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New Management Company Brings Local Energy & Expanded Entertainment to Ostrich Festival

6/17/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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The Ostrich Festival in Chandler, Arizona is unique not just for the celebration of  the  titular bird, but the fact the fair management is essentially outsourced.  This year was the first year of a two-year contract for Steve Levine Entertainment (SLE), attracting  87,000 attendees, an increase over last year. According to Terri Kimble, President/CEO, of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce, new management resulted in some of the top revenue days in the 28-year history of the fair.

Ostrich farming  began in Chandler in 1912,  and was still a thriving industry there when the fair was founded nearly three decades ago. While ostriches are popular exhibits and ostrich races a popular attraction, ostrich ranches are a thing of the past in Chandler.  In the last decade or so, the comPhoto By munity has become a tech corridor, attracting companies such as Microchip, GoDaddy and PayPal. "We have a lot of large tech companies, and we have evolved into a digital community," she said. "But we still celebrate ostriches, which is something we are still know for." 

Ostrich Evolution
SLE replaced the Chandler Chamber of Commerce's previous long-term fair management company, Universal Fairs. When the contract with Universal Fairs reached term, Chandler put the management contract out to bid, and had five bidders, one of whom was Universal, vying for the Ostrich Festival contact. The main deciding factor was entertainment. "We wanted to focus on the entertainment, and take that to the next notch."

The Ostrich Festival did add a range of entertainment this year via SLE, but the midway company, Butler Amusements remained, indicative of the balance that Chandler strikes between outsourcing fair management but also making sure the chambers exerts control over the event. "The chamber has the final say so, but it's been a great partnership with Butler Amusements and Steve LeVine Entertainment," said Kimble.

In the first two decades of the Ostrich Festival, the Chamber of Commerce had hands on management of the event. But, "the actual fair started to grow and continues to grow," said Kimble. And the city of Chandler and its chamber of commerce also evolved. Today, the organization manages more than 300 events. 

About eight years ago, the Ostrich Festival - which averaged 2,500 attendees in its earliest days -  moved to the 91-acre Tumbleweed park, and  contracted with Butler Amusements for a full-scale midway. It was at this time management and marketing of the festival was outsourced to a third party, Universal Fairs, an outdoor event production company. "The Chamber of Commerce is still involved with planning, volunteers and really every aspect of the fair, especially the parade on opening day," said Kimble. "But we contracted with experts to put on the actual fair. Butler is a top-notch carnival company. 

 "All the decisions are up to the fair," said Brooke Benavides, Public Relations & Marketing Manager, SLE. "We brought a fresh outlook and were given free reign but we also didn't go too far off the norm, we kept the valued relationships the festival has built up." 

Entertainment Expansion 
Probably the biggest change in 2016 was a revamping of entertainment. Expanding entertainment was a decision based on extensive community survey, following last year's fair and through social media outreach. While many fairs - citing rising costs - have reduced and in some cases completely eliminated musical acts and theatrical entertainment - the Ostrich Festival moved in the opposite direction, setting up three different stages for ongoing entertainment throughout the event. Local and regional bands, musicians, dance troupes and other entertainers were showcased on these stages. "We listened to what our customers had to say," said Kimble.

According to Brooke Benavides, Public Relations & Marketing Manager, SLE, the entertainment bookings "wanted to hit several different demographics, from baby boomers to teeny boppers, something for everybody. We relied on the connections and relationships we've built up over the years, and were able to fit into routings, so we were able to keep the costs down."

The entertainment included :  Parmalee, an American country band from North Carolina known for their songs "Musta Had a Good Time," "Carolina" and "Already Callin' You Mine," Kalin and Myles, the hot pop duo from San Francisco who had the hit, "Love Robbery." They are huge with the teenybopper and tween crowd, we had a lot of kids with their parents," said Benavides., The English Beat, the new wave/ska band founded in 1979;  post-punk band Ozokids, a multi-genre music group, who "performed a special interactive kids show before their main stage performance," said  Benavides.. " and Ozomatli is a Grammy-award winning multi-cultural band from Los Angeles, whose international hits include "Brighter" and "Burn it Down. "

In addition to the entertainment makeover and expansion, SLE brought more technology to the event. " One of the things we as a production company brought to the event was an electronic ticketing system that allowed us to track ticket purchases, scanned tickets, etc. for the first time in the event's history," said Benavides. "There really is no way for us to analytically compare with previous years. But we were able to provide accurate numbers, and constantly provide reports and data to improve the fair next year." 

