The Oregon State Fair attendance increased by ten percent in 2016. Manager Don Hillman says the fair had 295,600 pure, unique visits. In the past three years, the fair has drawn 81,000 extra people without expanding the dates of the fair. "We take getting people into the gates very seriously. In fact, it's our only job. It's then up to our partners inside the fair to entertain the customers and make money. As long as we get people in the gate, our partners are happy."
Regular gate prices are $8 for adults, $6 for kids (6-12), and kids 5 and under are free. This year, the fair team tried out a special where seniors were admitted for just $1. The promotion went very well and the fair saw an increase in senior attendance at the fair.
Additionally, the fair provided four a
dmission specials this year. On opening day, admission was only $1.50; "We wanted a huge opening day to kick off a huge weekend," says Hillman. After opening weekend, the fair team does surprise admission Monday. Only about 10 people on the fair team know what the admission price will be and it is announced to the public through social media on Monday morning. This year, admission on Monday was $1.
The last special day the fair provided was military/veterans/first responders day; all military personnel, veterans, and first responders plus their families got in for free.
These three specials were planned and advertised; However, on the morning of opening day, the fair team decided last minute to provide free admission to be used any day of the fairs to the customers who came to the fair that day. "We had a 90 degree day on opening day. It was miserably hot, so we gave everyone free passes to come back. We handed out 20,000 passes and 9,000 people came back" says Hillman. Hillman and the fair team were very pleased with the result of the specials.
The Oregon State Fair is a unique operation. The State owns the fairgrounds but does not run the fair. Instead, the Oregon State Fair is operated by the State Fair Council, a municipal corporation. Hillman says that moving from a state run fair to a state fair council operation has been a blessing. The State Fair Council has fewer full time employees than a state-run operation would have. Hillman says "the five or so full time employees are nimble, quick, and reactive to what's happening. Now that the state does not run the fair, we can skip a lot of the bureaucratic rules and red tape when making decisions for the fair." According to Hillman, decisions like handing out free admission passes on opening day would not have been possible if the fair was state run.
In addition to getting people in the gates, the State Fair Council focuses on providing plenty of entertainment for fairgoers. Every night of the fair (except HIspanic Culture Night), a big musical act performs in their 8,500 seat theater. Tickets to the concerts are free with admission. However, the theater features 2,500 gold circle seats which can be purchased for additional charge. The gold circle seats costs $35 but includes admission into the fair. "The gold circle seating is a great buy for customers because it guarantees them a good seat at the concert. All other seating is first come first serve" says Hillman.
Hunter Hayes, Foerigner, Melissa Etheridge, Pat Benetar, Mercy Me, and Montgomery Gentry are a few of the acts included in the 2016 Oregon State Fair lineup. The Oregon State Fair does not have a specific, budgeted amount for entertainment fees. Instead, the State Fair Council tells the entertainment buyer to get acts that will fill all the seats in the theater. "We give our entertainment buyer a goal; fill 2,500 seats at $35 a seat. He achieved his goal at almost every concert" says Hillman.
The Oregon State Fair has five stages other than the concert venue. One of their most popular stages, the Familyville Stage, features family friendly shows every hour. The Oregon State Fair hires a clown, a hypnotist, a petting zoo, and pig races. Stage performances as well as strolling and street performers are booked to help increase the guest experience. Hillman says the fair finds themselves hiring most of the same entertainers every year; "We stay consistent to the formula. If the performer draws crowds then we definitely want them to come back next year." Starting three years ago, the Oregon State Fair uniquely welcomed street performers to come to the fair to perform for tips. According to Hillman, the customers love the performances and the street performers always do well.
This year, the Oregon State Fair tried out a new carnival provider. Rainier Amusements partnered with a California amusement company to bring 45 rides to the Oregon State Fair. Rainier Amusements featured five new rides at the fair and brought crowd favorites such as the Giant Wheel and a featured roller coaster. The carnival gross was up fifteen percent; Hillman believes part of the carnival's success was due to their advance sale deal with Walgreens. Rainier Amusements collected over $700,000 from pre-sale.
The Oregon State Fair has a strong agricultural presence. 4H and FFA run lots of programs during the fair. The first seven days of the fair, there is a draft horse show which fills a 2500 seat stadium. The last four or five days of the fair, they host an open class horse show; a very popular event for customers. In the 4H auditorium, 4H hosts a fashion shows and other domestic exhibits. 4H featured a new robotics exhibit this year which drew large crowds and took up about 1/3 of the building. Participation in 4H events at the Oregon State Fair has increased over the years: opposing the national trend.
Of course, the Oregon State Fair has a lot of delicious food for customers to enjoy. According to Hillman, one of the most popular foods at the fair is a turkey leg wrapped in bacon. "The food stands that cook food in front of you and outside tend to do better" says Hillman. Pork chops on a stick, and BBQ chicken stands always have long lines and satisfied customers at the Oregon State Fair.
One of the most important aspects of running a state fair is the advertising. The Oregon State Fair has a $450,000 advertising budget which accounts for about ten percent of their revenue. Hillman says that they do not spend any of their advertising budget on print. Instead, the focus is on social media advertising, radio, and television. On social media, the Oregon State Fair media team hosts giveaways and contests in order to increase online sales and chatter about the event. Hillman credits his media team for a lot of the fair's success; "We have the best media team. They know how to communicate a message and get it out there quickly to attract as many customers as possible to the fair."
The Oregon State Fair operates with an overall budget of $5 million which. The transition from a state run fair to a council-run fair has proved to be a positive change for the Oregon State Fair.