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70th Solano County Fair Sees Attendance Jump 75%, Brass Ring Amusements midway up nearly 50%
New free gate admission aids attendance boost
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“Cheers to 70 Years!” may have been an apt marketing tagline for a fair celebrating its seventh decade, but by the end of its run, the Solano County Fair had  many reasons to cheer. This sometimes troubled community-oriented event saw what may technically be the largest increase in year-to-year attendance – 75 percent.

A combination of new marketing, revamped programming and a clearer focus on the mission – plus sunny California weather – added up to an extraordinary milestone for this revitalized senior citizen.

“The Solano County Fair had a fantastic year,” said Debbie Egidio, Marketing Manager, Solano County Fair. “We saw strong support from the community by their participation in our competitive exhibits program, livestock auction, stage and grounds entertainment, vendors and all of the guests who helped make the Fair a success.”

Comeback Weather
Egidio described the 2019 fair weather as ideal. “The weather was great,” she said. “Around 80 degrees in the day time and mild in the evenings – pretty much perfect for an outdoor summer event.”

While no record days were recorded – the attendance of 21,311—“Was just an overall significant increase compared to last year.”

The Brass Ring Amusement midway reaped rewards in accordance with this jump in turnout. According to Harry Mason, president of the company, midway revenue was up with “Almost a 50 percent increase.”

Midway Increase
This jump in revenue and the collateral increase in ride sales should be kept in perspective – the fair ran four days instead of two and the implementation of a free admission policy Mason notes as a positive factor in driving the 2019 attendance spurt, but it also reflected how well fair stakeholders are now understanding the new realities of the fair. “It's a small fair, but going in the right direction,” said Mason.  "To see that kind of difference in year-to-year attendance, to post that kind of growth, is very positive.”

“This is the second year in a row that we have had a free gate, a move that seemed to be extremely successful for us based on our attendance increase,” said Egidio. “This made us very appealing as an entertainment option for families who may have been watching their budget. Having free admission allowed families to spend their money on food, merchandise, and the carnival helping our Fair succeed for us and for our partners in those areas.”

Until this summer's giant leap forward for the Solano tradition, which had fallen on tough times in recent years. It seems 2019 has proven to be a reversal of fortunes for what Mason described as a “sometimes troubled fair.”  
The two main culprits are a Six Flags theme park right across the street from the fair and the closure of the racing grandstands, which happened about 10 years ago – reportedly, several California county fairs lost their horse racing at the same time. Last year, the 13-acres racetrack was demolished – a development called Solano 360, a mixed-use residential, retail and transit will replace the facility. The fairgrounds utilize approximately 130 acres, retaining many facilities, such as an exhibition hall, for the fair.

Family Focus
The new development on the horizon indicates the fair is far along on its comeback trail. “They are getting more and more community support,” said Mason. “They've re-positioned the fair as a community event and budgeted more money for programming this year, with more exhibitions and a community stage. They went to free admissions, which boosted attendance. That was very powerful because it gets more people and they spend more when they're here. You see a lot of people pushing strollers, it's more families now.”

The Brass Ring midway featured about 20 rides, said Mason, describing the space as  “limited, but it has a nice festival vibe, it's a large urban fair supported by the community.”  

The ride selection include the Century Carousel, Wacky Worm, and Wipe Out, -- which were “all top producers,” said Mason. In keeping with the fair's community and family oriented re-direction, Brass Ring emphasized family rides. “We focused our arsenal, especially the additional rides, on rides that mom and dad could ride with their kids. It's the Disney Land mentality, where the rides are all for the family to ride together.”

The midway was redesigned, to both expand the family section and incorporate three new  “spectaculars” said Egidio, adding thing that the “modified layout”  was also “moved to the center of our Fairgrounds drawing guests into the heart of the entertainment activity areas,” she said.

 One challenge for the Brass Rings midway was the looming competitor across the way, the Six Flags theme park. “The fair offers something different than the theme park, so it's two different crowds,” he said. “The fair is an annual event, and Six Flags is always there, so it's something special. I also noticed that this year, because of the free admission, that people leaving the Six Flags were coming to check out the fair. It's kind of intimidating to have the park there, but the fair and our midway are unique, and the solution of free admission and more community entertainment worked.”

Strategized Marketing
Brass Rings Amusement also collaborated with fair organizers on the marketing and social media presence. “We partner with all our events. Solano had a huge social media presence, on Facebook, Instagram, and You Tube. We did some stuff on Groupon. We also strategized with the fair, so we could target the demographic. With our Geo-fencing, we go into whatever the market is, and target the fair demographic, and that works the best. The best thing is that you get to set the parameters. I look at the analytics every couple of days, and you can tweak what you're doing.”

Mason said that his online wristband sales – boosted by an enticing discount ($35 at the fair/$20 online) – more than doubled from 2018. He also offered a BOGO (buy one/get one) deal to the targeted audience. He added that his digital marketing resulted in 47,300 impressions with a click-through rate of 3.7 percent. “Which is good but not great. But we strategized with the fair. We would offer something up, then they come up with additional solutions. We experimented, and we were mostly risking our money but it paid off, because it has to be a partnership. What they do enhances what we are doing and we are supplementing what they are doing.”

According to Egidio,  “Our media mix was roughly identical to last year: 14 percent radio, 64 percent print (monthly and daily publications combined) and 22 percent electronic and social media. “We focused on Facebook, Twitter, e-blasts to our in-house email list, listings with online event promotion sites, and geo-targeting our digital ads across platforms.”

Entertainment at the fair ranged from regional music acts, talent competitions, magicians and other performers,” said Egidio. “Our concerts were free this year so we do not have exact concert attendance numbers.  Our annual Fiesta Concert on our closing day with multiple Hispanic bands continues to be a strong draw.”

One of the highlights of this year's Fair is the Competitive Exhibits program, featuring more than  55 categories of competition for youth and adults encompassing art, photography, cut flowers, amateur gardens, baked foods, clothing and textiles and poetry. More than 2,000 entries were received and displayed on the fairground's McCormack Hall.
The fair's livestock program and 4H and FFA participants filled the facility's barns with hundreds of animals for fairgoers to meet and learn more about.  According to Egidio, livestock auction revenue soared 28 percent compared to 2018
The fairgrounds also featured a Cultural Pavilion with its shaded grounds and its own stage dedicated to a culturally diverse array of performers, including Hawaiian dancers, Filipino martial arts groups, African dancer and belly dancers.
  
 “A new attraction for us was the Unicorn Garden Party, a themed area focused on activities and entertainment for younger children,” said Egidio. “This was created and produced completely in house and featured unicorn décor, costumed characters such as fairies and Mother Nature, a wishing well, and keepsake photo opportunities.”

Amid stiff theme park competition and finally recovering from the loss of its racing facilities, the reimagined Solano County Fair and its renewed family focus has shown that community fairs are still an integral part of popular culture. “I do believe though that fairs, with all-day long entertainment and activities for a moderate price, continue to offer a great entertainment value for all ages,” she said.

She added, “2019 exceeded expectations in many ways including attendance, participation in the competitive exhibit and livestock programs, interest by vendors in being part of our Fair, as well as support by buyers at our livestock auction. It was a very positive year for the Solano County Fair and look forward to continuing that trend next year.”
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