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Pokemon, Skyride & Zipper Helps Minimizes Attendance Drop for California State Fair

8/8/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of

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As nearly every one knows - well everyone under the age of 35 at least knows - Pokemon Go, the mobile app craze launched July 6th.  In the best if you can't beat 'em, join 'em spirit - instead of having young people stay away to play the game, the California State Fair implemented a rapid response strategy to have this important demographic play the game at the fair. 

Even though servers soon crashed cautioning intermittent connections issues in the days immediate following the launch, by the following Monday Pokemon Go play was unimpeded, just in time to make Pokemon Go Monday a highlight day of the 2016 California State Fair.

Pokemon Go Fever
The fair placed signage, produced a video, and promoted the day on social media, encouraging Photo By Pokemon Go players to come to the fair and catch Pokemon.  The fair also purchased Pokemon "lures" which attract more Pokemon - and Pokemon gamers - at Pokestops, throughout the fairgrounds. Vendors of the fair got into the promotional spirit, with promotional donuts and other items and games prize inventory swelling with Pokemon plush.

As impressive as the fact as the 160-year Golden State tradition was able to adapt the latest technology was the fact the California State Fair was able to conceive, develop and execute the promotion in only a few days. 

"Any time you have that opportunity, you have to act very fast, it is important to move as quickly as you can," said Jennifer Castleberry, Marketing Director.  "You have to be nimble to be able to jump on something like this very quickly, maximize what you do and make it professional and in keeping with the fair."

The Pokemon Go promotion was handled all in-house. "We have a great and talented team," she said. "We had people on the team, young people and interns, who were playing the game, understood the game. It's important to have people understand what you are promoting."

While she admits being outside out the age group - basically 20-35, give our take - "I can appreciated their level of excitement," she said. 

Pokemon day not only attract increased media coverage, but brought in more of an  under-targeted demographic - basically young adults, ages 20-35 -to the fair. "I appreciate their level of excitement playing the game," she said. "Any time you can get  more of that age group to the fair, or to reconnect with the fair, that is good."

In addition to bringing more of this optimum consumer group to the fair, by utilizing the lure feature of the app, "we had the young people roaming all over the grounds," she said. "We have 350 acres here and a lot to explore, and it was a natural way to get these young people to see more of the fair."
And of course, the more they see, the more money they might spend.

"That was the best Monday we have ever had at the fair," said Lance Moyer, Chief Operating Officer, Butler Amusements. "We didn't really do much signage, but people were coming to the midway and looking at the fair. Our game operators did well because we did have a lot of Pokemon prizes." 

He could not comment on what Pokestops were featured on the Butler Midway. 

Numbers & Success
Pokemon Go excitement proved to be a much needed infusion of energy, which saw an overall drop of nearly 14 percent in  total attendance. (Although the middle Saturday of the Fair (July 16) was the highest attended day with 70,017 fairgoers). Paid attendance decreased by 11 percent to 511,224 from a record year of 577,646 in 2015. Total Attendance was down 673,237 from  787,833 fairgoers in 2015.  

The fair was plagued by weather - closing weekend temperatures exceeded 100 degrees - and two concert cancellations, including Salt 'n Pepa on opening day and Chaka Khan on the fair's first Monday.  While the concerts were replaced with adequate double bills -Tony! Toni! Tone! and Heatwave and  Jody Watley with Shalamar Reloaded, there was less time to market the new acts or make up for the promotions conducted for the original headliners. 
 
Another factor cited by fair officials is that the shootings and other violent incidents happening globally that has dominated news headlines, especially at the beginning of the fair, had stifled the eagerness of the general public to gather at crowded, high-profile events. 

"You were seeing the sense that people were not necessarily wanting to go into large crowds," said Castleberry. "We added extra security precautions and staff members. We were very aware of security."

"I had the feeling that people weren't coming out at the opening of the fair, because of what has been in the news," said Moyer. "There were the shootings in Orlando and in Dallas, then during the fair there was that incident in Nice, France. I think it got people worried about going out in crowded events. There was that incident in San Bernardino here in California. People are worried." 

"For more than 160 years the California State Fair has remained the one constant setting for showcasing the best of California.  From award winning wines, craft beers, fine arts, photography, horse racing, livestock, concerts and entertainment, to technology, science, farming and food, the 2016 State Fair was a huge success," said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California Exposition & State Fair.  

"In the face of a heat wave and tragic events around the nation, hundreds of thousands of guests came out to celebrate the sense of community, good will and unity that the State Fair provides." 

Indeed, as Pickering points out, attendance  is just one fair metric. Castleberry emphasized that exit surveys showed 92 percent of visitors were satisfied with their State Fair experience, and more than 95 percent felt their State Fair was a good value, up from 74 percent in 2015.

She also provided other numbers that showed a positive fair with enthusiastic community support, including: competitive entries increased by 21 percent to 21,441 entries, up from 17,753 in 2015; a new photography competition had 2,256 entries;  and a Craft Beer State Fair competition saw an 11 percent increase in Craft Beers vying for the coveted Blue Ribbon, with 1,204 entries. In addition, the Junior Livestock Sale of Champions increased 20 percent, Raising $236,400 raised for youth this year, the second highest amount in the past 10 years. 

In other words, from several standpoints, "The state fair was a huge success," she said. "We don't just measure our success in terms of our attendance, we saw a huge increase in all competitive increases and we were able to expand into the arts and other areas. Craft beer continues to grow. We have wine, virgin olive oil, and craft-based competitions. We're the Farm-to-Fork capital of the America, and the fair had a focus on locally sustainable agriculture.

The drought continues to be an issue for in California and its state fair featured water usage demonstrations. In addition, the fair featured its first greenhouse. "We had a plant cloning machine, which is a way to use a lot less water, and we showed a state of the art hydroponics and a lot of demonstrations that showed how the drought impacts farming," said Castleberry.

