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Outreach to Diverse Families Boosts Pima County Fair
RCS Midway revenue up 2.6%

5/27/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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Celebrating diversity and responding to its community has long been a Pima County Fair Tradition, but this year this progressive fair took an unprecedented marketing approach.

Fairs not only reflect current realities of the families in the community but create an oasis of family-oriented fun and Americana where differences of opinion are tossed aside in the name of fun, entertainment, The Pima County Fair has taken this tradition of inclusion one step further. The theme of this year's event was Love Makes A Family, a "coining"  of a tagline by Family Diversity Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes the diversity of all families. 

The collaboration featured a series of exhibits entitled 'In Our Families',  displays with portraits of a diverse range of families -Photo By multi-racial families and families with LGBT members, and families with disabilities and mental illness. One of the exhibits "We Have Faith" was subtitled "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Clergy and People of Faith Speak Out."

Tolerance & Diversity
While this was a ground-breaking territory for an abashedly progressive fair, Launa L. Rabago, Entertainment and Marketing Manager, feels it is an outgrowth of what the Pima County Fair has  long strived towards. "Each year the fair tries to include an educational or socially relevant exhibit to the fair," she said. "Past efforts have included, NASA Space Exhibits, United States Holocaust Memorial Exhibits, AIDS Exhibit and HIV Awareness "

In 2015, the showcased a Cyber Stalking and Harassment exhibit, combined with an awareness campaign about cyber bullying and bullying awareness.  "In conducting research on bullying last year, we came to identify LGBTQ kids or kids growing up in families facing this issues are the most targeted group for bullying," said Rabago. "I wasn't able to get enough research done to complete the project before 2015 fair so spent the summer and fall of 2015 researching the topics and related issues in an effort to tag onto and continue the bullying awareness campaign of 2015."  

Her research eventually led her to the Family Diversity Project. "We worked together on bringing the exhibits to the fair, to spotlight all different types of families;  grandparents raising grandkids, step and blended families, multi-racial families, family with disability and mental illness issues as well as same sex parents and families growing up as or raised by transgendered parents."

Surprisingly, for what many consider a "red" state, this "bluest" of initiatives was met with, she said, little resistance. "I literally mean, very little resistance," said Rabago. "I believe there was one volunteer that was somewhat open in questioning the project before ever seeing the exhibit.  Once the exhibit was in shipped in and laid out prior to the fair opening, volunteers and others were able to preview the exhibit and understand the messaging was about tolerance, acceptance, family diversity and that the fact that it truly is love that builds and makes a family, regardless of the dynamics."

She added, "It's tough to resist when the mission is to teach peace, tolerance and acceptance."

Gay Pride Targeting
Pima County Fair organizers targeted the LGBT audience by some promotional community outreach. "I started off the awareness with a pretty swift message by sending a press release with the rainbow icon behind the Pima County Fair logo, then followed through by being a sponsor of the Tucson Gay Pride event, early in the fall of 2015," she said. 

At this annual gay pride event - celebrated nationwide - Rabago estimates that more than 700 people "came up and asked about the fair, these were people who never came to the fair and said they would come." The fair also reached out to the Tucson GLBT Chamber of Commerce. Closer to opening day, the fair utilized social media statements such as "Don't' Hate, Celebrate!", "injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere", "by learning about other families we can put an end to stereotyping."

In addition, the fair adorned its logo in 2016 with a Rainbow Flag, the recognizable symbol of LGBT supporters. 

Attendance Increases
Apparently, the marketing, promotions and exhibits on the broad themes of tolerance and diversity and the specific targeting of LGBT community members and their family had a positive impact on attendance. Attendance increased by 2.8 percent, for a total of 318,016 attendees.

Weather was generally cooperative, although portions of the opening weekend were  blown away - and not in a good way.  "We had some wind on opening Friday which really hurt our projected attendance for that night," said Rabago. " We had Grupo Control and Banda Machos in a concert package and our hopes were high for a great success.  Alas, Arizonans do not do wind well.  We had some gusts closing Saturday which may have affected our early attendance but we caught up in the later afternoon."

But the actual opening day - a Thursday - jumped 151 percent, a day boosted by both a Nelly concert and a wristband day promotion. Other records were a Tuesday, which featured a $2.00 game and rides promotion, followed by the "Highest Wednesday on record, Tobymac in concert with a wristband day promotion," said Rabago. 

Although the headline entertainment at the Pima County Fair, Rabago was positive, the fair coincided with the Country Music Awards, Coachella and Country Thunder."  I had a tough time this year due to competing shows," she said, adding. "prices are definitely getting up there, especially for country and classic rock. Classic Rock and rock in general are big with  casino audiences, and casinos are able to pay the higher prices.  

The Fair's advertising budget was $375,000, which included "outdoor, print, radio, TV and online with radio receiving the bulk of the buy," said Rabago. In addition, the fair added Snap Chat to its social media platform, reaching over one million followers. "We have the highest engaged followers of any attraction in Southern Arizona," she said. 

RCS MIDWAY
 Ray Cammack Shows (RCS) provide the Pima County Fair midway, which featured 55 rides, 42 games and 18 food stands. The fair premiered the carnival company's new Twister and 33-meter Wheel, and the top five rides at the fair were Wild River, G-Force, Crazy coaster, Rave Wave and 33-meter wheel, according to Chris Lopez, Vice President, RCS.  Midway revenue was up 2.6 percent, according to Rabago. 

Lopez noted that the open spaces where the fairgrounds were originally built are less open. The fairgrounds used to be in the middle of no where, but now seems to be in the middle of new schools, homes and businesses."

He added, "The demographic is very diverse.... The Pima County Fair is drawing more visitors and return visitors from the surrounding counties.

He added, "they do a great job with their promotions, they had entertainment every night, the wristband days there are big.  They offer a 5 dollar discount when patrons  bring in a soda product, the fair also partners with local grocery store to offer a discounted fun card during the week which also very successful. They have really gotten the formula for success there, it shows in many capital improvements to the grounds, the Pima County Fairgrounds has quickly become a sought after venue for Rodeos , RV rallies, car races and concerts year round."

He added, "The Arizona economy is having a good and steady comeback. The Tucson area is seeing the same boost."

Regarding the economic recovery, Rabago is less positive.  "The economy is still recovering, but it is still not fully recovered. It has a long way to go but it was not as bad has it had been. We always keep the economy in mind and try to keep the event affordable for those hardest hit by the recession.  This seems to continue to work for the Pima County Fair." 

Nonetheless, the fair's revenue "cleared the $4 million mark for the first time ever," she said, adding that per capita spending was up by 5.1 percent. 

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