It was the sophomore year as president of the State Fair of Texas for Mitchel Glieber, a fact he takes in stride. "I really just felt more comfortable in my new role after having a successful 2014 Fair under my belt," said Glieber. "Knowing what to expect and having an excellent team in place made a big difference this year."
Glieber may downplay his role in the success of the 2015 State Fair of Texas, but the fact of the matter is, the fair had a tremendous year. With most of the accounting completed - tallies tallied and numbers crunched - the 2015 State Fair of Texas - at 24 days, one of the longest fairs in the U.S. - had not only had a record year, but a record increase from one year to the next.
The State Fair of Texas utilizes an idiosyncratic coupon system, which are the currency of the fair, used for Food & Beverages, Rides, etc. Instead of tracking attendance, the fair's main metric is the sales of coupon sales. "The 2015 fair generated in excess of $53.6 million in coupon sales for food and rides, an all-time record, making the event the most successful in its 129-year history," said Karissa Condoianis, Director, Public Relations.
"We've never had an increase even approaching this," Glieber added. "Four out of the top five days in State Fair of Texas history occurred during the 2015 State Fair."
What happened this year in Texas was that a strong fair was followed by an even stronger fair. Essentially, the State Fair of Texas has created, sustained and built upon its own momentum. Prior to this year, 2014 surpassed previous records and was ranked as the most successful fair," said Condoianis.
" The 2014 State Fair of Texas generated more than $42 million in coupon sales for food and rides, with the majority going to participating vendors. The previous record of $37.3 million was set in 2010."
The State Fair of Texas midway - an independent midway - was the leading segment driving up the State Fair of Texas revenue this year to record proportion. The midway had 74 rides and 70 games, contracting with 15 different companies, about the same as last year, according to Rusty Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President, Operations.. "Midway revenue for the 2015 Fair was $21.6 million for rides and games," said Fitzgerald." "We were up approximately 30 percent on midway operations over 2014."
Fitzgerald stated that new fair rides this year included: New York New York , Super Nova, Lolly Swings, Monster Trucks. The top grossing rides were the Texas Star, Texas Skyway, Top O' Texas Tower, Love Bug and Crazy Mouse.
Despite personal modesty, Glieber declared the fair, "incredibly successful. We shattered records in just about every category possible. We had 24-days of good weather, with only one day with a little rain. It was hotter than we would have liked, but we'll take that over rain any day."
Instrumental to this success was a revamp of the fair's marketing strategy, that both continued an ongoing strategy - making Texas-love a growing component of the event - then translating that initiative into a cutting edge social media interface. Glieber oversaw this marketing revamp that combined the best of traditional promotion and new communication technology.
The 2015 marketing camping utilized the tagline, "Passport to Texas," to emphasize the Lone Star State-centric mission of the event. "Our major campaign over the past couple of years and moving forward has been to celebrate Texas," said Glieber. "Everything we did in marketing, social media, and programming this year was to continue the "Texification" of the State Fair."
According to a fair press release, this "Texification" project, began in 204 and this year's goal was "to further emphasize the feeling of Texas pride throughout the fairgrounds." This included additional lighting and other beautification efforts to the actual fairgrounds, and as Glieber explained, "lots of Texas programming and Texan decor," at the fair.
Of course, the famed "Big Tex" - the fair's robotic mascot who greets fairgoers at the entrance - already sets the Lone Star State tone as fairgoers enter the gates, but the new Texification initiative included: an all-new Lone Star Horse Spectacular, at the Pan Am Arena, which featured traditional Texas music, accompanying professional riders on horseback, performing in coordination with the historical narrative; a new and expanded location for Big Tex's Farmyard, which showcased interactive agricultural exhibits providing a hands-on educational experience about the Texas agricultural industry; the return of Canstruction, which created structures made from canned foods, which were then donated to the North Texas and Tarrant Area Food Banks; and the annual "Big Texas Music," exhibits, which honored well-known Texas artists through memorabilia, audiovisual displays and social interactives, as well as daily live music performances from a wide variety of artists. In conjunction with this ode to Texas music, Mundo Latino - housed inside the Women's Museum - presented "Guitarras de Mexico" a special exhibit focused on the history of guitars, guitar makers and guitarists particularly those made in Paracho, Michoacan - known as the "Guitar Capital of Mexico."
Social Media Expands
In terms of marketing the fair, social media took on a more instrumental role, with a commitment to multiple platforms and a year-long interaction with fairgoers. " We were much more aggressive on the social media front, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope," Glieber said. " We were able to greatly increase our reach by ramping up social media and focused the campaign on a 365-day approach, instead of just seasonal."
