The abduction then subsequent rescue of Gus-Gus the Goat helped save the Arizona State Fair. Six days of rain, at times heavy enough to cause ride closures, negatively impacted the attendance, which reached 1,102,044, down by about 5 percent from the previous fair.
The run included a few strong days - such as a middle Sunday and a reported record-breaking closing day with 113,196 attendees - "many people deferred their visit because of the rain, which was unusual for Arizona, because we don't usually get rain this time of year," said Kristi Walsh, Assistant Executive Director. "Considering the weather, the fact the fair was only down about 5 percent is positive."
Searching for GusGus
But what about G
usGus? "We made international news, it was one of the biggest stories we've ever had the fair," said Walsh. "We got a lot of extra publicity for the fair that we never had before."
Just three weeks old, GusGus was kidnapped from the petting zoo at the fair. According to Walsh, the story spread not just throughout local media - and of course social media - but also U.S. News & World Report, Time Magazine, Inside Edition, ABC, FOX-TV, NPR and MTV reported on the missing kid. "We had international coverage, reports in France and Canada, we were fieling a lot of calls. There were reports that Gus-Gus misses his mommy," said Walsh. "The Petting Zoo manager said it was not healthy for the baby goat to be away from his mother and people took it to heart."
The mystery has not been solved; the goat abductors are still at large. "Everyone is still wondering who would steal a goat," said Walsh. "Although there were speculations that the thieves were using it for trade or rituals."
GusGus was found about 10 miles from the Fair - reportedly by someone walking his dog, who brought him to a PetsMart. The goat was soon returned to the fair's petting zoo to a warm reception. "It was really great, our media partners covered the story and our Facebook fans were posting about GusGus," she said. They really put out the word, and it was refreshing that there were so many people who cared about the goat as opposed to some bad people who would actually steal a goat."
The incident reminded the fair that even an urban fair - Phoenix is said to be the 5th largest city in the U.S. - has deep roots in the community. "We may be a big city, but we operated like a small town too, people love the fair," said Walsh. "The community put the word out, and really networked it."
The publicity not only brought attention to the fair, "but it was promotional too, the social media really got a hold of the story and ran with it. I think it pushed attendance too, people came to the fair to see GusGus," she said.
Share Something amAZing
This era of hyper-communication means we are all instantly connected and a missing baby goat seems like a story ready made for social media. But the Arizona State Fair had already created a foundation that strongly interfaced the fair within the social media world. Its 2015 advertising campaign with a tagline that was all about social media marketing: "Share Something AmAZing."
"Our marketing was very social media oriented this year, encouraging posting pictures, sharing your memories with your friends," said Walsh . "We updated our mobile app. We saw a lot selfies, a ton of pictures, and we used more Pinterest and Instagram."
She added that the Arizona State Fair Facebook followers grew to 97,000 from 80,000 during the fair.
"We didn't cut our budget, but we restructured how we spend marketing dollars and cut our mass-marketing advertising," she explained. The shifting of dollars went not just to an enhanced social media effort, "but we did more onsite marketing, more directional signage and getting the word out to fairgoers in the hopes of getting them to see all the value they get with the fair admission. We added more information booths, where workers could verbally interact one-on-one and tell fairgoers what was going on, what to do and where to go. They answer questions, but also say you 'really don't want to miss this,' and give them all the information."
The program was a success. "There is so much to do at the fair, and we found that once we have the people here, showing them more things they can do, means they stay longer and spend more money at the fair, on food and rides."
According to Walsh, post-fair surveys last year showed "people love the fair, had a positive experience at the fair, but they weren't ranking us in value as highly. They don't really know what was free with fair admission. We would ask a question about one of our attractions or exhibits and they never heard of it. We realized their stays were shorter. With more messaging on site, you can send people all over the fairground, they'll buy a sweatshirt if gets cooler. It did have a positive impact, and increased revenue."
Talent Buying Research
Headline entertainment for the Arizona State Fair represented several genres: Bret Michaels, Meat Loaf, Rick Springfield, Sheryl Crow, Gary Allan, Austin Mahone, Jack & Jack, Jackson Browne, Jane's Addiction, Flo Rida, THIRD DAY, Natalia Jimenez, Jason Derulo, and Hanson with Nelson.
"Flo Rida really brought in a lot of teeny boppers," she said. "But we tried to have wide variety of acts. We talked to our local radio stations, and really researched what the market likes, what they are looking for. Then we promoted the shows in partnership with the stations, and the PR effort included a lot of a social media."
