The New Mexico State Fair was one day shorter but in many ways stronger. The fair had a new midway company, new marketing strategies, a successful concert and rodeo series and even its own beer.
The 2015 New Mexico State Fair was a strong follow up to the strong 2014 edition, with higher overall attendance, but slightly lower paid attendance - although considering that there was one less day of fair compared to 2014, the numbers show "We had a very successful fair," said, Dan Mourning, General Manager of the New Mexico State Fair. "I am not sure if we had what would be considered a "record day," though both Saturdays were extremely busy, with the last Saturday seeing attendance of almost 70,000 people.
This year's fair was attended by 460,468 people, as compared to last ye
ar's total attendance of 458,379. Paid attendance was just shy of last year's total number with 414,932 people attending as compared with 420,624, however the 2014 fair had a 12 day run as opposed to this year's 11 day run. The distinction between paid attendance and total attendance is affected by a small percentage of people such as vendors and promotional partners who are counted as "unpaid" attendance. Additionally, the 2015 fair included very successful free days for public servants and other honored attendees, such as for law enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers, which were well attended special events.
It was the first year of a new contract with Reithoffer Shows, and Mourning estimated that the midway revenue was nearly $2.1 million, which "was a significant increase over previous years. Reithoffer made capital investment as well as marketing. It is a great partnership. They were wonderful to work with, so organized and professional."
The Reithoffer Midway featured 47 rides, with the top rides "anecdotally we believe it would be the new Galaxy Roller Coaster or the Stinger," he said. "People loved having a new roller coaster at the fair."
Mourning said Reithoffer fulfilled their response to the initial RFP, creating a genuine partnership between carnival company and fair. Essentially, fair organizers wanted a midway make-over, heavy in the "wow factor. "Whomever came in, we wanted the midway to look more like a permanent amusement park than as portable space. The public perception must be clean and safe, that means a good looking area, not with cables everywhere. We dug trenches to hide the cables, and we wanted a clean walkway, we widened the aisles so it didn't seem claustrophobic. It was an incredibly great atmosphere."
He added, "Reithoffer brought speed and glitz and all the LED lights lit up and created real excitement. The layout highlighted that energy, but they also had the shade structure, created an environment where families felt comfortable, there was something for all ages. People felt very comfortable and they stayed longer at the midway. They had a very big impact on our fair, our customers never saw anything like it and they loved it."
The most effective midway promotion was the advance wristband, tickets and Mega Pass purchase options through the New Mexico State Fair and Walgreens partnership. Sales more than doubled from 2014 to 2015. Total sales for the various Walgreens advance purchase options were $520,730 (as compared to $197,929 in 2014).
"As we expected, our promotional efforts, our reputation for being a safe and family friendly fair, and our partnership with Reithoffer Shows, who delivered on their promise to bring a great carnival, further solidified our status as one of the top fairs in the country," said Mourning.
Like many fairs seeking to both attract younger fairgoers, and to highlight local brewers, the New Mexico State Fair has expanded its craft beer vendor presence, but this fair took this trend one step further. The fair partnered Brewers Guild of New Mexico, which supports the development of the state's burgeoning craft brew industry in New Mexico, and they selected a New Mexico-based La Cumbre Brewing Company to produce the New Mexico State Fair beer, a cream ale, whose ingredients include New Mexico grown hops. This "farm to can" craft beer was not only sold at the fair, but also in cans and on tap by local retailers and restaurants leading up to the fair. It was marketed as the official beer of the 2015 New Mexico State Fair.
More than 3,000 cans of the New Mexico State Fair beer were sold. "The fair ale served as a great marketing tool ahead of the fair and during the event," said Dan. "It was one of those unique things, and it represented the entire industry and increased beer sales at the fair, brought more attention to our craft beer vendors. Every can sold had our logo and tied back to the fair. Brewing our first beer was a good story so it got a lot of attention. So it was both a marketing tool and a source of revenue and the best thing about it was it didn't cost the fair anything."
"The New Mexico State Fair is all about bringing folks together to have a great time, which is why we are so pleased to partner with the Guild and La Cumbre to create an official New Mexico State Fair beer," said Larry Kennedy, New Mexico State Fair Commission Chairman. "It is an opportunity for us to highlight a great local craft beer industry as well as all the cool things that happen at the Fair which includes an exceptional food and beverage experience unique to our event."
The most enthusiastic constituency behind the craft beer movement is the millennial generation and the fair's cream ale was a deliberate attempt to turn more of them in fairgoers. "We take the long view asking what demographic, what population, do we need to grow?" said Mourning. "The millennials as a population are not a strong fair participant. The millennials love the craft brew industry. You have to think outside the box to reach them."
Another example of thinking outside the box and targeting marketing and new fair programs to this younger demographic was the institution of a Bike Valet, a special section for bike parking section that catered to and encouraged riding a bicycle the fair. "It was well received on social media, there was a great word of mouth," he said. "It was a better than park and ride with buses, and the bicycles were locked up in a secure area closer to the fair that the parking lots. It also ties in with the environment and community that the fair is also about."