In awarding the contract, the "transparency of their ticketing system was a big plus," said Kimble. "Their level of tech was very impressive in their presentation. The Tech industry is very big here, and also we were able to integrate their technology very well with the festival."

 Advertising & Marketing
Ostrich Festival marketing also had an expanded reach. According to  Benavides, the 2016 marketing targeted the "growing west valley area, which is expanding with families, and we also reached further west. We targeted the Hispanic and Latin communities," she said. 

In addition, "the multi-pack promotion with Fry's Food Stores was extremely successful, featuring two adult tickets, two youth tickets and two all-day carnival ride wristbands for $70 ($90 value)," said Benavides.  

The marketing budget was $100K, about the same as last year, with the largest spending still on television. The media spending allocations were - TV, 30 percent;  Outdoor, 8 percent; Radio, 18 percent; Online, 5 percent; Print, 8 percent; Merchandise, 2 percent; Signage, 21 percent; Miscellaneous, 8 percent.

The allocations are somewhat misleading, said Benavides, because it downplays the actual online presence of festival marketing. Print, radio, and television all have websites and their purchases included those outlets as well. In addition, "we switched up the media partners from the previous fair. We had a great TV partner, who stepped up their game in terms of visibility, so we not only ran commercials but they had broadcasts from the Tumbleweed Park grounds, and more of a web presence." 

Butler Midway
The midway was provided by Butler Amusements, who "ranked our second day, a Saturday, as one of their Top 5 revenue days ever here," said Benavides, who added that midway was spending "was up" compared to 2015.

The midway featured 41 rides, included the Ostrich Festival debut of The Inversion, Quasar and 100 Nachts. The hottest ride at this year's fair was the Inversion.  

The Ostrich Festival featured  58 food vendors, and included Food Truck Alley, a first for the fair and something the Chamber wanted. "Food trucks have become such a big part of the city, and we had all kinds of food trucks," said Kimble.

Food is instrumental to the fair, and Kimble pointed out that all the traditional favorites were there, "people come to the fair, so we were able to incorporate the food trucks into the fair, keeping it relevant to contemporary tastes, blending the new with the old. But everybody remembers the good old fair foods from the good old days, like Deep Fried Twinkies, Turkey Legs, and Cotton Candy." 

Benavides. said  that this year, "we had more local vendors than previous years, and we have strong relationships with the local community and local restaurants. We didn't want to loose the fair food vendors that have been here, but because we are more of a local company, we had those connections. We tried to keep the community as involved as possible." 

She added, "the one thing the chamber felt very passionately about was getting back to the local roots, and putting an emphasis on the local community and have festival attendees feel like they were involved, that was part of the RFP." 

First Fair
SLE is an outdoor event management and marketing company, this was actually their first fair - a multi-day event with a complete midway and multiple spaces. "We had never done something of this magnitude, especially with the amount of rides for days in a row," said Benavides. 

While the entertainment company's first foray into the actual fair business might have been a logical segue from other outdoor events, Benavides  was quick to emphasize, "overall it was a blast. It is an all hands on deck experience. We've done major events, but the entire staff got behind the festival in a big way, with our marketing, talent booking, management and public relations."

She added that the local experience "was really appreciated, we could bring more communication than a national company, there were a lot of phone and in person conversations. The chamber also helped us understand the process and were with us every step of the way planning festival. We also worked with the tourism department, and tourism publications, magazines and websites. This has become a state-wide festival, it draws from all over Arizona."

The end result for the organizers of the Ostrich Festival is that new contract holder met expectations. "There is always room for improvement, but we are very pleased with year's fair," said Kimble. "We had beautiful weather and that is always the main component."

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