Rain impeded the 163rd Bloomsburg Fair in Bloomsburg County, PA., but, an appealing concert lineup, a stronger social media presence and a new midway company, Amusements of America, kept the losses to a minimum.
The 2018 fair attracted 400,707, a drop of more than 5,000 fairgoers (2017 attendance was 405,699). But there some rainy days and two full days of rain kept the numbers down. “Weather was a big factor,” said Paul Reichart, President. “A few rainy days hampered attendance slightly, but the rest of the week had good numbers.”
Indeed, Monday achieved a record attendance day status with 46,659, beating the previous record for a Fair Monday was recorded in 2007 with 45,111.
Rain Before & During
Even on days of less rain when skies cleared, weather reports early in the day suppressed turnout. “We had two stations broadcasting onsite, they had live interviews, but the weather reports were already out.”
Rain already impacted the region well before opening day. “For several weeks leading up to the fair, we were hit with higher levels of precipitation leaving some areas flooded, including parts of the fairgrounds,” he said. “Several days of round the clock cleanup efforts were completed prior to opening. However, some parking areas were still unusable, reducing the number of cars able to park in our main lots. On Tuesday and Wednesday rain fell all day and for much of that time, winds were also a problem. Signs and display merchandise were secured and attendance was affected on those days.”
Unlike in 2011, a year the fair was “completely washed out,” he said. “The Fair was not closed due to flooding.”
The fair’s enclosed, 5,400-seat grandstand featured a mix of motorsports – Truck & Tractor Pull; Champion Demo Derby; Championship Figure 8 Racing – and concerts: Casting Crowns; Darci Lynn; Cole Swindell; Rick Springfield / Eddie Money / Greg Kihn / Tommy Tutone; Melissa Etheridge; and Vince Gill.
According to Reichart, the entertainment may not have overwhelmed in terms of attendees or a revenue, but there were highlights. “We had a terrific demo derby this year,” he said. “There were no sellouts for the entertainment lineup this year, but the Sunday night show featuring Christian entertainers Casting Crowns and the Monday night Darci Lynne Show both sold well.”
Costs may have played a factor. The fair tries to keep concert ticket prices down to $35-40. “Our highest ticket was $55 for Vince Gill,” he said. “Which is reasonable, but it was high and we may consider an adjustment of adding a second night of the demo derby or other motor sports,” he said. “It is something we are going to be looking into.”
Like most fairs this summer, the Pennsylvania event is navigating the high-cost waters of 2018 talent buying. “We are committed to entertainment, it does bring people into the fair,” he said.
The Bloomsburg County Fair outsources its talent buying, working closely with Variety Attractions, who he describes “as very helpful in guiding us through the entertainment process. “
But what has happened is earlier booking than ever. “Our entertainment lineup was solidified and marketed earlier than ever this year, with some tickets going on sale in March,” he said. “In previous years, ticket sales were begun in July at the earliest.”
For 2019, even before the fair ended, booking had begun and ticket sales will be offered before autumn ends. “We’ve been pretty fortunate, we have three shows lined-up already and will announce them and put tickets on sales around Thanksgiving,” he said. “It is earlier than usual, but we worked with our agent and locked into those ticket sales. People like to give tickets to concerts as Christmas presents.”
The Bloomsburg Fair had a new midway provider for 2018 – Amusements of America – who replaced Reithoffer Shows. Fairgoers confronted a fresh, new midway. “The most visible change occurred in the color scheme of the new company,” said Reichart. “The patriotic red, white, and blue lights, ticket booths, and staff apparel was in sharp contrast to the former orange, red, and blue carnival colors of previous years. Several new rides and attractions greeted the folks in both ride areas of the fairgrounds. Feedback was positive on the new company, most saying the prices were reasonable and pay one price to ride option was easier and more accessible this year.”