Other fair content emphasizes the multicultural ethos of millennials as well as connecting with the 21st century New Mexico community. "We have displays and exhibitions of art from all cultures. Art buffs and collectors come to this fair. We sell Native American pottery, wood carvers, crafters, it's amazing. We sell a lot of artesian products. We have a Fine Arts Building, an Hispanic Arts building. We had an exhibit of Native American Photography, African American art as well. We do have a melting pot in New Mexico and we are proud to show it at the fair."
The fair's advertising budget was approximately $350,000, with $231,000 of that placed in media buys. Mourning estimated that the budget allocation was: 36 percent on TV (Walgreens advance ticket/wristband promotion and Rodeo/Concert combined); 30 percent on Radio, 20 percent on Outdoor; 9 percent on Print, and 5 percent on Digital, which "includes budget for Facebook posts and boosts," said Mourning.
"Television gets the most attention and is a big part of our campaign," he said. "Radio is important, we have partnership with local media stations. They come out here to morning broadcasts during the fair. We had great press coverage, we new people falling in love with the fair or getting reacquainted with the fair and falling back in love."
But social media played an overall more important role at the fair this year. "We did more outreach including contesting which engaged the public and allowed them to vote and did giveaways," he said. "It was very successful with 4,100 new followers to the fair's Facebook page during fair season. "
The New Mexico Fair gave its website a makeover, and many of the social media promotions were designed "to drive traffic to the website. We made our website more user friendly and we gave it a great look, he said.
One of the most successful social media driven contests was the "Be A Star Spangled Star" contest, which selected the singers of the National Anthem than preceded PRCA Rodeo events. Contestants - mainly local singers - submitted clips and they were voted on via social media. "This contest resulted in thousands of new Facebook followers," he said.
Clay Walker Sells Out
The music lineup for the fair included country music legend Doug Stone, Clay Walker, Restless Heart, The Swon Brothers, the Latino rock band Ozomatli, Chicano rock trio Los Lonely Boys, and rock band NEEDTOBREATHE, who recently earned a Grammy nomination. "Clay Walker was our best selling concert and he performed to a sell out crowd on the last Saturday of our fair," said Mourning. "Los Lonely Boys also did very well on the first Saturday of our fair."
He added that the although the talent buying market has been tough, this year "we were very lucky to get the acts we needed. It is important to get the up-and-comers and not lose money. We have been very fortunate and found our niche. We were also able to work with the routing and book acts that going to Kansas and Colorado and Arkansas. My booking manager also went to IEBA. People are putting offers in early but booking later."
The fair foodie action began on opening day with the Unique Foods Contest, where vendors compete for outstanding new fair cuisine. The event is held at the New Mexico State Fair Pavilion (Main Stage). and judged by a panel of local TV media personalities. Competitors included The Big One" -a 1/2 lb. beef burger with polish sausage, green chili, roasted jalapenos, pico de gallo, cilantro, and cheddar cheese; 3D Banana (Hand-dipped frozen banana covered with peanut butter cookie dough, chocolate, and a choice of sprinkles, nuts, or Reese's Pieces); Daisy Mini Donuts (Chocolate Raspberry Chipotle Donuts Fresh miniature donuts served with a side of Daisy's Original Chocolate Raspberry Chipotle Sauce. Sweet, spicy, and delicious! ) Funnel Cake Green Chile Cheeseburger (Green Chile Cheeseburger served between two funnel cakes); Deep Fried Cheese Curds "Every year the Unique Foods Contest inspires extraordinary creativity in our concessionaires and the recipes that they come up with are not only imaginative but delicious to boot," said Mourning. "We are known for the fair food and people come here for the indulgence," he said. "We had a record year for food sales. One vendor told me he had the best year he's had here in 27 years. Revenues were up between 10 and 15 percent."
Thinking Outside the Box
Mourning credits the success of the 2015 fair to "thinking outside the box. You want something new because you want people to come through the gates."
This innovative approach means researching the diverse demographic of the fair, and creating a multitude of programming that addresses many segments within that population. "We brought in a sea lion exhibit, that had rescued sea lions," said Mourning. " Most people have seen a sea lion at the zoo, but they were never able to touch one. It was a great exhibit. But you have find things and do things that appeal to different people. Everything is a calculated risk, like doing the Craft Beer, but it's never one thing that brings people through the gates and it is how you package and sell it that will make it not flop."
He added, "even in the darkest times, the hardest economic times and even war, people will spend on entertainment. People of all ages are rediscovering the fair, its family and good wholesome entertainment. There's a lot of things that can be done in the good clean fun genre.
But spending was up, indicating that while Mourning pointed out that New Mexico was "still recovering from the recession," the regional economic climate is on the upswing. "We were the last state to go into the recession and we are the last one to come out. But fairgoers spent more this year, they spent more money than last year, and the highest spending we've seen since 2008."