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Picture Perfect Tulsa State Fair Introduces New Midway

12/7/2016

By Timothy Herrick

Photo courtesy of Scott Pennington

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Fairgoers coming to the 2016 Tulsa State Fair saw something they had not seen in more four decades - a new midway. Earlier this year it was announced that the Tulsa State Fair had signed a contract with NAME (North American Midway Entertainment), making this mobile amusement leader the first new midway company for the Tulsa State Fair since 1971. 

"Our first year as the midway provider for the Tulsa State Fair was a huge success!", said Danny Huston, President of North American Midway Entertainment. "Mark Andrus, Amanda Blair and their team were wonderful to work with. We look forward to continuing the success and growth of the fair through safe, family entertainment and spectacular rides .", he added.


Rides & Layout
The NPhoto By Scott PenningtonAME Midway featured about 65 rides, said Amada Blair COO & Fair Manager and while all the rides were new to the fair, Blair said that the Bonsai ride was- "the type of ride people hadn't seen before," she said. 

Ride revenue was up 7 percent compared to last year - "we can't really increase the quantity of rides, we're landlocked, so we stayed consistent with the number or rides, mainly because we only have so much space," she said. 

Blair emphasized that the change in midway provider was a major plus for this year's fair. "Mainly people were impressed with the new midway and what a great job as an organization they did for us," said Blair. "They have a very professional presentation, the staff was fantastic, and uniformly consistent with the product. Also, the staff wasn't just more professional but there was more staff onsite than we ever had," she said. "Guest services was placed right in the center of the midway, and they assisted our patrons, answering questions and were all bout communicating the fairgoer and creating that fair experience, they invested in the staff and training and that made a huge difference."

In addition, she pointed out that NAME increased the shaded and seating areas, and improved the overall aesthetics of the midway. However, more significantly, the midway company and fair dramatically redesigned the midway layout, overhauling the placement of nearly all the attractions, food vendors and of course, rides and games. As Blair describes it, the old midway had an X-shaped format, with pedestrian walkways intersecting at the midway's epicenter. The new layout was in an 11 shape: basically two parallel walkways. 

"We worked very closely with NAME on the new format, which are two main lanes but it really integrated better all the independent vendors with the carnival," she said. "People traveled from the east end to the west end very cleanly, and NAME did a great job in concealing electrical cords. The key emphasis was that the people could see straight down the lane and know where they are going. It maximized the frontage of all the concessionaires."

While the layout did not increase or decrease the size of the actual midway, some concessionaires were displaced from traditional spot. The shift made the east/west direction of the layout more dominant, but it also seating areas to be moved. "We were able to add some food vendors and most were re-positioned," she said. "The fair was changed to large rectangles, but that made grounds keeping easier as well."

A reshaped fair and a new midway company seemed a lot of change for fairgoers to take in, "but we were very pleased with how all the changes were accepted," she said. "We got a lot of positive response, and it was a very significant change, the new layout and a new midway, there were a lot of different variables to take into account." 

She praised NAME for "being part of the whole discussion, from the very beginning when they came on board we talked with them about changing the look of the midway and they were very supportive."

However, more crucial was the response from fairgoers. "People liked the new midway, this fair exceeded our expectations," she said. 

Robust Turnout
The Tulsa State Fair had an estimated attendance of 1,206,000 million, a robust turnout that was a 4 percent increase in gate admission compared to 2015.

"The crowds this year were phenomenal," said John Smaligo, Commissioner, Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority Chair. "I was amazed by the reaction from families to the new midway. The partnership with North American Midway Entertainment, exceeded expectations and illustrated the importance of bringing first class entertainment to Tulsa." 

"Our outstanding staff and stakeholders are dedicated to creating the best possible environment for the Tulsa State Fair." Said Mark Andrus, President and CEO, "Every day our top priorities are to provide a safe, clean and family friendly event, where life long memories are made."

Blair said it was the first year she remembers that weather that was "prefect for all 11 days. We feel our patrons in the community were coming to the fair and spending."

The Oklahoma economy has been on a downswing, and a special emphasis for this year's fair was placed on creating fairgoer value. "The economic well being of our patrons is always a concern. I think people have a stay-cation mentality, and the fair is a good value, and we want to make sure they can really experience the fair." 

Youth Programs
This year's fair found an innovative way to both underscore its agricultural mission and improvement its engagement with youth - Trough Talk - where 4-H and FAA participants held interactive lectures and workshops. Instead of just holding contests and exhibitions, this new program "presented to the audience and interacted with the audience, and really brought an understanding or raising livestock and sharing their stories," she said. "Agricultural is still a huge part of what we do."

In addition, the fair created Educational Program, a STEM program for school children where additional educational programs were held. More than 10,000 regional school kids came through the program - where the fair also was opened early and select concessionaires offered specially priced food items - was billed as "Oklahoma's Largest Classroom." 

The fair featured 72 independent food vendors with a total of 138 stands. Blair noted that Tulsa "had a hot fair, so our beverage sales were up." She noted new food items that caught local attention included: Totchos, which are Tater Tots served nacho style with sour cream, chives, cheddar cheese and Italian seasonings, and the Frydae, which were French Fries served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

Tulsa fairgoers seemed to prefer fair cuisine fried, with other new items being Deep Fried Root Beer Sticks, Deep Fried Nutella Sandwich, Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie, and Deep Fried Double Bacon Cheeseburger on a Stick.

"There was no real trend this year," she said. "For the most part, our patrons enjoy savory Homestyle foods, deep fried southern comfort food." 

Picture Perfect
The fair's marketing budget was approximately $250,000, and according to Blair, the spending encompassed all media, including radio, TV, print, radio and billboards and social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The fair's Facebook page has 72,427 likes, and overall, more than 14 million impressions were made through various social media platforms. "We have allocated more towards television and social media, and less towards print, but we use digital ads on the newspaper websites," she said.

Making the marketing more accessible was also a 2016 objective. The fair upgraded its website, making it a mobile website, which also accompanied its mobile app. According to Blair, upgraded it to feature "a customer friendly way to plan our day. We added a component that families could create an itinerary with a map that shows there where to go.' 

New features included a food finder, "so if someone wanted to have a corn dog, they can type it and find the concessionaire."

Social Media has been part of the fair's marketing campaigns for several years. But what once was an afterthought now leads the entire promotional push The Fair's marketing tagline in fact, encapsulated social media: Picture Perfect. To underscore the social media drive of the marketing, the fair created five "human sized frames," said Blair, located in different areas of the fair. 

Each had a different Oklahoma State Fair theme, such as kids, livestock, and even a Golden Driller (for the energy industry), an iconic mascot for this region. Contemporary selfie culture responded enthusiastically. "Out theme enabled our patrons to really connect with the fair and we could connect with our audience. We used a Picture Perfect hashtag, and it showed people having that great fair experience." 

The objective was a social media campaign that would encourage fair followers to feel part of the event. "We structure the campaign to grow interaction with our audience and to get the word out," she said. 

"Tulsa really supports our fair, we are fortunate in that way, so the social media campaign encouraged and celebrated that."

Social media is also and ongoing throughout the year. "What you have to avoid is that you do not want to inundate your audience," she said. "We program our messages throughout the year, and typically during the fair we do posts only one or two times a day, but before the fair it is about one or two per week, because you don't want to turn off the fan. But it is a balance, because you want to remain relevant." 









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