In spite of the cancellations of major stars, the headline entertainment included Styx, Dwight Yokum and Tower of Power, the top three attended concerts, helping to drive overall attendance on those days.  "Booking is harder and more expensive," Castleberry admitted. "But we are committed to entertainment at the fair, and besides the headliners we have acts from all over California at our other stages. Entertainment did cost more this year, and I expect that trend to continue."

Food & Beverage
Food and beverage revenue was not as negatively impacted by the attendance dip as one might expect. The fair featured 120 vendors, and is considered the largest food festival in Northern California.  Food and beverage sales grossed $9.4 million,  just 2.6 percent behind 2015's record setting year of $9.6 million. For the second year in a row, Terry's Barbecue   was the single highest grossing food stand with sales of $413,479. In total, nearly $1 million in sales were generated by the three barbecue stands at this year's State Fair. 

The most noticeable food trend was an uptick in healthy options. "I saw more healthy choices among the stands, there were more vegan dishes too," she said.

A barbecued Churro Gelato Sandwich, she said was very popular, adding that it was the same vendor that is featured at Disneyland. 

California is also known for wine and Californians love to drink their homegrown wine. A specialty at the fair is the wine slushie and 16,600 wine slushies were served in the Save Mart Supermarkets Wine Country  pavilion. 

A popular food promotion was $2 Taste of the Fair promotion. "This shows the diversity of our food at the fair. All the vendors offered a $2 item, often a smaller portion. We distributed signs that said ask about our $2 Taste of the Fair Special to all the vendors." 

Blue Ribbon Marketing
The fair's marketing budget was $810,000, which she said was consistent with last year. "We did more digital and online marketing," she said. "We did less on TV and radio. We do very little on print."

The fair continued its Blue Ribbon Fair marketing theme this year, underscored by the Best of California tagline. The fair launched an extended digital billboard campaign with the Best of California motif. 

Utilizing the changeability of the digitized outdoor medium, on 29 billboards throughout the region, as Castleberry explained, it would show an image on June 12, then update that image with a Best of California image on June 19. "We ran a teaser campaign. For example, we would begin with an Ear of Corn, then follow that up with the ear of corn wrapped in bacon. 

We had a strawberry that morphed into a funnel cake, a beautiful horse than had the horse with a ride to show our races. We had a variety of images, it was a good campaign."

She said that social media has become more critical for the fair in 2016. "This year was the year of social media for us. We had a strong presence on social media. Last year we dabbled with snapchat, now we did a lot more with snapchat. We continue to grow our follower base with Instagram, which really took off."

According to the fair, 40,001 patrons downloaded the free California State Fair App; the fair attracted 184,355 Facebook followers - the fair clams this makes the California State Fair the most "liked" Fair in the western United States - 9,613 Twitter followers, which provided more than  901,000 impressions, and garnered 7,046 Instagram followers,  with 10,000+ photos posted to Instagram using State Fair hashtags #CAStateFair and #CaliforniaStateFair. 

An astounding 470,000 people were reached through an Instameet that was held on July 15. 

In addition, the California State Fair posted a total of 48 videos which generated 142,000 views. "We definitely increased our video content," she said. "We were able to almost become a news channel using real time video, which  showcased dozens of our events. This shows the people involved with the fair, more than just one individual. People are looking at the fair on their phones, you can show a lot more of what you do than with just printed out brochures."

To make this work is having marketing staff - which is augmented with additional personnel during fair days - filming and posting in real times. "That is the benefit of having boots on the grounds,  sending staff out, having people at the educationaland the entertainment areas. It's a lot of fun." 

Skyride & Zipper
The Butler Amusements midway featured 70 rides, generating $4,696,400 in revenues, down  about $32,307 from 2015, considered a record year for the midway at this event. 

Butler Amusements also sponsored the Read to Ride program, where the company donated 6,640 free rides for local children who turned in 3,320 book reports. 

The 2016 California State Fair also saw the debut of the newly installed $1.1 million Sky Ride, a co-project (under a 20-year contract agreement) between the fair and Butler Family Fun, a subsidiary of Butler Amusements. 

This permanent fixture carried more than 52,997 from one section of the grounds to another, although it is considered separate from the Butler midway.

"We were down a little bit, about 5 percent," said Moyer. But when you add the gross from the Skyride, which is a chairlift ride, we were about the same as last year. It is a separate entity, but it did very well and made up for the dip in attendance." 

He added, that the skyride, "brought in a lot of people, it was an attraction. You saw a lot of people riding it, like older couples ,who are not our normal couples. You see older couples smiling like kids on the ride, you know you are capturing a new audience for rides." 

New rides for the fair included a Vertigo, Quasar and a new Zipper, which Moyer described as the "the first of its kind, with a new open styled tub, and a new harness system that makes riders feel safer. The balance is different, it spins differently and has more action. People seemed to really love it."

Top rides included the Inversion, Xtreme Roller Coaster, and Wave Swinger. Also popular was the White Water Flume Ride, "the drought was worse last year, but we don't waste water with this ride. We have very good splash barriers, and we pump all the water back in."  

Attendance was a factor, but with what seems like a recovering economy in California, the factors impacting fairgoer numbers were out of the control of the event and its vendors. "The first half the fair, there were shootings and maybe that kept people away. The last week was pretty strong, but we had to overcome some hot temperatures, 101 degrees, 104 degrees. You get the people at night, but they don't come during the day to be on the asphalt when its 103 degrees.'

He added, "The California State Fair is a great fair, it's the biggest fair we do. It's our premier fair, and the management does a great job. The people are spending, the family budgets seem bigger. This has summer has been great, people are spending." 

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