One of the longest partnerships between a state fair and a carnival company came to an end this year. When the Tulsa State Fair opens on September 29, for the first time since men walked on the moon, the Tulsa Oklahoma midway will be provided by North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), ceasing a 45-year partnership that began in 1971 between the fair and Murphy Brothers, a local midway company.
The decision, reached late last year but only made official last week, will mean that the fair's cut of midway profits will increase dramatically. In addition, NAME promises to bring new synergies to the Tulsa market via its acquisition last year by Townsquare Media, Inc., a diversified media and entertainment company (NAME continues to direct the business as a part of Townsquare Live Events division).
"We are purveyors of fun, this partnership, will enable us to expand on the opportunities and maximize the impact of our event," said Amanda Blair, COO / Fair Manager. " The Tulsa State Fair is poised to continue growth and engage our guests with a premier midway experience, combined with exciting entertainment, attractions and first class facilities."
According to Blair, 10 carnival companies originally expressed interest when the Tulsa RFP was announced, but only five midway providers ultimately submitted proposals. "We cast as wide a net as possible, and advertised the RFP in all the proper channels," said Blair.
The Murphy Brothers contract had been renewed periodically since 1971, although Blair was uncertain about the details of the of the most recent agreement between them company and Expo Square. She said that it was her understanding that the company had submitted an RFP, and since the last contract with the company, the fair underwent a complete change in personnel and organizational structure. "This is the first midway contract under our new management," she said.
In terms of the number of the rides, the midway itself is not expected to expand and the ride contingent will be 60-70 rides.
Although some beautification and aesthetic expectations were part of the contract, according to Blair, the key point was an anticipated increase in revenue.
"We only have so much real estate, so I expect about 65 rides, which is about what we had," she said. "What we were specifically looking for was a good partnership in rides, an improved financial component and their ability to expand and take us to the next level."
The boost to revenue is substantial. Blair said the new contracts increased the fair's piece of midway revenue from 28 percent to 40 percent. "We are pleased with the outcome of the process," said Blair. "Everything continues to increase for our fair and Expo Square, and we have a solid foundation for the future." She said that the fairgrounds hosts about 300 events per year, but the fair accounts for about a third of the annual revenue.
Tulsa World, a local newspaper, reported that the deal also included what John Smaligo, Tulsa County Commissioner and chairman of the Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority, which oversees Expo Square and the Tulsa State Fair, described as a "signing bonus" of $1 million.
According to local news reports, the fair has had up and down years in recent times. "Expo Square reported net revenue from the 2015 fair of just under $2 million. That was $130,000 less than 2014, which produced the largest profit in at least a decade. The fair lost money in four of the five years from 2003-07," according to Tulsa World.
Blair wouldn't comment on the signing bonus assertion, but conceded that 2015 was a down year. "We had lost money last year, but that wasn't just because of the midway," said Blair. "It was a culmination of a lot of factors."
The new midway and expected boost in revenue is generating excitement at the fair.
"We are still evaluating how we are going to work together, but there's been a really goodflow of information between us," said Blair. "We are also planning a family oriented, permanent restroom as part of the midway and a permanent stage."
What the new deal does mean is a Tulsa State Fair with a reenergized outlook for 2016. "The transition is going to be an exciting time for the fair," said Blair. "We expect to see changes of several rides of the fair and NAME will give the midway a new,fresh look. They continue to invest in their guest experience and customer service, they've been a pleasure to work with."
In terms of the midway layout, Blair said they are working closely with NAME and one new policy is to make sure competing products no longer are in close proximity to each other. "We are not going to have the midway funnel cake vendor next to the independent funnel cake vendor anymore, for instance," she said.
Blair said while the marketing and advertising budget will not increase for the new midway company - and it is uncertain at this time what new marketing prowess NAME will bring to the table, especially following their acquisition by Town Square Media.
However, there will be reallocation of the budget towards ride promotions. Blair said the allocation for ride marketing will increase about 20 percent in 2016.
"We are thrilled and appreciative of the opportunity to provide a world-class midway for the Tulsa State Fair beginning this year," said Danny Huston, president of North American Midway Entertainment. "Amanda Blair and Mark Andrus along with their entire team have developed an event that mirrors our company's ultimate goal - to provide the highest-quality family entertainment to their patrons for many years to come. We believe in strong partnerships and know we will provide superior products and services well beyond the traditional midway operator."
According to Huston, the timing of the Tulsa Fair is conducive to the company's current routing. He anticipates that the NAME company's Canadian Unit, after the Western Fair in London Ontario, will return to the lower 48 and provide the Tulsa State Fair midway. "It fits very well into our schedule, which was obviously a consideration for us," said Huston.
Huston said it was too early to specify which rides the company would bring to the fair but, pointed out that the NAME brand is not only about the ride complement. "What we put out on our bid is our experience that NAME offers to customers, which we feel is unparalleled in the fair industry, it's not just about signature rides. But we will be doing some new things and we are working on that."
He added, "Rides are a big factor for any carnival company, but we're about the overall package, the whole experience, our customer service and our customer satisfaction. We work on the whole experience for the patron, you want to have all the correct rides, not just one ride."
The Tulsa State Fair is the first new NAME contract after its acquisition by Townsquare Media. "We're very happy with the team at Townsquare, we've gotten a lot of support and they will be instrumental".
According to said Claire Yenicay, Executive Vice President,Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, the acquisition "was instrumental in winning the contract."
"Obviously, the fair was looking to grow and that had to be done with a carnival company that was outside the status quo. We bring additional things to fairs, we're testing a lot of ideas and we have some radio stations that are relatively close to that market."