No matter how windy the start, the Maricopa County Fair racked up a positive 2016.
Situated in the Phoenix market an area growing in population, jobs and housing, the Maricopa County Fair has been one of the fastest growing county fairs in recent years.
The fair has implemented new marketing in 2016 and has eliminated the high-overhead headline concerts in favor of the more economically feasible motorsports, while at the same time enhancing other attractions through better scheduling. The result is a family-friendly 21st century fair for a marketing whose young family population has begun to soar.
Sean Butler, Unit Manager for Butler Amusement pointed out that the last couple of years "have been great years," and this year the midway revenue was up
7 percent. "the fair went very well," he said. "We have had very good years, and last year we had a very good year. This year was the best year we've had here."
The point being is that that the positive 2016 showing was not an anomaly - a lucky confluence of good weather and timing - but the fair itself growing along with the community it serves. "From concept to how they run the fair, this county fair has state fair quality," he said. "They do a greet job of marketing and it is a safe, family atmosphere. They push the family fair and the community supports it."
He added, "the Phoenix market is growing. After the recession hit and the housing market crashed, this area was impacted. But now there's more money flowing in Phoenix, there has been a recovery and there are more families in the area and they know the fair is the place to bring families."
The Maricopa Fair has an attendance of more than 70,000 and while Karen Searle, Executive Director, said that the numbers are not completed yet, she said attendance was up by at least "3 percent."
Considering that the midway had a bigger uptick than attendance, the conclusion is that people were spending more than recent years.
"It was good, we're up from last year," said Searle. "I'm still working on the final number as we are processing Groupon vouchers still.
I know for sure we are up. If I was only judging the economy of Arizona on our fair, I would say things are getting better. Not only did people come out and spend money, our livestock auction hit a new record."
Another sign of improved consumer confidence was an increase in fairgoer lingering. "People were staying longer," she said. "We continue to improve the product, and people stay longer and the longer they stay helps the food and the carnival."
According to Searle, weather-wise was " both excellent and terrible," on Friday "we had sustained winds of 40+ mph. It was windy on Thursday and breezy on Saturday with Sunday absolutely gorgeous."
While technically the fair and midway never closed, attendance was so negatively impacted by the gusts that it wasn't really an issue. As precautions, "we took down umbrellas, and secured our tents, We didn't have any damage or incidents. We also wet the dirt as much possible. That was the major concern, dust and visibility."
While the fair has endured rain in previous years, "we've not had the sustained high winds before," said Searle,
She added, "the people that did come went to exhibits inside the buildings."
Food revenue was up 5.5 percent, with 29 food vendors. Traditional deep fried concoctions were again standouts at the fair. " Deep fried Caramel Macchiato, Deep Fried Hot Chocolate and Deep Fried Coffee remained popular," said Searle.
AZ, AG & EWE
The fair's advertising tag line this year was "AZ, AG & EWE," which "we will probably use for a few more years," said Searle.
The fair's advertising budget was $100,000, with the media breakdown being TV: 45.8 percent, Radio: 20.5 percent; Print: 14.4 percent and "other" (including billboards, printing of flyers, etc.): 19.3 percent.
While social media was essentially the same - "we boosted a few more posts on Facebook than last year" - with other advertising the fair took the production of cable and online commercials in-house. Previously, the video component of marketing was created by cable companies "WE took in house this year, which means we owned the video and were able to boost the video. We had a tremendous response, and we got more online attention than traditional media.
Searle said the video combined still images, birds-eye view fair footage shot by a drone, and high energy musk, with its own tagline "Join Us!"
Free entertainment was key to the success of the fair. The newest act was the Dueling Pirates High Dive Show. "This was the biggest show we ever had - 70 feet in the air - we put a lot of focus on the show with the media," said Searle.
Other acts at the fair were Skip Banks the Balloon Man, Godfrey the Magician, Cirque Adventure, Superhero BMX Bike Show, Safety Magic with Calamity Jo and Sponge Bob.
In addition to an enticing array - and a slight increase in the amount - of free acts, fair organizers took a more systematic approach to scheduling. "We schedule things far enough apart this year," explained Searle, which not only avoided conflict but kept "people on the grounds longer, you cannot see the dive show and the magician at the same time. We worked at having something every 30 minutes, either a contest, or a band starting or an act. There is always something to do, and we make every effort to spread them out so people can walk the grounds to get to each show."
The Maricopa Fair is known for its motorsports. Several years ago, the fair decided to expand its motor sports offerings, mainly to replace the headline entertainment, which was not only a cost savings but helped differentiate the county event from the Arizona State Fair later in the year. "We did four nights of motorsports, similar to last year," said Searle. "People seem to love the monster trucks and Demo Cross."
With the new scheduling, "it was easier to program with the times staggered. We things starting every half hour, so it was a very busy fair and people had a lot of things to enjoy."
The one issue to keep in mind in coordinating the ground acts with the motorsports is that one of the stages "is right near the motorsports, and it can get very noisy. You don't want to start the magician during Monster Trucks."
With the cost of headline entertainment rising to astronomical levels and the precarious nature of today's fractured, online-based music business fragmenting audiences, the Maricopa County Fair is content with a non-headliner fair. Searle pointed out that the crowd coming for trucks, motorcycles and demolition derbies are more conducive to the fair experience. "When you put on a concert, a lot of that audience comes for the concert and just leaves," Searle said. "After motorsports, more of that audience goes to the midway and stays longer at the fair."
The Butler Amusement Midway featured 39 rides, with new amusements being the 1001 Nachts and Crazy Train, which were new for Maricopa and two new rides in the Butler Amusements arsenal, an A.R.M Quasar and a KMG Inversion.
The Crazy Train is actually an "old school" signature ride for Butler Amusements. Butler describes the ride as "a kind of Zipper, and we use it sparingly, it is a very high maintenance ride," he said, It also takes up a lot of space, but a new layout meant "that we moved some rides, so we had the space for it this year. It is a very impactful ride and you get a different response."
The most popular rides at the Maricopa Fair were Butler signature rides Xcelerator Coaster, Giant Wheel, and the new Inversion.
The Butler Amusements season began in February and so far the weather has been cooperative and fairgoers plentiful. The unit Sean Butler manages has mainly played in Arizona. "So far, we are on track to having a record year. As long as the weather holds, this could be one of our best years."