This approach started soon after last year's event and according to, Jennifer Schuder, Vice President of Marketing, this early implantation of the marketing through social media also changed how the fair interacted with their customers. "In 2014, we started making social media a two-way conversation," she said. "In the past, social media was an information and promotional push beginning mid-August. Now we leverage social media throughout the year to promote the state, Fair Park and our own content. The conversation was not just about buying tickets. We used the channels to get patrons interested and excited about all the aspects of the State Fair of Texas."
But more importantly, the fair stressed the interactivity that distinguishes social media platforms from other forms of fair marketing, encouraging a deeper connection with their customers throughout the fair. "We leveraged the grounds to ask patrons to like, follow and share content with us. There was signage throughout the grounds encouraging our guests to share their experiences with us," she continued. "When they did tag us in a photo or used key #hashtags, the Fair reciprocated with the like, retweet and we even reposted great photos showcasing them on all of the channels."
Social media - as well as the Texification - also was tied into community-oriented promotions. "As part of our mission to give back to the community, the State Fair of Texas offered a variety of discounts for fairgoers throughout the length of the Fair," said Condoianis. " Working alongside Kroger and the North Texas Food Bank, the State Fair participated in "It's a Fair Deal" Wednesdays, offering fairgoers $4 admission for bringing four cans of food on any Wednesday of the Fair. Through these weekly specials, along with the Coca-Cola promotion on Opening Day and the canned food drive held on Ag Awareness Day, the State Fair set another record with a grand total of 303,298 pounds of food - all of which has been donated to the North Texas Food Bank, and provided 221,229 meals to families in need."
Biggest Mobile Bar
The State Fair of Texas featured 78 Food & Beverage concessionaires, but with a whopping 220 locations throughout the fair. According to Glieber, the most popular cuisine were standards such as Fletcher's Corny Dogs, Turkey Legs, Funnel Cakes, Jack's French Fries. He added, "anything fried and craft beers were very popular."
Craft beers - popular with millennials and a way to highlight what for many states is an emerging local, agriculturally affiliated industry - were a highlight of many U.S. fairs this season, but in the everything is bigger in Texas tradition, the State Fair of Texas debuted Beer Haven. Fair organizers promoted this as the world's largest bar on wheels; it was a 53-foot-long truck serving a wide variety of craft beers on tap. This mobile brewery featured 60 different beers, including a special collection of fair-themed brews like a cotton candy-flavored ale. Located near picnic tables and a shaded grassy locale, Beer Haven also featured, on weekends, live music and beer-making demos. The fair introduced the Texas craft beer festival, which featured 70 different Texas breweries and was held the final weekend of the Fair.
Prior to the fair, the State Fair Of Texas held its 11th annual Big Tex Choice Awards, which had about 50 entries - all items new to the fair - and a Texas celebrity panel of judges, which included Devin Harris, Dallas Mavericks point guard; Drew Pearson, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and host of Big Game Sunday on NBC 5; Dan Rodo, YouTube phenomenon and host of new TV show "Let's Go! DFW"; John Tesar, renowned chef and owner of local restaurants Knife, Oak and El Bolero and Tiffinni Young, Dallas native, community leader and Dallas City Councilwoman. For the second year, the event was open to the public who could purchase tickets, with all proceeds going to the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Program. Finalists for the competition revealed the changing palates of Texas fairgoers, which included Chicken Fried Lobster with Champagne Gravy; Cowboy Corn Crunch (a mix of sweet corn, minced jalapeno, rich cream cheese and bacon); Deep Fried Alligator's Egg Nest (alligator meat, Monterey Jack cheese, chopped jalapenos, onions and garlic) Fernie's Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly; Fried Beer-Battered Buffalo; Lone Star Pork Handle (hand-cut bone-in pork chop, marinated with pork rub, dipped in batter made from Lone Star Beer, then deep fried) Pretzel-Crusted Pollo Queso and Smoky Bacon Margarita.
"The winners of the Big Tex Choice Awards contest for new items were Best Tasting - Fernie's Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly and Most Creative - Smoky Bacon Margarita," said Glieber, who added the most popular new item at the fair was " Fernie's Holy Moly Carrot Cake Roly, because it was really delicious and it won the Best Tasting award so it received a lot of attention."
For his sophomore year at the helm, Glieber admits that the 2015 State Fair of Texas was one for the record books. He said, the fair "absolutely exceeded expectations. We had great programming, excellent marketing and public relations campaigns, innovative foods and rides, a Texan theme that resonated with our visitors, and excellent weather."