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Delaware State Fair: Sold-Out Shows, Summer Destination Marketing, Attendance Upticks & Breaking Midway Records

Wade Shows Provided the Midway for the 2023 Delaware State Fair
The fair has been steadily growing in revenue since the pandemic.

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Sold-out concerts, record-grossing midway, attendance increases and a record grossing Livestock Auction, proved The Delaware State Fair to be a “Farmlands and Fair Fans” Summer Destination for both Delawareans and due to expanded marketing outreach, mid-Atlantic region residents.

As with many outdoor events during a summer with often volatile weather patterns, some key fair days were marred by  a severe heatwave and scattered showers and thunderstorms. Nonetheless, the 2023 Delaware State Fair saw a 3 percent rise in attendance over the 2022 fair, attracting more than 308,000 during the course of the mid-summer event. Opening weekend saw 77,000 visitors attend the fair.  With over 308,000 visitors attending the 2023 Delaware State Fair, and a few records being set, organizers proclaimed the 104th annual Delaware State Fair another great success.  

Headline Entertainment

Enticing more fairgoers by enhancing their visit to the fair, the event introduced a new mobile app that helped the crowds plan their fair visit. The fair has also constructed multiple air-conditioned buildings and what the official wrap up press released described as “selected cool fair-time treats throughout the fairgrounds to help stay cool and dry. “

In addition, the fair's amped up its star-power at its official Delaware Lottery Summer Concert series at the M&T Bank Grandstand, which included sold out performances by Gabriel "Fluffy" Iglesias and Lainey Wilson with Kameron Marlowe. Other shows include Nelly with Chase McDaniel; Vanilla Ice - I LOVE THE 90s Tour; Riley Green; Zach Williams with CAIN; Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line with Megan Moroney, and of course the perennial tradition of the Demolition Derby.

 “The blend of great entertainment offered in and outside of the M&T Bank Grandstand continued to show why the Delaware State Fair, after 104 years, is consistently considered to be one of the best summer destinations for great entertainment on Delmarva,” said Danny Aguilar, Assistant General Manager & Director of Marketing, Delaware State Fair. “This year's lineup was quite popular with over 52,000 concert goers in attendance. We continue to strive to offer quality entertainment opportunities with great experiences for our patrons like VIP packages, Beer Gardens, live entertainment throughout the grounds, amazing food, shopping and entertainment.”

Boosting the concert lineup as well as attendance and spending, the fair saw a resurgence of its sponsorship program. The program has been augmented with group ticket sales to large employers, combining team-building, employee appreciation and an annual company picnic into a day and night at the fair. According to Aguilar, “continued support provided by sponsors allows the Fair to provide our patrons with great entertainment and summertime memories. We had several large and small businesses utilize the fairgrounds as an employee outing, offering concert tickets, carnival wristbands and food vouchers as a way to say thank you.”

Wade Shows Midway

The Wade Shows Midway featured 42 rides, about the same ride-count as last year, although the company premiered a new Wave Swinger, and after a five-year absence, brought back the fan favorite Dragstrip Mega Slide. “People came out, and were spending and it's been like that everywhere,” said Frank Zaitshik, president, Wade Shows. “We would've set more records if the weather worked. We did set a record the first Saturday.”  

Record-setting revenue for this midway provider at the annual celebration of everything Delaware is more than just a year-to-year uptick. The company has had a post-lockdown boom, with consecutive record years in 2021, 2022 and 2023. According to Zaitshik, midway revenue is more than 40 percent higher than the three-year (2017, 2018, 2019) pre-pandemic average.

The Delaware State Fair has become one of the fastest growing fairs now on the Wade Shows route. This year, sales were tweaked by  “ a very aggressive Flash Sale, which was very successful. The fair did a great marketing job. We gave a deep discount for I think 12 hours. It was very powerful. We also had an uptick in advance sales.”

