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Carnival & Fair News
Carnival & Fair News
Arizona State Fair: Innovation & Attractions Overcome Opening Day Incident
Monday, January 19, 2015
  • Rides 4U - New & Used Rides
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An incident that can tarnish if not outright destroy the reputation of a fair occurred on the opening day of the Arizona State Fair, which ran October 10 - November 2. After dusk, a melee broke out between groups of teenagers at the fair, which eventually spilled out to the streets surrounding the fairgrounds.

According to, an Arizona news website, "the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) said Friday night that 35 teens were arrested and released to their parents." Luckily the scuffle was contained and no injuries were reported. But any sort of negative publicity has the potential of impacting consumer enthusiasm for a fair, damaging an entire year's worth of hard work by fair organizers and staff.

Luckily, the opening day teen rumble proved a temporary blip for the annual celebration of everything Arizona. Attendance was strong, with upticks in spending. "The Fair went very well this year, until the last weekend of the fair, plus one quick half hour rain storm on a wristband day," said and Kristi Walsh, Assistant Executive Director.

Walsh emphasized that the opening day the incident was in no way indicative of safety at the fair or the behavior of young people attending the event and the positive reputation of the fair remained unblemished. "This sort of incident is unusual and was handled efficiently by DPS," said Walsh. "We have no way of knowing whether it did tangibly affect attendance, however, anecdotally, from being out on the grounds this year, I don't believe it did."

Spending Uptick
Fair attendance was 1,147,182, down by approximately 3 percent from 2013. While specific spending figures were unavialble, spending on food and midway rides appears to have risen. "Attendance was down a little, but spending was up," said Walsh. "With spending rising in spite of the attendance, I think this shows the economy is stronger."

In addition to signs of rising consumer confidence, the October dates of the fair generally enhances attendance, "It's the first nice weather after months of brutal heat, which can last from March to October. 

People are ready for extracurricular entertainment. Our midway numbers and food concession numbers look strong. I think this indicates that people were saving up and choosing to spend their disposable income where they could get the most bang for their buck."

Even with apparent evidence that the economy may be on the mend, the value-added nature of the fair sustains continued appeal. "Our Arizona State Fair is extremely affordable, offering discounts every day. There's lots to see and do free, with Fair admission."

Keeping Balance
Walsh also attributes much of this year's success to the ability of the fair to strike a balance between the old and the new. "We've been working on how to keep, the wonderful and traditional roots of our fair, such as the livestock competition,relevant to today's fairgoers," said Walsh. "We always feature new concerts, new rides, and new foods. We constantly innovate."

Each year, a hallmark of the Arizona State Fair is a museum-quality exhibition. In 2013, the fair showcased the Star Trek Experience. 

This year, the fair returned to Alpha Quadrant with the Hall of Heroes. "It was very popular and focused on hands-on activities for kids and featuring both comic book heroes and movie heroes but also real life heroes like firefighters, police, and particularly relevant to AZ the Yarnell Hot Shots fire crew that perished near Prescott, Arizona."

Walsh also noted that a successful new attraction was the Great American Duck Races - "kids release the ducks into the water, it was really popular."

Repeat Visits
The 2014 marketing for the fair encouraged repeat visits to the fair as well as enhancing the fair experience for each patron. A new, value-added promotion was the Fairgoer Appreciation Insider Rewards (F.A.I.R.) Card, where Fairgoers buying a full price adult admission automatically qualified for a special F.A.I.R. Card, worth $10 towards their next Fair visit,which could be used parking, admission, concert tickets, rides, games, food, etc. "This promotion was extremely successful, so much so that we had to scale it back," said Walsh. "We were not staffed up enough to handle voucher to card redemptions and had to limit the number of full price admission vouchers."

Another new promotion was the Passport to Savings CoupBook, distributed through Domino's Pizza outlets . For the cost of $5, fairgoers received "$1,000 in Arizona State Fair deals," plus a free return-admission ticket.

The emphasis on return visitor promotions dovetailed with an increase in on the grounds, real-time promotions. The fair increased its Information Booths by a third, said Walsh, supporting the concept that the more fairgoers knew what to do, the longer they would stay and the more likely they would return. "We increased our onsite marketing," she said.

Providing fairgoers with more information was not limited to Information Booth employees. There was a "concerted effort" by supervisors and other fair executives, to emphasize customer service by increasing the fair-educational part during pre-fair orientation for seasonal staff - there are more than 1,000 seasonal workers and volunteers working the 2014 fair, effectively forming the front line of the fair in terms of having one-on-one contact with fairgoers. All fair workers were trained specifically on how to offer fairgoers everything from directions to various attractions, as well as suggestion for activities in which to partake. "There were five departments involved, and all staff members went over all aspects of the fair, what there was to do, where everything was and it really worked. 
We also had some employee incentive program. The point was to make sure people know where to go, what we had to offer. We discovered that a lot of potential fairgoers don't understand all the things they can do at the fair. So we looked at ways to suggest to customers other things they can do at the fair."

Price Promotions
Some of the more effective price promotions - was the Costco Family Fun Pack - which began on September 15 and ran through the Fair. Costco sold four Admission Tickets plus a Passport to Savings Coupon Book for $21.99, marking the first time the Arizona State Fair offered bundled admissions by partnering with this retailer. 

