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Fewer Days Means Higher Attendance for LA County Fair
RCS ride revenue up 6% despite loss of weekend

11/9/2015

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of LA County Fair

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One less weekend - and four less days - yet attendance and spending were up. The LA County Fair (LACF) did a lot more with less; attendance was up 6 percent, reaching 1.276,817, and revenue was up 11 percent over 2014.

But the fair ran 19 days - instead of 23 -  so the 6 percent increase was compared to the cumulative 23-day 2014 Fair; the comparative 19-day attendance saw an increase of 21.75 percent from 2014. LACF's 2015 highest single-day attendance was 110,728.

The reduction on the weekend was mainly due to the Labor Day falling later in the calendar this year, according to Renee Hernandez, Communications & Public Relations Manager, LACF. 

Weather & Economy
The weather was more cooperative as well, Photo By LA County Fairshe was said, with only a few days that had triple digit Southern California heat, "although at night it cooled down, and we had a big night time crowd this year," said Hernandez.  "Last year was one of the hottest fairs we have had and that didn't happen this year." 

She added, that a new marketing campaign and new programming also help turned out crowds. "We got people more excited this year. Plus losing a weekend meant that people couldn't wait as long to make their annual trip to the fair." 

The economic climate also seemed more cooperative. "I think definitely, based on our increased revenue, that the California economy is in recovery," said Hernandez. "People bought things at our merchandise vendors and food & beverage is up. More people are coming out, buying food, enjoying the carnival, you can see there's an upswing in the economy."

The energy level at the LA County Fair was electric this year with guests coming out in droves during the day and especially evenings," said President and CEO Jim Henwood. "Enjoyable evening temperatures brought out families, couples and friends. While thousands of guests enjoyed our Grandstand concerts, others poured into the carnival and exhibitions, and indulged in delicious fair food."
Natural High
 
The fair has an advertising budget of $2 million, one of the largest budgets in the fair industry, given the length of the event, and the fact that the Southern California media market is one of the most competitive and costly in the nation. 
 
The fair utilized radio, print, TV, digital and outdoor, which included mass transit stations, a growing marketing opportunity as the area slowly transitions from solely car commuting. The fair marketing also included a multicultural outreach. All ads are bilingual, appearing in both English and Spanish, while "this year we did print, radio and TV in Korean and Chinese. The Asian market is about 3 percent of overall attendance, but we have special programming and are growing it," said Hernandez.
 
The new social media innovation for 2015 was partnering with two local bloggers, Mommy Blogger and Food Beast, which Hernandez,  called "our Twitter partners." For hours, the two bloggers blogged and tweeted live in real time from the fair. With Food Beast, as an example, the subject matter was the fair cuisine, and people tweeted food questions, creating an online conversation, with fair personnel also "dropping some questions" to further enliven the discussion.  "We had several give ways, like tickets and we had questions, like what is the fried guacamole. Our social media coordinator saw we had about 5,000 people following the twitter feed, but Food Beast has more than 35,000 followers, and that opened us up to those followers."
 
The fair's Facebook followers have grown in excess of 100,000 with 20,000 garnered through the 2015 fair alone. "We have tried Snapchat and we got more involved with that his year," said Hernandez. "We use the different social media for all our different programs, but it is difficult to measure the analytics, how does that translate into ticket sales, we're not sure of that yet. But we are engaging our customer more, and we are talking to them and they are talking to us. We had more than 200 million impressions over all the different social media platforms this year."

In addition to the social media innovations, the fair did a marketing makeover with a distinctly California feel. "We did a whole new marketing campaign," she said. Last year, the fair's campaign was "sleeker and more sophisticated, we were trying to get more of the West Siders in Los Angeles. This year, we emphasized the more traditional aspects of the fair. We had a lot more fun with the campaign."

The tagline and theme for the fair was A Natural High, The fair's website featured a woman with the top of her head "exploding" but instead of psychedelic mandalas or trails - corn dogs, lambs, Ferris wheels, beer, funnel cakes and other recognizable fair imagery erupted out the top of her skull. 

The television commercial was filled with jump cuts of fair footage asking the question, "when a high comes this naturally, who needs to legalize marijuana?' The TV spot also had a driving rock jingle written by Bootsy Collins, famed bass player with both James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic. 

Ray Cammack Shows Up
The fair's midway company also noted the positive impact of the 2015 marketing approach. "Overall at the 2015 LACF, Ray Commack Shows (RCS) was up in all departments, this is huge considering the fair was four weekends as opposed to five like in years past," said Chris Lopez, Vice President, Roy Commack Shows, Inc. "Less days and great weather along with the fair's new marketing campaign meant this year was great. The fair's new marketing was the best that it has been in many years."
 
The Ray Commack Shows (RCS) midway featured 70 rides and 55 games. Lopez said that rides were up 6 percent, games 8 percent and food 13 percent. The top rides for the fair, according to Lopez, were La Grande Wheel, Skyride, Crazy Coaster, Wild River and G Force.  "In LA, we had a new Wacky Worm, a new Funnel Cake stand and new fried food stand, some new games, a fishing hole game and a new Bob Space Racer Group Game. 
"The games did great in LA," said Lopez. "Our philosophy with games is that you do not compete with online and computer games, people come for the traditional games. The best and easiest form of assuring customers spend, is to make sure they win. Our games are winnable. Also, we don't bark or harass our guests. We also accept the same FunCard  as the rides and games, which is makes it easier to play. Our guests are staying longer, eating more and playing more games." 
 
He added that the company has expanded its social media presence, marketing directly to fairgoers. "We like to be innovators, whether it is equipment or on social media. We hit 10,000 followers on Facebook. RCS is a brand that is recognizable to our customers. Twitter has also been huge, great for us."
 
Favorite Foods 
 The fair featured 600 merchandise vendors, selling toys, miracle pillows and the ultimate mops. The LACF featured more than 150 food vendors, selling more than 1,200 food items.  New food items included: deep-fried guacamole, spicy PB&J burger, chicken and waffles in a waffle cone, and deep-fried SlimFast bars.  One of the most popular food vendors was the locally-based Chicken Charlie, who sold  20,000 deep-fried guacamole, 20,000 bacon-wrapped pickles,  10,000 bacon-wrapped chicken legs, and  7,000 Krispy Kreme triple-decker burgers. In addition,  40,000 lbs of turkey legs, 10,000 lbs potatoes; Two fields of sweet corn;  3,500 lbs of pizza dough and  3.5 miles of foot-long corn dogs.
 
Hernandez pointed out even in diet conscious LA, "people come out to eat the food they eat once a year, but there has been more gluten free and vegetarian foods, more fresh fruits and vegetables. There was a fish taco stand that did very well, and Pappas Artisanal Restaurant, a local pizza restaurant served organic flat bread pizza, which did very well. 

Another high point for the fair was fair entertainment - the End of Summer concert series - which Hernandez said was one of the most successful  in the history of the LACF. The End of Summer Concert Series featured:  Chicago & Boz Scaggs, Train, Patti LaBelle & Chaka Khan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bell Biv Devoe, Alejandra Guzman, Jake Owen and Skillet.  While there were no full sellout shows, Hernandez  said "Chicago and Train were near sellouts. We were able to get good names this year.  It was the highest grossing series ever with fewer shows."


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