cheering for each school. If ticket sales struggle in Austin, "they'll get rid of them in Norman," Wood said, referring to the city where the University of Oklahoma is situated.
Texas-OU Day traditionally results in the fair's biggest day for food and beverage sales but it doesn't mean big business for the carnival midway, Wood said. Instead, Columbus Day, which this year falls on Oct. 12, a holiday that brings lots of kids to the state fair, is a bigger day for ride sales, he said.
For Wood Entertainment, the same attractions produce different results in Texas compared with Minnesota. In Dallas, the Techno Power and Magnum are his two biggest grossing pieces, but are much closer in sales than in St. Paul. And in Texas, the Daytona does better than the Safari Train. The Magnum's best fair overall is the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar. No two areas of the country are alike with regard to what's popular among patrons.
"The [Huss] Pirate Ship, for example, can't win you a quarter in St. Paul, but it's always in the top 10 in Dallas," Wood said. "In some places, the swinging boat kicks butt."
After the State Fair of Texas, Wood heads to the Coastal Carolina Fair in Ladson, S.C., a city about 25 miles northwest of Charleston. The fair's Dates are Oct. 29 to Nov. 8. He's been booking equipment there with Amusements of America, the carnival holding the midway contract, off and on for the past 10 years. For that spot, Wood is paid a rental fee for supplying rides.
Over the years, Wood has learned a valuable lesson working with major carnivals. Last year, the Vivona family, owners of Amusements of America, told Wood they didn't need any of his rides for the Coastal Carolina Fair. But this year, they requested he bring some equipment. "If you go when they need you, you're treated fairly," Wood said. "If you push your way in, it doesn't always go well."
Wood finishes the season at Santa's Enchanted Forest in Miami, where he meets up with a few carnivals at the independent setup, including Michael's Amusements, Wade Shows, Dreamland Amusements and Rockwell Amusements. This year's dates are Oct. 29 through Jan. 3, 2016. The Techno Power, Daytona and Magnum will all be set for the seven-week run in south Florida.