North American Midway Entertainment has a new owner, Townsquare Media, and now it's picked up a new state fair. Jeff Blomsness, the carnival's co-owner, confirmed that NAME has been awarded the Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair.
"We went through the bid process and they picked the best operator," Blomsness said. "We didn't have the highest bid. For once [in this industry], we beat the price."
The agreement is a three-year deal with options for additional years, according to NAME officials. At this point, North American Midway officials are still mapping the strategy for forming the midway. NAME co-owner Danny Huston, working together with Tony Diaz, head of the show's international unit, will determine the exact lineup.
The deal marks the end of era for Jerry Murphy, whose company held the contract in Tulsa since 1972, according to local reports. Murphy Bros. Exposition operated under the name Spectacular Attractions in Tulsa and for many years, Jerry Murphy subcontracted with other shows to provide rides on the midway.
By comparison, NAME, formed 10 years ago through the consolidation of four large carnivals into a single entity, will most likely supply the Tulsa State Fair with equipment exclusively from its pool of 100-plus rides and attractions. "We can mix and match rides pretty easy," Blomsness said.
The show will look to improve upon a midway that grossed about $9.4 million over a five-year period from 2010 to 2014, including $2-plus million in 2014.
Meanwhile, Townsquare Media's purchase of NAME, a deal announced in August, is a good thing for the industry, Blomsness said. Townsquare, a publicly-traded company and owner of hundreds of festivals and radio stations, purchased North American Midway for $75 million in cash. It is believed to be a record transaction for a carnival. As part of the deal, Blomsness and Huston were also given stock in the company.
Townsquare is the third-largest owner of radio stations with 309 properties. Of that total, several radio stations are in markets where the carnival plays fairs such as the East Texas State Fair in Tyler. For this year's event, fair officials shifted their advertising to Townsquare stations locally at a minimal cost, Blomsness said. Townsquare also serves as booking agency, buying talent for events, which should also help the fairs NAME plays. he said.
The carnival's management team remains in place. "Danny and I have several million dollars invested in the company and it's in our best interests to see it continue," Blomsness said. "I see it as a plus. It's a way to help these fairs that for a long time now have been against the wall [financially]. The big question they all face is how do they get more people to come to their fairs and grow business. For many, attendance has been pretty flat."
The deal originated after consultant Mary Ann Halford, who was involved in the negotiations that resulted in investment firm Cypress Group purchasing the carnival 10 years ago, put Townsquare Media in touch with NAME's principals. Townsquare officials visited the carnival at the Dade County (Fla.) Fair in March, and signed the deal after several months of due diligence, Blomsness said.
"I think it's a win," he said. "We've had them as owners for a few months now, and every time we've needed their help, they've come through. They helped with Tulsa planning and whatever we need to stimulate growth with this carnival."
North American Midway's season ended this past weekend at the Space Coast State Fair in Viera, Fla. Overall, NAME had a strong season, buoyed by the addition of the Western Fair in London, Ont. The 150-year-old fair operated with an independent midway for about 50 years before signing NAME to a 10-year deal starting in 2015. The carnival supplied 55 rides for this year's Western Fair.
"We did not have ideal weekend weather in London but we're satisfied because there's a lot of history with that fair," Diaz said.
NAME made some adjustments with the inclusion of London, using some assets from Chicago-based All-Star Amusements to set up at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Mass. There was some overlap between London and the Big E with one weekend date conflict, Diaz said.
Elsewhere, carnival officials feel lucky the South Carolina State Fair went on as scheduled in October. The city of Columbia experienced record floods a few weeks before the fair, leaving hundreds of people homeless after their houses were destroyed after dams burst from gorged waterways. The people affected included state fair committee members that used life vests stored in their homes to escape the flooding, Blomsness said.
"A lot of people are suffering but we're thankful that the fair went on," Diaz said in Columbia. "There was a lot of devastation in the area but the fair crowds [were] good." Total fair attendance was 429,947.
The state's alert to boil water for safe drinking consumption, in affect for the pre-fair preparation, was lifted on Oct. 14, the first day of the state fair. On its own, NAME was prepared, filling two semi trailers full of water for cleaning of food equipment.
The carnival transported some of its bigger pieces such as the Crazy Mouse, flume ride, Giant Wheel and Euro slide, from London to Columbia, two weeks before the South Carolina State Fair. The same rides move across Canada over the summer months at major fairs in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario.
"We move the big equipment early out of western Canada because 10 days later we've got the Canadian National Exhibition," Diaz said. "It's 1,800 miles from Saskatoon to Toronto."
The CNE, an 18-day fair, didn't get a drop of rain but it did get pretty hot for about four days, Diaz said. The fair had a record run under first-year manager Virginia Ludy. She replaced David Bednar.
The carnival's season started at Dade County. For 2015, the fair extended its run to over four weekends but remained closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The new schedule worked out well and enabled NAME to rotate staff with greater ease as the show works the kinks out early in the year. The carnival sets up over 90 rides in Miami.
From south Florida, the international unit makes it way up the Midwest, with a smaller unit playing a few spots such as the Hernando County Fair in Brooksville, Fla. and an amphitheater run by concert promoter Live Nation in Pelham, Ala. In Missouri, the unit sits in St. Louis for three weekends.
New purchases for this year include a Wisdom Monster truck kid ride that was set up in Canada. Danny Huston has been in charge of upgrading electrical equipment, purchasing 10 new 350-kilowatt generators, a $1 million investment.
North American Midway's game operation includes Bob and Tony Cassata with Bob's Space Racers, a maker of carnival game concessions.The family has been booking the games on the international route for over 30 years dating to the old Conklin Shows.
Dave Potopas, Paul and Bunny Lumbard, Steve Dobson, Gary Cording and George and Greg Oldham are other independent game operators booking with NAME.
Key staff includes concessions manager Gary Oldham, George's brother, operations manager Wayne Kunz and midway manager John Anderson. In addition, Mike Hupolo is safety coordinator and Greg Korek handles media and client relations. Jeannie Bangle is in charge of financial operations and Bennett Kavlas runs the personnel office.
Low fuel costs have put more money in fairgoers' pockets, even in Alberta, a region of Canada largely dependent on a strong oil economy. The Calgary Stampede, for example, was sold out and the only factor that hurt it was some rain, Diaz said.
"The biggest change for us is moving our product," he said. "We do that now with a combination of driving from our own pool and relationships with trucking companies."