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Alameda County Fair: Attendance Jumps with Strong July 4th Finish
Butler Amusements unveils redesigned kiddie land

8/3/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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A few hot days proved not to be a significant impediment  to the 2016 Alameda County Fair. The addition of an extra day - mainly due to July 4th falling on a Monday - new promotions, a positive economic climate and redesigned Kiddie Land seems to have culminated in an upbeat 2016 for one of the largest county fairs in California.

The 2016 edition of this 18-day fair may not have shattered records, but the slight increases and a robust attendance highlighted this outdoor event. 
"The fair went well, we ended on a high note with consecutive busy days," said  Angel Moore, Marketing and Communications Manager. 

Good Turnout
Total attendance was 450,806 up 1.3 percent over 2016. The final weekend of the fair recorded 175,000 fairgoers, a near-record Photo By and a positive conclusion to the fair.  "We as an organization are positive about the fair. We had good turnout and an increase."

As Lance Moyer, Chief Operations Officer described it, the fair "had some warm days, that hurt attendance on those days. We would be up then two days it was flat, it was a roller coaster ride for the midway."

The heat wave ended by Independence Day Weekend, giving the midway "a very strong finish, the last weekend the community turned out, we were up about 10 percent," said Moyer.
"We had a couple of hot days," said Moore. "But overall we had great weather." 

Spirit of Summer
Many fairs are essentially a celebration of Summer and the Alameda County Fair tied into that inherent appeal with a versatile marketing theme - The Spirit of Summer  -- which Moore pointed out was a result of  "as a team we are always brainstorming and we wanted a theme that reflected what people love about the fair. We used images of people experiencing the Spirit of Summer that  highlighted summer fun at the Fair.  We had a great time with it, using "Spirit of " with different hashtags like #SpiritofYum showed food, #SpiritofWinning with horse racing, which we have at the fair, and probably the most favorite was #SpiritofFun, which showed a little girl." 

The fair's advertising budget was " nearly $500,000" and the media mix is "75 percent  Traditional, 7.5 Digital, and 4.5 percent Social Media."

But she added that the fair keeps 13 percent to spend closer to the fair dates, or as she explained, these funds are "available in the event a good opportunity presents itself."

This year that opportunity took place on the court. The Golden State Warriors made the NBA Finals, and "they have incredible LED billboards in front of their area," said Moore. The fair advertised on the billboards with their last-minute funds and "it was really a unique opportunity, and it was really helpful. They played seven games and every one was sold out. "

In terms of social media, the fair expanded it's Facebook presence, pushing ticket sales via Facebook Ads, "which are a very reasonable cost," she said.

Social media was the main marketing venue for the fair's first "Red, White & Brew Fest", a craft beer festival held at the fair's infield track, a ticketed event that attracted more than 1,300. "We were able to work that in. Our research showed that while we were getting families, we weren't getting the young adults, those in their 20s."

Craft breweries have been proliferating in the area, and the event  seemed an optimum opportunity to maximize the young adult crowd, and also keep them somewhat sequestered away from the more family oriented entertainment elsewhere on the grounds. "Our target was 900 and to reach 1,300, which was near capacity and excellent for a ticketed event," said Moore. 

A new promotion intend to cut down on traffic flow and parking was  a collaboration with mobile APP car service.  Fairgoers choosing not to drive could use a special code, which discounted the ride with a $15 credit, "which made the ride basically free," said Moore. 

Successful promotions included an opening day with $1 admission and $1 rides, which Moore said "helps to open the fair on a high note", two-for-one  admission ticket days, and free ticket give away promotions conducted online. "These promotions draws more people out, and anytime you can do that word of mouth spreads," she said.

In addition, the fair "really pushed advance sales and had an increase in prepaid admissions of 42.7 percent." 

Exclusive Entertainment Seating
The headline entertainment for the fair, which is free with admission, included Kool & the Gang, Tower of Power, Smash Mouth, LeAnn Rimes, Joe Nichols, Eric Burdon & the Animals and The Guess Who. For the first time, the fair offered Premium Reserved Seats, about 500 seats per show. "It is a great value and we sold out several of the shows," she said.  

There were also three tribute bands, according to Moore, and regional performers. "It is a great value for our guests to have headline entertainment, but because there is so much more competition with casinos and music festivals, this was probably the most difficult year we had for booking," she said. 

The Alameda County Fair is not yet ready to look for alternatives to headline concerts at the fair, but booking has admittedly become more costly and must take place earlier. "We booked the earliest we ever had for this year," she said. "We used to able to book in December, but we started in September for this year and we are probably will be looking at acts in August for 2017." 
 
Food spending was up 10.5 percent, according to Moore, with the popular sellers being: Churro Ice Cream Sandwich, Chuckies Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, Elvis Burger and  Chile Relleno Burrito 

Butler Amusements
The Butler Amusement Midway featured 52 rides, with 27 on the main midway and 25 in the Kiddie Land, which underwent a redesign. According to Moyer, the carnival company, working in conjunction with the fair, widened the Kiddie Land Midway, which increased the space "and we added more seating and shade, we put up more umbrellas."

Unlike many midways, the new Kiddie Land is at the opposite end of the fairgrounds, not adjacent to the main midway. "It is more of an independent area," he said. "They added more trees, it is really a beautiful area."

According to Moyer, segregating the children's area was the preference of the fair. "I believe it's a plus, they want the separation because parents want to keep away from any kind of trouble that can happen when there's a lot of teenagers on the midway. The parents like it a lot more, they feel more secluded and can have a nicer time with their family."

Butler Amusements featured 35 games at the fair - 12 of which are children's games and situated in Kiddie Land. The company subcontracts the game concessions and said while he wasn't privy to grosses, "I didn't hear one complaint," he said. "spending was up, and if it wasn't, the game operators are the first to complain."

Ride revenue was "very strong," said Moyer. "We were up 10 percent."

New rides for the 2016 Alameda County Fair were the Quasar, Renegade, and Pirates of the Midway. Top rides included the Giant Wheel, Xcelerator, Wave and Vertigo. 

It was the 16th year for Butler Amusements at the Alameda County Fair, which Moyer declared was the company's best. It is a beautiful fairground, very comfortable and the fair draws from the whole Bay Area, even from Santa Clara and San Mateo. It has a very far reach." 

Once the weather improved, the crowds came out and were ready to spend. In fact, Moyer pointed out that an uptick in spending has so far been the trend for western route of the carnival company. While a sign of an economic recovery, the fact it occurs during a presidential election year is counter intuitive for midway veterans. " Spending is definitely up this year. It's possibly the economy, but we are always used to seeing a decrease in spending during an election year. We haven't seen that yet for this election." 

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