With inflation a concern for fairgoers, fair and midway provider alike, wristband pricing entailed price negotiation between the latter two than turned out to be appealing to the former. In the past, wristbands were higher on weekends than weekdays in order to generate more demand for slower fair days. Through discussion with the fair, a new pricing strategy was devised. Wristbands were $40 regardless of the day.  Zaitshik originally suggested the $35/$45 weekday differential and the fair board suggested $40 regardless of day. “I compromised and they were right, our revenues increased. What it made us do is to be more efficient in our ride selection so we can give the same experience for the number or ride cycles per hour. It made us look at the midway more like an independent ride contractor. We sell tickets, and they sell seats. We have enough staff to run our rides. The goal is always to keep the lines and wait times short.”

The Delaware State Fair midway has continued to receive positive reviews on Facebook and other social media platforms for its digitized ticketing and contract-free midway – which included more than 1,500ft of queue  fencing to create line and wait time efficiencies. These features were first instituted by Wade Shows as pandemic protocols, many adopted by other midways and fairs during the early stages of the global crisis.

“The digitized ticket was really well received, and our queue line fencing and ride-cycles were what we put in place for the pandemic and people just like it and we've kept it,” he said. “I don't know how much they go hand-in-hand, but we've made a concerted effort with customer outreach. Nobody likes waiting in lines. Customers are aware of the rides and for customers who come in at say 9:30, we explain that it may be the best value to buy a wristband.”

Effective Promotions

One of the most  popular  fair promotions was the Food Lion Feeds Hunger Relief Day, which collected more than 19,277 pounds of non-perishable Food Lion items. All donations benefitted the Food Bank of Delaware, where they estimate  the over 19,000 pounds of food will help to create over 23,132 meals for Delawareans.  According to Aguilar, this year's fair implemented higher security procedures with the addition of metal detectors installed at all public gates, the installation of new security cameras, high speed traffic bollards and a new public restroom/track entrance for the M&T Bank Grandstand.  

Also well received was a new agriculture program, the Antique Machinery Showcase, which featured agricultural craft demonstrations and a trip back in time to earlier farming and mechanical technologies. Ag themed entertainment included the antique tractor display, horse pull competition, an antique tractor pull and livestock shows.

The 2023 grounds attractions included Sponsor Court entertainment, Hertrich Plaza entertainment, roaming attractions and other crowd favorites found throughout the fairgrounds. The Hertrich Plaza featured three amazingly popular acts, Magical Act Trevor & Lorena, family group Rockland Road and a trip back in time with British Invasion. All three acts packed the plaza with nightly performances starting at 6:00PM. “Duck and Goose” calling, presented by DNREC made a return visit to the plaza along with a Kids Day Fair enjoyed by thousands of campers and families visiting the fair.

Other grounds entertainment included Circus Hollywood presented by PNC Bank, racing pigs, a Camel Show, and a menagerie of exotic animals. “In all, over the ten days of fair, patrons were treated to over 2,000 hours of programmed entertainment which was provided at no additional cost beyond gate admission, not to mention all of the competition (competitive exhibits and livestock) and judging including the annual Livestock Extravaganza,” said Aguilar.  

Livestock, 4-H, FFA and other forms of competitive exhibits dominated the fairgrounds once again. The fair received and processed over 35,000 entries this year, originating from 2,689 exhibitors. “It was a great showing for all exhibitors and we were excited to see an increase of both entries and participating exhibitors,” said Bill DiMondi, General Manager, Delaware State Fair. “We were happy to see the poultry exhibit return to the Delmarva Building, certainly to the delight of fairgoers”.

The Junior Livestock Auction, which represents the culmination of a junior exhibitor's full year of hard work and dedication, completes an important early agribusiness education program for many of our livestock exhibitors. This year, the auction grossed record sales proceeds of $293,000 with the sale of 122 market animals. The funds raised are distributed to junior exhibitors who owned the top placing junior market animals.

“The 2023 Delaware State Fair will certainly go down as a fair to remember as the weather, both good and bad, continued to play a crucial role in making this year a success,” said Ron Draper, President of the Delaware State Fair Board of Directors. “As we reflect back on another successful fair, I'm always thankful for the collective hard work of our volunteers, Board members, & staff. Planning for 2024 is already underway as our staff, volunteers and Board are committed to making the fair bigger and better each year while maintaining our agricultural roots right here in Delaware.”
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