According to Morris Vivona Jr, owner of Amusements of America, “”We did several promotions, a lot of advanced sales promotions, including one targeting college students, where half-priced tickets were sold on college campuses. This was my first year there, and it went great. Everybody was happy, we received a lot of compliments from the fair board and the public.”
While the fair never closed down, it was a soggy debut for the carnival company. “But the crowed was pretty resilient, and we worked right through,” said Vivona. “Rain dampens attendance and while we have nothing to compare it to you from our records, it seems ride revenue was down by only 5 percent.”
Vivona said it was also the first time the fair used electronic ticket for ride tickets, “we did the scanning of the bar codes, we incorporated that into our carnival midway. There were a couple of glitches, but it went very well.
The Amusements of America midway featured 60 rides, including a Drop Tower, Majestic Spinning Coaster, Street Fighter, and Giant Wheel. “Probably the most unique ride for the fair was the Fireball, which they had never seen anything like it before,” said Vivona. “We also changed the layout of the midway, opened up entrances and made it much more user-friendly. It was not as confusing as the old layout. We were closer to the front entrance and we had a new marquee.”
He added, “It is a very well attended fair in spite of the rain. The community loves their fair. The fairgrounds is a great space too, and they don’t waste an inch of it.”
As a first time midway provider to this Pennsylvania tradition, what was different about the fair? “I was amazed at their concessions. They have an unbelievable amount of food stands, well over 1,000 concessions and many were food stands.”
Apparently, Vivona did not exaggerate. Concessions and food stands are more than plentiful, especially for a fair this size. Reichart said the Bloomsburg Fair has approximately 1,200 total vendors, at least 60 percent are in the Food & Beverage category. He cited a study conducted by a local university that found, “fair food is the top item. People come to the fair for food. They come back to the same stands every year.”
The food stands have also steadily improved their presentation, with stands that are larger, more colorful and enticing and as clean as restaurants. “They had a fresh look, we got a lot of positive comments. Spending on food was great.”
In terms of food trends, perhaps unsurprisingly bacon was again a hit. “Vendors continued to be creative with bacon, making them very popular destinations,” he said. “Deep fried bacon, peanut butter and bacon, bacon and caramel, and several other combinations had folks standing in line. Variations of macaroni and cheese were also very popular. Mac ‘n cheese with shredded pork, beef, seafood, or many other possibilities also drew many customers. A vendor, Makin’ Whoopie Pies, infused many different flavors and fillings into whoopie pies, and garnered quite a bit of attention.”
The fair’s advertising budget is approximately $250,000. Like most fairs, social media and other forms of internet marketing are growing in terms of budgetary allocations, but because of the fair’s reputation by both following and exhibiting as an agricultural and horticultural fair – as well as its rural setting – print advertising in trade and local newspapers remains an important component of the advertising mix. “Print, including local newspaper, weekly and monthly publications, and trade journals account for a good portion of our budget,” said Reichart. “We have rural papers that are very important and cooperative with the fair.”
Marketing also utilized a selective number of well-positioned billboards. “Electronic billboards are strategically chosen across the region represent a small portion [of the budget], but seem to be effective in marketing nightly entertainment. Advertising dollars spent on radio were greatly reduced for 2018, as we have determined that the radio spots have not been effective with our target audience. One big change implemented for 2018 was the multi-faceted approach to the social media marketing, especially with regards to our Facebook. With nearly 90,000 followers, we took great efforts to reach those folks with photos, videos, updates, information on all events, and interesting profiles and exhibits.”
The 2018 social media initiative was to improve the quality, amount and consistency of content. “Each day two photographers were dispatched with event schedules,” he explained. “Photos were posted quickly throughout the day, Facebook Live was utilized to add excitement and interest, and upcoming events were showcased several times a day. Each night, a newsletter prepared by the publicity staff, was sent out to all media outlets, directors, and all fair members recapping the events and highlights of the day. Feedback from both the Facebook push and the mass email newsletters was very positive.”