The pressure was on leading up to the 2018 Ohio State Fair, one of the biggest events of the year for Amusements of America. Last year, an accident on a KMG manufactured Fire Ball left one rider dead and another severely injured. The incident left seven others injured in what Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) called “the worst tragedy in the history of the fair.”
Amusements of America, and two private inspection companies, eventually settled with the injured riders and family of the deceased, but the accident hovered over the fair industry for an entire year. Fairs and their carnival companies immediately following the July 26 accident publicized their inspection procedures as reporters more used to reporting on the 4-H club projects and corn dog sales instead switched to the ride safety angle when it came to write their annual fair story. As midsummer became late summer, some carnival companies attributed downturns in midway ridership to the news about the Ohio State Fair accident. In addition, KMG and other ride companies issued more comprehensive inspection and maintenance guidelines and most carnival companies at least reviewed their protocols, with many implementing new, more rigorous policies.
Amusements of America, in collaboration with the Ohio State Fair took the initiative and got out in front of the story for this year’s event. Prior to opening day, a press conference was held that included fair officials, as well as David Daniels, Ohio Agriculture Director, who reassured the public of the integrity and reliability of the Ohio’s inspection program and Robert Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, who spoke about the massive industry response to the across the nation and world.
“We had a media day, Bob Johnson spoke, people from the fair and the chief of inspections spoke,” said Rob Vivona, general manager of Amusements of America. “We all reassured them that equipment was safe to ride, but we let the media walk around, see that everything was inspected and I think that helped a lot.”
From the day of the accident to the pre-opening press conference, the handling of the accident by both the fair and its ride company (Amusements of America has reportedly broke all ties with KMG) has been professional, honest and forthcoming from the start, but the opening days of the fair were admittedly soft. “People were hesitant at first,” he said. “But after the first couple of days, they were on the rides and having a great time. The Ohio State Fair was great this year.”
The accident in 2017 closed down the fair for several days, so the 2018 revenue returned to the usual levels for an event whose attendance typically exceeds 900,000. While there may have been apprehension leading up the statewide celebration of everything Buckeye, this year has been very upbeat for the company.
Hot & Cool
“There were hot and cool days, crazy weather but it has been a very good year, we are up,” said Vivona. The company has went out with one its strongest ride inventories, which included a new Wacky Worm, a completely refurbished Giant Wheel and a new LED sign for its Crazy Slide. The entire midway was outfitted with new canvas and added two new amenity stations, including phone chargers and a baby-changing station, complete with courtesy curtain for more privacy. “It’s been a big hit, people are always trying to find a place to charge their phones,” he said. “We have a flat screen TV, which shows local advertising. It makes family more comfortable and they stay longer.”
“The weather was horrible, for a few events,” he said. “You take the good with the good and the bad with the bad. The spring was really bad. I remember seeing on the weather Channel a band of rain from Maine to Florida.”
By June, when the main stretch of the season kicks into gear for this Verona, New Jersey-based carnival company, weather became more conducive. “June we are playing the bigger events, but the smaller events too, are doing very well this year. People are turning out.”
One of the main draws is the staying power of the luminous midway amid wholesome, family-oriented and community positive activities. “Fairs are still very popular, it’s a tradition,” he said. “Whether it’s a family with children or a boyfriend and girlfriend on a date. They want to ride a great ride, they love the carnival food. The fairs are doing great agricultural programs with 4-H, and they have free shows. People are still coming out for fairs. The rain keeps them away, but they still enjoy fairs.”
The company is still listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest traveling amusement park in the world. Amusements of America’s route includes stops in Miami, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and the Carolinas.
Like many fair industry professionals, the issue Vivona is most worried about is the sustainability of the H-2B Visa Program. He is using about 50 foreign guest workers, about a third of his workforce and a comparable allotment to his 2017 needs, although last year like many companies, Amusements of America had to endure a labor shortage during the spring segment of the season. “We support what the OABA is doing. To have a season, you need vital workers. If they make them harder to get, carnival companies will close down.”