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Full Fair Feel: New Mexico State Fair Sees 8 Percent Attendance Jump

10/19/2016

By Timothy Herrick

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New Mexico has a population of about two million. Nearly 500,000 attended this year's New Mexico State Fair, a booming, robust event that saw an 8 percent attendance increase, the sophomore year for a new midway provider, a partnership with Uber, reinvigorated free entertainment content and more effective entertainment booking.

The achievement of this year's fair especially the attendance -- 497,036 -  a figure made even more remarkable because the population of New Mexico is about 2 million. In other words, about a quarter of a the state's residents attended the state fair this year. 

"Our fair did very well this year," said Dan Mourning, General Manager. "When you consider the high percentage that is of New Mexican who come to the fair, it's huge in a state of 2 million that is roughly half the size of Texas."

He added, "our goal was to reach a total attendance of 500,000.  We were just shy of that goal, likely due to several fairly significant weather events, two of which occurred over the weekend.  Overall, we were very pleased with this year's fair. "Patrons seemed to be spending money at the fair, with the many vendors reporting increased sales over previous years.

The weather events were torrential rain that passed through the area, but otherwise "it was perfect fair weather." 

The fair increased overall attendance of about 8 percent over last year's numbers. This year's fair was attended by 497,036 people, as compared to last year's total attendance of 460,468.  Paid attendance surpassed last year's total number with 423,095 attending as compared to 414,932 people in 2015.

Full Fair Feel
Like most fairs,  the New Mexico State Fair did not have one factor that can be singled out as the main reason to attend. "We had a very full fair feel with spectacular entertainment throughout the fair," he said. "You pay your admission, and you know that you will be thrilled. We added more free entertainment."

This full fair feel was made up of new entertainment that included Ma'Ceo Circus by Cavallo, a European Circus act; Aussie Kingdom, an interactive exhibition of the Australian Outback Great American Cowboy Boot Camp, an interactive and educational western lifestyle exhibit, Duck Race, a waterfowl competition; and Xpogo Stunt Team and favorite returning acts included Dock Dogs, a canine Aquatics Competition and Magician Sheldon Casavant.

The Duck Races, the magnification and the circus, which he aptly described as an "old style gypsy circus with the top acrobats in the world," were tremendously popular," Mourning said. "You want to try something new. It was a very exciting fair, and you want the people who come to move around the fair, to stay longer and find something exciting."

The fair also became the first large New Mexico event to partner with Uber,  which not only included a price arrangement but a new Uber Lounge and dedicated gate for Uber transported fairgoers. This high-profile deal that also appealed to contemporary transportation preferences, was part of an overall plan to  improve the transportation infrastructure of the fair.  "We had more than 4,000 fairgoers come to the fair via Uber this year. The lounge gave them a comfortable place to wait. We worked with our city so there would be a bus service to the fair, and we had an open air tram that took people from overflow lots, which had free parking, to the fairground."

In addition, the New Mexico State Fair again is partnered with BikeABQ for a bike valet and an increasing number of fairgoers biked to this year's event, and ABQ RIDE, the Albuquerque mass transit system,  ABQ RIDE operated four bus routes, including two Rapid Rides which provided a direct ride to the fair.

Reithoffer Shows
This was the second year of Reithoffer Shows' multi-year contract as the state fair midway operator. The midway featured 50 rides, with a new addition of the kid's favorite, the Wacky Mouse Coaster. The most popular rides were The Gentle Giant Wheel, Super Himalaya, and Flipper, Mourning said. Revenues were up over 2015, he said but did not have available figures. The new midway promotion this year were all-day ride wrist bands every day, including weekends (last year wrist bands could only be purchased on weekdays).

"I  guarantee with all the LED lights they you use, you could see the midway from space," said Mourning. "They create a very festive atmosphere, that is really the heart of the fair."

Mourning pointed put out that the games were very popular this year. "I watched how people spend their money, and they go right to the games and the games pay off. People loved the games, although to my chagrin the most popular plush prize seemed to the Poop Hat Emoji."

He added, "Reithoffer invests $25,000 into the fair's infrastructure each year.  This year that money was dedicated to improved trenching.  The state fair invested into improved fiber capacity which resulted in much reduced lines and speedy turnaround at the kiosks to purchase ride tickets. We had consistent power. Reithoffer also had a mobile app this year, which was a great tool for fair goers." 

Thrill All Your Senses
The fair's advertising budget was $220,000, with a media mix of 37 percent TV, 8 percent Digital; 4 percent Print and 32 percent terrestrial radio; and 19 percent outdoor. The marketing tagline was "Thrill for All Your Senses," echoing Mourning's initiative to create the full fair feel."

One of the highpoints for the highly extroverted Mourning was the discovery of Facebook Live. Not a big social media user, the marketing department convinced him to do some videos as talking about the fair, and a star was born. "I had passion for the fair and I love talking about it on Facebook," he said. "I can't wait to do more of this next year." 

The entertainment this year had a sellout show for Dwight Yokum as a headliner, as well as  strong sales for 38 Special, Tracy Lawrence and Neal McCoy. The concerts were all part of the PRCA Rodeo, and Mourning felt they were effective components of the fair. "It was a good show and it was ridiculous how well he was received," he said. "Neal McCoy was an amazing entertainer, there was a tremendous buzz about his show. Sales really took."

Mourning remains committed to the entertainment at the fair. Although realistic about the difficulties about the competition "we are surrounded by five casinos, and they've inflated the market. It's difficult to find the good acts for the fair."

But, finding the good acts he credits to a strong negotiating headed by industry superstar, Barbara (Mother) Hubbard, who was awarded the Poll Star Honors Award for lifetime achievement last year (the first ever bestowed). "We had a strong negotiator in our contract negotiations with Barbara, which resulted in the acquisition of great talent at good values to the fair. She is a legend in the music industry, and negotiated great pricing. The Dwight Yokum booking came close to not happening."

Mourning doesn't disagree that it's a sellers market when it comes to booking fair entertainment, but it just takes more effort to make it work. "You need the strong negotiator, as well as looking into the routing and making artists offer. The PRCA is a drawing crowd, but we are looking at bringing in some stand alone concerts, not reinventing the wheel but tweaking it. We're not looking for a big change. Concerts are not the draw they used to be for a fair." 

What pushed the sales for the concerts adding to this year's success were social media promotions. "This year we did a number of giveaways of rodeo and concert tickets, starting in February," he said. " We believe this gave us early momentum for concert sales, and extended our outreach well beyond our usual followers." 

Chile & Bacon 
The fair featured 85 food vendors, with the hot food using the new gastro-pub trend of unusual food combinations and adding the new fair favorite, bacon - the Green Chile Maple Bacon Mini Donuts. "New Mexico is known for our green chiles, and this was a very popular food item. 

Opening day of the fair showcased a Unique Foods Contest , reflecting the adventurous palates of New Mexicans. Unique cuisines included the New Mexico Green Chile Peanut Brittle; Bacon Wrapped Green Chile Cheeseburger; Deep Fried Steak Fajita; Foot Long Deep Fried Bacon Enchilada Dog; Lobster Roll, Smothered and Covered Chicken Nuggets and of course, Green Chile Maple Bacon Mini Donuts.  

"The Unique Foods Contest has been cited as one of the reasons we are ranked among the top fairs in the country, and has allowed us to gain national recognition for our exceptional food," said Mourning. "Our unique food options are so popular that we have been contacted by national travel and food networks eager to come to New Mexico to sample and feature our delicious food."
 
Reportedly, The Travel Channel's "Food Paradise," will feature New Mexico State Fair foods in an upcoming episode filmed at this year's fair.

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