The Clark County Fair & Rodeo increased its advertising budget, expanded its radio and social media presence and added popular new ground acts for 2016, but the main ingredient was sticking to the formula of a classic American county fair.
"Our formula is that we are a county fair," said Kevin Willard, Fair Manager, Clark County Fair & Rodeo. We try to stay true to the roots of a country fair. People drive here and they go back to rural America, see some animals, be outdoors, see our exhibits, ride some rides and eat fair food. Our roots are a community, country fair, and that's what we stay with."
He added, "we have a Junior Livestock show and sale, and that auction was very successful. We have more than 250 animals, including lambs, pigs, chickens and rabbits. In the neighboring counties there are large ranches and large alfalfa farms and they participate. We have a large agricultural exhibit hall." .
Rain Causes Dip
But unfortunately, despite increased promotion and a proven blueprint of success, there is little any outdoor event do when mother nature has other plans. Attendance seemed on the upswing for the opening of the event, but then the rains came on Saturday and Sunday, decreasing the amount of expected fairgoers. "We were down 9 percent, and it was because of the rain," said Willard.
Final attendance was 73, 523. "Usually it's about 80,000," said Willard. He said that while not rare, "the rain at this time of year was unusual. We're about 45 minutes from Las Vegas. When the forecast said rain, people didn't come."
Because of the attendance dip, he said that food spending was down by about 9 percent, commensurate with attendance.
The silver lining in the dark gray rain clouds was the Rodeo portion of the Clark County Fair & Rodeo. The Clark County Rodeo is a PRCA Rodeo, a recognized part of the circuit and ranks "in the top 20 to 25" he said.
The Rodeo fan base seems split between die hards and neophytes. "We draw a lot of casual fans, but the base of hard core fans seems to grow. It is a very tight knit community, with a loyal fan base."
While Willard declined to comment on the growth in popularity of rodeo in general, in Southern Nevada, "it gets a lot of promotion, and it is becoming more synonymous with the area, it's our most popular sport. People know you get a high level of rodeo here."
Being in such close proximity to Las Vegas, booking headline entertainment is a near impossibility. The one exception was a "A Thousand Horses," an up-and-coming country music act - there were music acts at the fair, but these were free and mainly local bands - A Thousand Horses was a separate ticket purchase.
He added, "we did have three stages of continuous entertainment, but we are not trying to compete with the casinos."
Tumble Weed Connection
New ground acts and free entertainment for 2016 include Swifty Swine Races, Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show and Tumble Weed Connection, a wild west show. This show brings their Old West set, "with platforms, and a town square. They have an elaborate shoot out. It was very popular, a real hit"
Nevada of course has built-in nostalgia for western theme attractions, which is part of the appeal of the Rodeo or the "Mutton Busting" kids competition, but Tumble Weed Connection was new to the fair, and extended that theme. "We always look for new acts when we go to the annual conventions of the Rocky Mountain Fair Association and the Western Fair Association," said Willard. "We want something new but that fits into our formula."
He added, "we also have a lot of hypnotists. Which is sort of crazy because Las Vegas has so many of them. But we think a lot of kids can see these acts and they're not allowed in the casinos."
A Fair To Remember
The fair's marketing tagline - A Fair To Remember - was used mainly in the print advertising, particularly posters and postcards, still significant marketing tools for the Clark County Fair. The fair increased its marketing budget, by "about" 9 percent, to $74,000. About 80 percent was spent on radio, with the remainder on print and online. Las Vegas is in Clark County - the city is about a 45 minute drive from the fairgrounds - and this puts television advertising essentially out of reach. "We can't afford to be on TV in this market, we can't afford to be on often enough to make any impact," he said.
Radio however is the more affordable alternative. "With radio we get the drive time ads, and it's not just the ads, we get the DJ's talking about the fair. We also buy radio time in southern Utah, where we draw a lot of fairgoers."
The fair also created special ticket packages special ticket packages that are marketed exclusively to radio audiences. In addition, three radio stations broadcasted live remote shows from the fairgrounds and the local country station sponsored "A Thousand Horses," an up and coming country act that was the sole ticketed concert at the fair.
Nevada's economic improvement in recent years was noted by the fair. "The economy has been growing," said Willard. "I think it is better than last year."
He said that the housing market has drastically improved in Nevada (Willard also works as a Real Estate Appraiser) and that unemployment has dropped to 5 percent, down from 7 percent in 2015.
In spite of the rain and spending at the fair keeping the downward pace of its attendance, people at the fair were upbeat, with consumer confidence high. The fair suffered when the Great Recession hit a few years ago. "The economy was in bad shape in 2008 and people weren't spending," he said. " It has taken years to be where are now. But things have been opening up, people weren't over the top, but they have more expandable cash."
Brown's Amusements (based in Mesa, Arizona) had 22 games, four food stands and 32 rides, including the debut of a KMG Freak Out, two children's rides, a Groovy Bus and Sky Flyer. The Freak Out - an adult thrill ride, "was very popular, our Gondola wheel was probably the most biggest grossing ride.
He added that other top rides were Zipper, Graviton. Tilt-a-Whirl and Zero Gravity."
Midway revenues were on par with last year - but when the weather is taken into account, this plateau indicates the strength of this fair. "Our numbers were right there with last year, but we had a little bit of weather. The first Wednesday and Thursday were really good, both days up from the year before, we were on the right track, but then with the storm coming, it hurt us. But we had a comeback and overall it is a great fair."
Brown Amusements has provided the Clark County Fair midway for years, and what strikes Brown the most is how the community supported fair, with all its wholesome Americana tradition, can thrive in amid the glitz of Las Vegas. "I was surprised at first how much community involvement there is with the fair," said Brown. "Kevin (Willard) and his staff, the he people who run the fair, are really excellent to work with. You get several different groups of customers, you get weekend people from Las Vegas, and you get people from Southern Utah. There is a big 4-H program here too. "
He added the local economy is on a decidedly upward swing. He said of the Clark County Fair, "they were spending fine. There is more consumer confidence this year. The people were real upbeat at the fair, they seem real pleased the way things are going."
This upbeat attitude does not seem isolated to the Clark County Nevada event. Brown Amusements season begins in February, splits into two units, playing county fairs and other events, traversing throughout western states, including Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. "People are spending more, we are on track for having our best year ever."