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Nebraska State Fair Achieves Record Year at New Grand Island Location

9/28/2016

By Mary Weber

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The Nebraska State Fair moved to its new location in Grand Island in 2010. The 2016 State Fair broke the attendance record at the Grand Island location with 361,107 people; a 2% increase from last year's fair. According to the fair's Executive Director, Joseph McDermott, their attendance numbers are steadily approaching the overall attendance goal for the Nebraska State Fair. McDermott attributes the fair's increasing attendance and overall success to the fair's commitment to bring a variety of entertainment, food, exhibits, and rides for people of all ages to enjoy. 
 
The Nebraska State Fair organizes an extensive and varied list of concerts for customers to enjoy. Headliners such as Thomas Rhett, Lady Antebellum, Train, John Anderson, Chris Tomlin, Toto, Charlie Puth, and Grand Island Native, Hannah HPhoto By uston, drew large crowds. The Nebraska State Fairgrounds features an indoor and an outdoor concert venue. The outside venue seats 13,000 people and hosted the three biggest concerts: Thomas Rhett, Lady Antebellum, and Train. Thomas Rhett sold 10,000 tickets, Lady Antebellum sold 4,000 tickets, and Train (the Sunday night concert) sold 2,000. While the Nebraska State Fair had great success with its concert lineup, McDermott explained that booking headliners for the state fair has become more challenging over the years. The Nebraska State Fair competes with two large concert venues: Pinnacle Bank Arena about 90 miles away and Century Link Center about 50 miles away. "These venues bring in big names all year round. Many of the acts we want at the fair that would draw a big crowd play those venues and you don't want to book them both at the arena and at the state fair." 
 
For more family entertainment, the Nebraska State Fair features several ground acts and strolling performers. State Fair regulars such as the petting zoo and racing pigs are featured every year and new acts such as a BMX Stunt Team, World Champion Lumber Jill, and Matt's Family Jam add variety to the fair's normal lineup. McDermott says the staff strives to achieve the perfect balance; "We want to keep things fresh but still maintain the popular acts." Additionally, the Nebraska State Fair is sure to bring back popular food vendors and always have something new for customers to try. According to McDermott, the two most popular stands at the far were the Cactus Jack's smoked meat stand and the Nebraska beef pit. One of the new foods people loved to try were fried eggs on a stick from a new stand the fair featured this year. 
 
Of course, one of the easiest ways to keep families entertained at the fair is providing an extensive carnival midway. The Wade Shows midway featured a combination of 43 thrill and family rides. This year, they brought four new rides: The Mighty Mouse (a major roller coaster), the Street Fighter Revolution which spins in a complete 360 degree circle rather than the original 90 degrees, a brand new Puppy Roll ride for kids and families, and the Jungle Twist Roller Coaster, another kiddie ride. McDermott cited a fantastic relationship between Wade Shows and the Nebraska State Fair;  McDermott says it's easy to market and advertise with Wade Shows as the company is always willing to try out new deals and packages with the fair. 
 
The Nebraska State Fair just extended Wade Shows' contract for five more years. "They do a wonderful job when it comes to presentation. Their landscaping and resting areas make for a beautiful midway," says McDermott. Frank Zaitshik, the CEO of Wade Shows, says he is honored to have an extended contract with the Nebraska State Fair.  " I certainly appreciate the vote of confidence from the Nebraska State Fair team and the agreement speaks to our mutual commitment for a long term, successful relationship." Despite a couple of weather setbacks, Wade Shows was able to achieve similar revenue numbers to the 2015 Nebraska State Fair. 
 
The Nebraska State Fair is traditionally an agriculturally based fair and features strong 4H and FFA programs. FFA and 4H run all the livestock exhibits as well as some domestic-type exhibits such as photography and cooking. Mid-week, FFA and 4H hosts open class livestock shows which are very popular with the fair crowd. Additionally, the agriculture department of the fair offers combine rides for customers the last week of the fair. The combine rides are a unique feature at the fair and a fun way for customers to get involved with the agricultural aspect of the Nebraska State Fair. 

Grand Island is in the middle of Nebraska, away from major population areas, making advertising for the Nebraska State Fair crucial. The marketing team faces the challenge of spreading the details about the fair to the East and West far reaches of the state. McDermott says that the fair staff strategically planned certain activities during the fair to draw crowds from all over the state. For example, new this year, the fair featured high school and college volleyball tournaments (a sport very popular in Nebraska) during opening weekend. The Nebraska State Fair also capitalized on the recent running craze and hosted a full and half marathon for the second year in a row to draw a different demographic to the fair. McDermott says the number of runners has doubled in two years and they expect the upward trend to continue. 
 
The Nebraska State Fair operates with a $400,000 advertising budget and has an extensive media mix: online/social media, electronic billboards, bus sides, print, television, and radio. Additionally, the fair has a great relationship with local news stations; two stations, an ABC and a NBC affiliate broadcast live during the fair, helping to spread the word to the whole state. The fair also hosts several admission deal days throughout the fair to draw in more customers: $2 Tuesday, $3 Thursday, and $5 Monday and Wednesday admission are  very popular and help to offset the weaker attendance on weekdays versus weekends. Like many other state and county fairs, McDermott says that the Nebraska State Fair has been placing more focus on social media advertising. "'We host a Facebook special for $6 admission on weekends instead of the $12 at the gate admission. Social media deals work very well for us and we've seen an increase in customers taking advantage of those deals." 

Overall, the Nebraska State Fair has a budget of $7.5 million. $3-$3.5 million comes from the Nebraska Lottery Proceeds and the rest of the operating budget is money generated at the fair from various sponsorships and gate admission. The Nebraska State Fair utilizes their budget wisely: divvying up the funds to hire the best vendors, entertainers, and midway, as well as organizing productive and educational exhibits for customers to enjoy. Year after year, the Nebraska State Fair provides fun for the Cornhusker State. 

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