The 2017 State Fair of Louisiana, "Memories On The Midway," took a hit in attendance but saw plenty of success in other areas of the fair. According to fair President and General Manager, Chris Giordano, fair attendance was down 12% from 2016. "In 2016, we had a really great year, absolutely beautiful weather, and an attendance of 431,500," says Giordano. 2017 fair attendance was 379,700; it rained on the first Friday of the fair, the second Wednesday of the fair was a complete washout, and rain showers visited again on the last Sunday.
While Giordano attributes the drop in attendance mostly to weather, he considers some other factors that may have contributed. "Money is tight right now in Shreveport, Louisiana, the economy is not great," says Giordano. Ride gross was also down 23% this year and most independent vendors reported decreases in sales ranging from 10%-20%. Giordano also mentioned the tragic ride accident at the 2017 Ohio State Fair as a potential factor for a decrease in ride gross. Additionally, the State Fair of Louisiana was held just after the mass shooting in Las Vegas; "People may be wary of attending public events right after something like that happens," says Giordano.
Admission into the State Fair of Louisiana normally costs $10. The fair sells advance sale tickets starting about a month before the fair both online and in grocery stores; admission tickets are just $8 in advance. They also offered a pay one price admission and rides combo for $32 in advance; once the fair began the package was $40. This is the first year the fair offered print at home tickets through Sapphire, who also does their website. "It worked fine, not as many people took advantage of it as we would have liked. Most of our sales happen at the gate," says Giordano.
The fair is dark on Monday and Tuesday but several admission discount opportunities are available to fairgoers other weekdays. Each week day a "free fair days" promotion allows people to park and come to the State Fair of Louisiana for free between 10am-3pm. Wednesday at the fair is a half price promotion day which includes admission for $5 and ride wristbands for $15. Lastly, the fair offers $2 Thursday for parking and gate admission and each ride is just $2.
Giordano says that, as a general rule, the fair focuses more on family entertainment and ground attractions rather than concerts. There's a free stage on the midway which features mainly local bands. Frank Foster, a performer from North Louisiana, had the best attendance this year; the fair has booked him 7 years in a row. Sunday, November 5th was "Fiesta at the Fair," Hispanic bands were featured on the stage and shows were very well attended; "it was money well spent," says Giordano.
The fair also hires Circus Hollywood to perform free shows for families. The Coronas family of Circus Hollywood also provides all the animals for the fair's four acre zoo. Hollywood Racing Pigs, the Friesian horse show, and the camels come along with the big top circus. "The Coronas family always does a very professional job," says Giordano. Felicia Frisco's tiger show and Johnny Rocket's "Cycle Circus Live!" featuring BMX stunts and a steel globe were very well received. The Pirate's Parrot Show was also a big hit with fairgoers; "We got a lot of positive comments about that. The parrots would even fly around the fairgrounds somewhat," says Giordano. The 2017 fair also featured "Flo the Clown," an escape artist, a juggler on a unicycle, and the "Puppetone Rockers."
The State Fair of Louisiana hosts the state's largest livestock shows, both market and open shows. There is a large presence of 4-H and FFA members showing animals; the 2017 fair saw a 1% increase in livestock animal showings. The Jr. livestock sale profits increased 26% from 2016, raising $407,000.
There's a coliseum on the fairgrounds which features several different activities including the rodeo. Last year, the fair made the switch from PRCA to LRCA (Louisiana Rodeo and Cowboy Association). The rodeo performances were always packed and the Saturday show sold out. "The timing of our fair isn't the best for PRCA. It's technically at the beginning of their next season and the finals in Las Vegas are just a couple weeks after; many people have already qualified for the finals and don't want to risk injury," says Giordano.
Other events in the coliseum include the antique tractor show and pull, a senior expo filled with different senior-related booths and games, a cheerleading competition, and a baton competition. This year, the fair featured ice skating; the second week of the fair, the local ice hockey team begins to lay down ice in the coliseum for the upcoming season so fairgoers were able to skate during the latter half of the fair.
"We have a plentiful food midway at the State Fair of Louisiana," says Giordano. This year, the fair featured about 100-120 food vendors. New stands included a couple "bacon everything" stands and a poutine stand. A local favorite is "Porky's" which specializes in a donut burger and deep fried watermelon. Dwayne Hickman brings a Wisconsin cheese stand to the fair as well.
Crabtree Amusements is the carnival provider for the State Fair of Louisiana; they bring about 60 rides. "Crabtree always does a good job for us," says Giordano. This year, Crabtree Amusements got rid of their token system and started using Magic Money on the midway; they rolled out the new system at the State Fair of Louisiana. Magic Money was only used on rides and games, not on independent food this year as all independent vendors are on a flat fee. However, Crabtree gave all independent vendors the option to use the Magic Money system. "I like it. It seems to be one of the better cashless systems out there right now," says Giordano. Crabtree Amusements has been with the State Fair of Louisiana since 2012 and their current contract goes through next year.
The advertising budget for the State Fair of Louisiana is just under $200,000. Russell Adams is contracted to do the advertising from the fair. Specifically, the fair spends about $160,000 in placed media; "we always demand a match of some kind whether it be in kind trades or promotions," says Giordano. Most of the budget is spent on television, static and digital billboards, and radio. The fair does very little newspaper advertising and spent about $6,000 advertising on Facebook. Money is spent reaching out to people within a 100- mile radius of Shreveport which includes some parts of Texas and Arkansas.
This is Giordano's 12th fair as President and General Manager. His goal for this year's fair was to keep the momentum from 2016; "weather is just such an unpredictable factor so we fell a little short," says Giordano. Looking toward the 2018 fair, Giordano wants to focus on increasing revenue and hopefully decrease some expenses. "Decreasing expenses is tough to do because I don't want to compromise the integrity of the fair," says Giordano. Police wages have gone up $5/hour and Giordano will have to factor the increase in security costs into next year's budget.
The 2018 State Fair of Louisiana is October 25th-November 11th. Giordano has already booked a few acts for next year's fair including Circus Hollywood, the sea lion show, and a Michael Jackson/Prince/Tina Turner tribute band.