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2nd Empire State Fair Gets Rained Out, but Market Potential Remains Clear
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Not a whole lot of positives can be said about a nine day fair that had eight days of rain, which included two rained outs when the gates never opened. The fact it was only the second edition of the fair, it might make a fair promoter hesitant to continue the effort.

But hope springs eternal in the fair industry, known for its optimistic professionals. For Al Dorso, president of State Fair Event Management, it’s not just some naive belief in a better tomorrow, but a confidence in the market.

The soggy fair was the Empire State Fair held in the dual parking lots of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Dorso – who also runs the State Fair Meadowlands in neighboring New Jersey – remains convinced of the future of this fair. “I can see it is going to be something, you can tell that the people want this fair,” he said.

Rainy Spring

Winter lingered longer than usual in the northeast and could be frustratingly schizophrenic. The Empire State Fair ran May 11 – 20, but as Dorso pointed out “the week before it was sunny and in the 90s. For eights day of the fair we got rain, it was overcast and drizzly. We had to close early the first Saturday. It was frustrating because the last Sunday was great.”

Last year was the first year for the Empire State Fair, but it was held in July. It was not an optimum time for the fair – “From a weather standpoint, it did okay,” he said. “There were more days opened, but in July you fight the beaches in Long Island, but we had some buzz with the first fair.”

Dorso runs a weekly flea market in the same lot and so is well acquainted with the market and the potential of a Long Island spring fair.

As he explains it, May was usually booked by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, but when the famed circus folded its tents last year that prime month opened up. Dorso agreed to the July run in 2017 as a way to hold onto the 2018 dates. Bad luck with the weather aside, he remains undeterred about the timing of the fair. “Someday this going to be a great event,” he said. “There are 8 million people within 8 miles.”

As he explains, Queens – a borough of New York City bordering Long Island and within a 15 minute drive (depending on traffic!) of Nassau Coliseum – “empties out to Long Island on the weekends,” he said. “Day trips are big and families like to come out to Long Island and make a day of it.”

By the same token, there’s Long Island, a massive suburb of New York City with a population exceeding 7.5 million. “We can get the locals on the weeknights, and people who want to get out of the city on weekends, they want to drive out in the morning and come somewhere for the whole day.”

Supportive Venue

Sharing Dorso’s faith that in spite of a rainy 2018 the future of the Empire State Fair is bright was the venue itself. “Nassau Coliseum is very supportive, it’s a great venue,” he said. The venue “took care of some the advertising, you want them to partner with you and they did, reaching out to their more than 200,000 followers. You need the venue to help you with the marketing.”

That help was not just pre-fair, but help during the fair. “I got a call from the manager who knew we were having a tough time. He told me that we’ve got some radio time through trade, do you mind if put some of your spots on the radio. That gave us a big bump when we really needed it. It was very gracious.”

The venue also supplemented the social media campaign by the fair, which now has become the driving marketing force of the fair. “We were able to get more mileage out of all our social media, Facebook and Twitter. You need the venue to help you with that.”

For the 2018 Empire State Fair, marketing included mobile billboards and a “little” more television and local radio than last year. The main difference for Dorso’s company is that while he used to outsource all marketing, he now has brought everything in house, especially the social media. “We have created a marketing department and really developed our social media. It needs to be instant, and having it in-house allows us to stay on top of it.”

The challenge this year was again the weather. Rainy days and nights and fair closures resulted in a slim amount of content. “We want to be out filming, what works best is video, video is worth a thousand words, but they have to be 10-20 second spots. Unfortunately it is very difficult to get enough stuff, so we had switch things up, find old videos, and use things you have in stock. We had two people posting instantly everything we could, editing on a tight deadline.”

The fair also offered a range of gate discounts, but “you never give it away for free,” he said. One admission promotion were incentives, i.e. giveaways at the gate. These promotional giveaways included cinch backpacks, shopping totes, sunglasses, and stadium cups. Reportedly, the cinch backpacks were most popular.”

Powers Midway

The fair’s midway was provided by Powers' Great American Midway, which featured a 46-ride footprint, according to Dorso. With his New Jersey fair, Dorso essentially runs an independent midway contracting with a handful of different ride companies. For the Empire State Fair, he only contracted with Powers, which was one of the bright spots.

“He (Corky Powers) has got a beautiful show, he’s a real carnival guy’s carnival guy. The staff is excellent, and the equipment is clean, some of the best things I’ve seen.”

As expected, the midway took the biggest hit with the inclement weather. The midway include an Air Raid, a coaster from Dreamland Amusements,  and a new 33-meter high, Lamberink Giant Wheel, which was the highest grossing ride, according to Corky Powers. But, “it’s depressing, the weather was bad. I felt comfortable working with Al and we had a good midway. The fair has a lot of potential, it’s a great location. It was a great closing Sunday, and we had a great mix of rides.”

Nature may have dampened the Empire State Fair, but not Dorso’s faith in this market. Competition is relatively scant – “You really only have a few church fairs, which may be free admission, but they have only a few rides, we have nearly 50 rides and six free shows that run continuously.”

These shows included an Acrobatic Thrill Show, Racing Pigs, High Dive Show, and the “Original” Bat Copter. “Standard fair stuff,” he said.

In addition, the region’s economy has finally shown some positive growth signs. “The economy is improving, the per-cap spending was up from last year, on the days that were good that is,” he said. “There are a lot of two income families and the people from the city and Long Island have money and are doing better this year. There is a demand for a safe family event, and I always run a safe event. People get wanded at the entrance and we do not serve any alcohol.”

What about the numbers? According to D'orso, the final figures are still being tallied, but probably was around 30,000 for the fair, with some of the rainy days barely getting 600. However, with better weather, a May fair in Long Island might just live up to the potential that Dorso envisions. “If you look at the numbers, we can get 100,000 people attending this fair. If we went another weekend, I know we would have reached that number.”

Empire Fair
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