The State Fair of Texas extended winning streak to rack up another record year. In fact, fair organizers have declared 2016 the most successful fair in its 130-Year History; 2,408,032 attended this year's Big Tex event, generating more than $56 million in gross coupon sales (an estimated 2.4 million increase over 2015's record total) for food, beverages and rides, an all-time record, making the event the most successful in its 130-year history.
"A successful Fair allows us to fulfill our mission of celebrating all things Texan by promoting agriculture, education, and community involvement through quality entertainment in a family-friendly environment," said Mitchell Glieber, president, State Fair of Texas." With 130 years under our Texas-sized belt buckle, we look forward to continuing the Fair traditi
on in Fair Park for many future generations."
According to a press relapse from the fair, "The net proceeds from the Fair are reinvested in Fair Park, in the form of capital improvements; given as scholarships to deserving youth throughout the state of Texas; used to support Fair Park museum facilities and community outreach programs; and used to improve the State Fair's operation."
This record year for its 130th anniversary is also the event's best substantiated attendance. For the first time in more than 20 years, the State Fair of Texas reported attendance - the fair estimated attendance based on sales of coupon sales. According to Karissa Condoianis, Vice President - Public Relations, State Fair of Texas, in 2015 an electronic ticketing system was used that "allowed us to scan tickets at the gates and served as the first step towards being able to report attendance numbers. In 2016, we launched a new ticketing system that included print-at-home and the ability to display admission tickets on your smartphone. This year we were able to gather more accurate ticket data than in past years, which in turn gave us more accurate attendance numbers and allowed us to report on that."
Using the coupon metric, however - 2015 surpassed previous records , surprising the previous record of more than $42 million, set in 2014. Third time may have been a charm, but the fair continues to be forward looking. "We've been fortunate to string together three record years in a row," he told Carnival Warehouse. "Personally, I view it as an advantage to try to improve upon a record year. The goals and expectations are set higher for our team, and that keeps us focused on improving every year."
Weather was basically cooperative, but not ideal, which makes the turnout achieved even more telling of both the community support the event receives as well as some the new marketing and attractions fair organizers implemented. "As with any fair or festival, the weather is a big key to success," said Glieber . "Although we did have a few rainy days, they really didn't have a major impact on any of our 24 days of operation. Our goal each year is to produce a high-quality State Fair, and the people will come. We can't control the weather, but we can control everything else."
Almost everything else. Like Mother Nature, the economy affects fair attendance and spending. Glieber acknowledges that while the economy has had a negative impact, the regional business climate continues to be in recovery, with positive ramificationsfor the State Fair of Texas. "We saw the recession impact our business. However, all signs from our operation point to the fact that North Texas is in a good place in terms of the economy right now. Attendance is strong, coupon sales and other key financial indicators have risen pretty significantly the last few years, and our exhibitor space has been sold out with a waiting list."
He added, " We had an outstanding 2016 State Fair, setting records in almost every category. We planned and implemented several new programs designed to improve the fairgoer experience ranging from the ticket-buying experience to new in-park amenities. Operationally, it was probably the smoothest State Fair I've experienced in my 17 years here."
Because of the lack of attendance records, the fair cannot determine if there were any specific record attendance days for the 2016 fair, but Condianis noted the largest attendance cays ranged from 149,000 to 200,00, with the three highest being: Saturday, Oct. 8 - 200,089; Saturday, Oct. 15 - 175,204 and Saturday, Oct. 22 - 155,796.
New attractions this year featured several celebrating the Lone Star State, including Six Nations over Texas," "Ways of the West," "Eugene Butler & the Progressive Farmer" and "Vaquero: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy." Texan heritage and the history of the American West was celebrated with the all-new Lone Star Stampede, complete with stagecoaches, horses, cowboys and a longhorn cattle drive. In addition, the Hall of State presented "The Taylor Swift Experience," seen by an estimated 225,000 fairgoers.
For its annual exhibit in the Women's Museum, Mundo Latino presented "Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel - The Exhibition," a one-of-a-kind showcase recreating the famed ceiling through photographic reproduction displayed in its original size - this exhibit made its U.S. debut at the State Fair of Texas.
New grounds entertainment included the Lords of Gravity Basketball Slam Dunk Show, an acrobatic basketball team from Hungary, Xpogo, pogo professionals showing showcasing gravity-defying tricks, flips and spins.
Celebrating Texas Agriculture
The marketing theme for this year's fair tied Texas heritage into the agricultural industry that supports the fair -"Celebrating Texas Agriculture, spearheading a campaign that was a year in the making. "The 2016 theme was used all year long to showcase Texas agriculture and the innovative leaders in the field across the state," said Jennifer Schuder, Senior Vice President - Marketing, State Fair of Texas. "The theme for the Fair was integrated into a content strategy and the Fair used its communication channels to educate our audience on the importance of agri-business to the economy of Texas."