Surprisingly, classic rock like Meat Loaf, Jackson Brown, Sheryl Crow and even Jane's Addiction, also drew large crowds - and are names not seen at many fairs. "We did a lot more market research this year, and we were more proactive in booking acts, looking at what acts are touring, what our audiences would support. Jackson Brown and Sheryl Crow were very unique situations and we were lucky that their touring and our budget worked out. It was a combination of hard work and luck."
Rides & Games
The Arizona State Fair midway was provided by Ray Cammack Shows and featured 69 rides, 56 games and 34 food stands. According to Chris Lopez, Vice President Ray Cammack Shows, the most popular rides were the La Grande Wheel, Sky Ride. Wild River, G-4 and Rave Wave. New for Arizona rides include a Wacky Worm Coaster and a Monkey Maze Fun House.
The rain did cause some periodic shutdowns of the midway - "the longest was still under an hour, about 48 minutes," said Lopez. "Our rides have a high tolerance in wind, but it's the lightening worries you the most."
But overall revenue was on par with last year's. "Ride revenue was right where we needed it to be," said Lopez. "The gross from the last few days was very high. The per cap spending was up slightly, which shows that guests were eating a lot more in our shaded food court or huddling under the tent to play a game."
He added, "Sundays we were selling all day wrist bands for $35, and they were very popular. Sundays were exceptional."
Like many fairs this season, the Arizona State Fair seems to have an uptick in younger fairgoers. "The Wacky Worm Roller Coaster is perfect for all ages, and is a real family attraction and very popular. We are pleasantly seeing more strollers at the end of the night. The fair is family fun time and it is evident we are seeing more kids."
In addition, Lopez pointed out that the Arizona State Fair attendees love to play games. "We gave out 269,598 stuffed animals and prizes," he said. "Our game revenue was up."
In fact, he credits the company's winning attitude in its approach to fair gaming as the main factor behind the success of this segment. "We are competing against online games and video industry and the game industry and to do that you have to make your games winnable. It's a totally different approach than the games in the past. We do not bark at customers, we invite folks to our games, show them how to play, how to win. We make it fun. People in Arizona love games, they win in Arizona."
The hottest prize in the annual Grand Canyon State celebration? "Minions are hot, as is any licensed movie merchandise," he said. "Stuffed donuts were very popular."
In addition, Lopez noted that the company's social media program has "really taken off, we do giveaways and promotions, and with Arizona we were collaborative partners, and married up our promotions with their events. We are part of their app, so with a click of the button customers could find our rides and promotions. We were also part of the radio giveaways and other marketing."
New Fair Food
The fair featured 110 food vendors, with new items on the Arizona State Fair menu including: Deep-fried peanut butter and jelly cheesecake on a stick with bubble gum frosting (Sweet Cheeks); Deep-fried wood-fired pastrami pizza (Cardinali's Pizza); Specialty poutines - French, Mexican, Greek, shepherd's pie (Fhat Dawgs and La Poutinerie); Specialty Dawgs: Japanese dog, Mexican dog, Chicago dog (Fhat Dawgs); Brownie caramel funnel cake (J & L Concessions); Chocolate-covered chicharrones (Bacon A-Fair); Frosted Flake fried chicken (Get Pickled O Petes); The Koolicle: Kool-Aid-infused pickle (Get Pickled O Petes); and the Coconut Samoa Doughnut (Brander Enterprises)
While this year GusGus might have grabbed more headlines. "Our food is the number one thing the media asks about," said Walsh, adding that there were more than 20 new food items, and about 24 stories throughout the news media about the Arizona State Fair Food.
"In the last 10 years, it has really gotten to be a big part of the fair," she said. "Our vendors have all been getting creative in the market, and our fair food has really been built up. It is collaborative marketing between the vendors and the fair, the food really drives people here."
While the standbys such as giant turkey legs, deep-fried candy bars, corn dogs, cotton candy, caramel apples, frybread, and funnel cake entice fairgoers year in and year out, "The new foods always get attention," she said. The Peanut Butter & Jelly Cheesecake with bubble gum icing and Koolicle were very popular, as was the Frosted Flake fried chicken. The specialty poutines were very new and quite delicious. They were very new for the fair."
She added, "the rain hurt some vendors but on the good days, their numbers were strong. People were coming out to the fair. Our closing days were clear weather and very strong food sales. It is great and amazing to see people coming to the fair, having fun and enjoying the tradition."