Another new, socially relevant free-admission promotion was held Saturday, October 18 -national Bullying Prevention Day - by the fair in partnership with the Dion Initiative at Arizona State University and the state-wide program, Stop Bullying Arizona. All students wearing a Bullying Prevention Shirt received free admission.

Dreams Delivered
Dreams Delivered was the Arizona State Fair's marketing tagline. Walsh declined to disclose the fair's advertising and marketing budget, although did say it was about 8 percent of the fair's total budget, and they decreased it slightly from the previous year. "We added a new mobile app this year, wrapped a light rail car, played the commercials at airport baggage claims, and did more digital advertising this year."

It was the second year for a mobile Arizona State Fair app, but the 2014 app was totally overhauled. Last year, the mobile fair ad "was a trade-out with another company," but this year, the fair hired CrowdTorch, a company specializing in mobile apps for events. "We didn't have any experience with mobile apps before last year. CrowdTorch helped us customize the app with really great templates and easy to use back-end systems."

She added, "the new app was more user-friendly and had a much better map. We were able to incorporate promotions and sponsor advertising and just provide a lot more information, our staff was using it to help fairgoers too."

Social media played a larger role at the 2014 Arizona State Fair, "We continued to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but also started doing a better job managing our Yelp."

Walsh applied innovation to new media purchases do deliver the Dreams Delivered message, pushing aside some older media formats. "The trend is a decrease in print," said Walsh. "We increased our online advertising, our movie theater advertising and we are doing more digital outdoor billboards. We also are doing more advertising in the baggage claim at the airport and we wrapped a light rail car with our ads."

Accurately gauging the effectiveness of these new marketing strategies is a challenge, but Walsh said "anecdotally, I did hear people tell me they saw the ad at the baggage claim or on our light right rail. I am hearing more people seeing our ads in interesting places than on television."
The new media world of marketing can be a difficult one to discern. "You put your message on television, and people just tune it out with the DVR. I don't think the older media are as effective as they were. More and more people tell me they don't have cable, but they watch YouTube. You are no longer able to reach everyone. People are fractured on how they get their media."

Midway & Concerts
The midway, provided by Ray Cammack Shows featured 70 rides - with the most popular ride, according to Walsh, being "the La Grande Wheel, the largest traveling portable Ferris Wheel in the Western Hemisphere."  The Pelican Splash and Galaxy Coaster also premiered at the fair. 

"The midway was up and I believe our closing day might have set a record or close to it."  

Concerts and other entertainment are held at the fair's 14,780-seat Veteran Memorial Coliseum. "The concerts are not designed to be profitable," said Walsh. Concerts are free with fair admission, with VIP seats ranging from $20-$25. "It's a great value for our customer.  I look at attendance, is the midway up, did the guests stay after the show, to play and eat?" 

Headliners represented an eclectic mix of country, hip hop, and rock, and included: Justin Moore, Darius Rucker, Weezer, Wiz Khalifa, John Fogerty, Fifth Harmony, Barenaked Ladies, Josh Turner, and Queens of the Stone Age.

According to Walsh, Hip Hop sensation, Wiz Khalifa, drew the biggest crowds, "We actually had to close the coliseum." Darius Rucker and Josh Turner were close seconds in attendance, "they both drew big crowds and Darius Rucker was probably our second biggest show."

Increased competition in the Phoenix market has a negative affect on talent booking for the fair. "What is happening is that Phoenix has become a bigger entertainment market, but the casinos and other venues are booking a lot of headliners It's really competitive, so we are looking at new strategies, such as working with radio stations and getting more creative."

Innovative Concoctions
The fair featured about 100 food vendors, with a new item - deep Fried Pies, especially pumpkin and apple, were very popular. The media paid more attention to the "wacky fair foods this year. We encourage creativity and innovation with our fair foods." This attention included local press, such as the Arizona Republic, covering the Arizona State Fair cuisine story as well as Foodie Celebrity, Andrew Zimmer, an on-air personality for the Travel Channel, who did an entire segment on food at the Arizona State Fair. "We got great coverage for our food this year. It gave us great visibility."

The innovative attitude of the fair was abundantly evident in the multitude of new food items being offered, including the Deep Fried Twinkie Dog, Deep Fried Bacon Wrapped Peanut Butter Cup, Deep Fried Churro Wrapped in Bacon with Jack Daniels, Deep Fried Turkey Wings, Maple Bacon Frybread, Deep Fried Pickle Dog, Tequila & Jalapeņo-Infused Pickle Popper, and the Big Daddy Corn Dog, a 14" Giant Corn dog.

According to Walsh, such a wide range of new food items is in keeping with the fair's innovative-centric philosophy. The motivation for this attitude comes back to the ultimate opinion-maker of any fair - the Fairgoer. " We are trying many things and evolving," said Walsh. "The recession made the fair a lean machine, and we learned to focus our resources. The economy is starting to loosen up, and we are adding a few more options. It's important to talk to your customers regularly, because they're your friends and neighbors. We want to know, did we meet your expectations?"

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