According to Schuder, social media now leads the fair's marketing initiatives, enabling a closer relationship with fairgoers, which the fair made more dynamic with higher-tech bells and whistles. "Social media is a key communication channel for the State Fair of Texas and provides the Fair an opportunity to directly interact with our fans," she said.
In 2016, the Fair utilized more video and live streaming to highlight all the different elements of the Fair."
Riding the momentum created by this year's marketing theme, the State Fair offered more agricultural-related activities, such as the all-new exhibit "I Spy Texas," showcasing wildlife and natural resources unique to each region of Texas; Farm Day at the Fair, a TEKS-based program providing in-class lesson plans focused on the importance of agriculture and a special Farm Day, open to 3rd and 4th graders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Livestock entries saw an 8 percent increase from last year, reaching a total of 12,708. Overall participation numbers increased by 35 percent, with 7,500 students competing in the Fair's livestock and agricultural shows, and the annual Youth Livestock Auction raised more than $1.4 million in scholarship. Another record was set when the Grand Champion Market Steer was purchased for $131,000.
The State Fair of Texas has an independent midway, featuring 73 rides and 68 games from 23 operators. According to Rusty Fitzgerald, Senior Vice President - Operations, while the number of rides remained the same as previous years, as did the number of operators, he noted that the fair did use three new operators this year.
In keeping with the record setting 130th edition of the fair, the midway rides and games grossed $22.7 million, a record for the fair.
New rides for the fair included: Dragon Wagon (kiddie ride); Evolution; Konga and Space Roller. The most popular rides included the fair's iconic Texas Star Ferris Wheel; Texas SkyWay; Crazy Mouse; Love Bugs; Top o' Texas Tower and Pirate Ship.
With 78 different concessionaires and 223 different food locations, food revenue soared this year but Carey D. Risinger, Senior Vice President - Food, Beverage & Retail, confirmed that State Fair of Texas Fairgoers prefer traditional cuisine. "The famous Fletcher's Corny Dog is the #1 item at the Fair, selling approximately 600,000 to 650,000 units," he said.
Promoting fair food at this Lone Star event starts months before opening day, when the anticipation building process known as the Big Tex Choice Awards begins by accepting submissions. This year, 55 submissions were received , then narrowed down to 35 semifinalists by a celebrity panel of judges, including for 2016 Don Gay, 8-Time PRCA World Champion Bull Rider and Commentator; Mai Lyn Ngo, founder of Deep Fried Fit, a food and fitness blog; Dan O'Malley, cohost and news director of The Russ Martin Show on 97.1 The Eagle; Kent Rathbun, renowned chef and restaurateur; and Tiffinni Young, Serving as the sixth judge was a fairgoer, Jon Gonzalez , whose name was picked from the random drawing to fill the spot of special guest judge. At a press conference held at the Cotton Bowl, eight finalists were named, competing for the two awards of Best Taste and Most Creative. (Fried Jell-O and State Fair Cookie Fries won respectively).
Other foods that made it to the final round included: Caribbean Pineapple Korn-a-Copia; Deep Fried Bacon Burger Dog Slider on a Stick; Deep Fried Pulled Pork "FUNYUN®" Dings; Fernie's Down Home Chicken Pot Pie Pocket with Mac 'n Cheese Dip; and Southern Fried Chicken & Dumplins by Clint Probst.
A limited number of State Fair fans got the chance to attend the event and serve as taste-testers for the food finalists in the annual competition. Building off the success of the past two years, the Fair once again sold tickets to the event, with all proceeds going to the State Fair of Texas Youth Scholarship Program.
The 12th Annual Big Tex Choice Awards, presented by the Dallas Convention & Visitor's Bureau, is a fundraiser for the Youth Scholarship Program, which has awarded scholarships to more than 1,800 students for a total of more than $8.7 million.
The Big Tex Choice Awards is an example of how a well promoted and presented program - done in collaboration with State Fair of Texas Partners, can achieve multiple goals - fulfilling the fair's mission to give back to the community, build anticipation for the fair during the months and week leading up to the event, and promote that crucial revenue segment of the fair: Food & Beverage.
In addition, at a fair where the corn dog remains top seller, the contest highlights new items at the fair. "There were numerous new items that did very well, State Fair Cookie Fries, Fried Jell-O, Southern Fried Chicken & Dumplins, and Pumpkin Spiced Ale," said Rising. "The Smoky Bacon Margarita from 2015 was still very popular this year."