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Carnivals Struggle To Play Events in 2020

NAME rounded out its 2020 season at the Greater Gulf State Fair, making its debut on the CarnivalWarehouse.com Top Fairs list. Photo by Scooter Korek

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The Top Fair list in the United States changed dramatically in 2020, with only 7 fairs from the 2019 Top 50 list able to make it on the 2020 Top 20, and one had a very abbreviated run.

There were 11 carnivals that played the Top 20 Fairs in 2020 and many on the list were returners from 2019, despite the large number of events that canceled this year.

Propelled by some strong early fairs and a comprehensive plan to reopen at major events, Wade Shows placed #1 on the list for the first time, playing 7 of the Top 20 events with a total combined attendance of 3,631,611.  That of course is down from their total last year of 4.5 million but with several pre-pandemic events that held steady, they suffered from the cancellation of the Oklahoma and New York State Fairs in 2020.  Several other Wade Shows events did make the list for the first time including the Ozark Empire Fair, the Alabama National Fair and the Delaware State Fair.

Wade Shows featured a full midway at the 2020 FL State Fair

It was the Delaware State Fair in July that truly led the way for opening other events and Wade Shows owner Frank Zaitshik was credited with coming up with a comprehensive plan for safely reopening that was widely followed by carnivals that came after.  Zaitshik and the fair even collaborated on an informational video that showed the steps the carnival had taken to make things safe for fair guests to visit.  

At the conclusion of the fair, health officials reported to the Delaware State Fair that there was no uptick in cases following the event and the fair was deemed a success by all involved.

“It's flattering and humbling to be at the top of the list”, said Frank Zatshik, Wade Shows CEO, when told of the ranking this year, adding, “but I've always believed that being number one is not about attendance but how you operate your carnival day in and day out.  It's the little things that matter most”, he added.  

The #2 position was held by Talley Amusements who was able to play the Ft. Worth Stock Show in January and February before the pandemic hit.  Unfortunately, the show was unable to play the Ohio State Fair in July as the event was canceled.


Talley Amusements played the Ft. Worth Stock Show, prior to the pandemic.  Photo by Steve Hinz.

Ray Cammack Shows was ranked #3, this year, down from the second position, as they were only able to eek out an abbreviated Houston Livestock Show this year.  West Coast events have been almost universally canceled so there were no other events for the carnival in 2020.

Belle City Amusements at #4 was the only show that stayed close to even in terms of Top Fair numbers.  The carnival moved from #13 in 2019 to #4 in 2020 on the strength of the pre-pandemic Florida Strawberry Festival, the show's only Top Fair for both 2019 and 2020.  The Strawberry Festival, ending in early March, was the last major event to run before the pandemic forced closure of events.

Perennial #1 carnival North American Midway Entertainment was hit hardest by the Pandemic in 2020, playing only two events with a combined attendance of 443,920.  Last year, the show played 13 Top 50 events with a combined attendance of over 10 million, but the Mississippi State Fair was the only NAME event from 2019 to operate in 2020.  The show dropped to #5 in 2020.

Reithoffer Shows held on to the #6 position, despite losing the Georgia National Fair and the Wilson County Fair.  The show played two events on the list this year, the Pensacola Interstate Fair and the Southwest Florida and Lee County Fair.  A third Reithoffer Fair, the Panhandle South Plains Fair made its run, but was played by Carnival Americana due to the distance and cost of trucking the show to Texas from its Florida winter quarters.

In the #7 position, Crabtree Amusements climbed from the # 11 position despite the cancellation of the Colorado State Fair and State Fair of Louisiana.  The Sioux Empire Fair helped boost the show to #7 on the list.

Carnival Americana enters our Top Carnivals list for the first time in the #8 position, playing the Panhandle South Plains Fairs for Reithoffer Shows and the West Texas Fair and Rodeo.  The latter worked with Carnival Americana on contract terms so the carnival could activate insurance and begin preparations to get on the road for the event.   The opening paid off as they were able to also pick up the fair in Lubbock, TX.

At #9, Thomas Carnival appeared on the list for the first time, playing the Utah State Fair, followed by Gold Star Amusements, also entering the list for the first time, at #10 with the South Dakota State Fair.

Rounding out our Top Carnivals list is Carnival Midway Attractions, another new entrant.  The show played the Wyoming State Fair for the first time this year and with a boost in attendance, the event was one of the only fairs to grow in 2020, enabling the show was able to make the CarnivalWarehouse.com Top Carnivals List.

With so many carnivals not on the road in 2020 the majority of fairs cancelling in 2020, it is hoped that the success and safety of the fairs and carnivals that did operate in 2020 will translate into wider openings and many ore events in 2021.

View the 2020 Top Fairs & Carnivals List

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