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Extra Weekend + New Pavilion + More Hoosier Content = Record-Breaking Indiana State Fair
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The annual celebration of everything Hoosier State turned 166 in 2023. Overcoming severe weather challenges, but unveiling a state-of-the-art pavilion, a solid grandstand lineup and the 50+ ride NAME (North American Midway Entertainment) midway, the Indiana State Fair saw record revenue and attendance increased over the previous year. All these factors certainly translate into a successful fair, but for the Indiana State Fair, what 2023 also proved was longer is better.

This summer extravaganza went to a three-weekend format post lockdown, continuing a growth trajectory that bodes well for this Midwest tradition. “We changed the date format of our State Fair coming out of the pandemic starting in 2021 by adding a weekend to our event and closing to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays weekly,” said Anna F. Whelchel, Chief Marketing & Sales Officer, Indiana State Fair Commission. We just wrapped our third year of this format in 2023 and have seen very consistent crowds spread across our 18 days”

A key-partner to the fair – its midway provider – immediately saw the benefit of a longer fair.

“An interesting thing that the Fair did was closing on Mondays to add a weekend and this is a tactic that we fully support,” said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director, NAME “It has been great to have a day to rest and catch up so that we can have that extra weekend of fun.”

Third Time's a Charm

Third time was definitely 2023's charm. According to Whelchel, new records set at the 2023 Indiana State Fair, include: Record overall revenue; Record food & beverage revenue; Record sponsorship revenue; Record online ticket sales during the Fair; Record Free Stage VIP revenue; and Record Group Sales revenue.

“The 2023 Indiana State Fair was a great success!” she said. “The wins were vast & monumental, including delivering a safe, wonderful guest experience. The shining star of this year by far was the unveiling of our new Farm Bureau Fall Creek Pavilion. Our century-old swine barn has been transformed into a world-class livestock facility, and was also built to be multi-purpose for year round use.”

Formerly a swine barn & public safety center, the 100-year-old facility underwent an 18-month, $50 million renovation. The transformed pavilion is a 196,000-square-foot facility with 118,000 square feet of show floor, a 14,000-square-foot north lobby, 80,000 square feet of clear-span space in the center of the building, with 25-foot ceiling height and complete restoration of the historic 1923 north façade.

The first event hosted by the new Indiana Farm Bureau Fall Creek Pavilion harkened back to its hog-roots ; the Indiana State Fair Swine Competition. It was also the venue for the a celebratory interactive exhibit of a statewide passion, obsession & religion: The Year of Basketball.

“This year marks such a special moment in our history,” said  Cindy Hoye, Executive Director. Indiana State Fair Commission. “Not only did we unveil the World-Class, premiere livestock facility in the Indiana Farm Bureau Fall Creek Pavilion, but we also celebrated the State that grew the game of basketball, with our great partners at Pacers Sports & Entertainment. 2023 was a remarkable and memorable year! Watching 4-Hers and families showing livestock and making memories in our newly renovated swine barn, which is already packed full of a century of traditions, was nothing short of remarkable.”

 “We had an incredible theme activation & engagement with our partners at Pacers Sports and Entertainment, through the theme of Celebrating The State That Grew The Game of basketball,” said Whelchel. “Our entertainment was a huge win in 2023 and we added more value into the guest experience than ever before.”


Came & Spent

Attendance reached 840,414, a noticeable increase over 2022's  837,569. Impeding turnout was a moody Mother Nature. The fair endured three days of 90+ degree heat with two days breaking 100 degrees and five days of rain, including three Saturdays. “ Due to storms & lightning, we had to close the Fair down completely two days,” said Whelchel. ““We had challenging weather in 2023.”

But when they came, they spent. “Our per caps were up slightly over 2023,” she said. “We continue to see our guests length of stay expanding, which is helping contribute to our per caps.”

The fair's marketing theme was straightforward, highlighting the basketball enthusiasm shared by millions. “Our 2023 Indiana State Fair theme & campaign was “Celebrating the State that Grew the Game of Basketball, presented by Pacers Sports & Entertainment ,” she said.

The marketing budget for 2023 was allocated as follws: Trade Media 19%; Digital & Social Advertising 22% ; Radio & Streaming Advertising 24%; TV Broadcast & non-traditional Advertising 13%; Outdoor Advertising 4%; Print Advertising 3%; Creative Development & Production 15%. “ Our overall strategy and media mix did not change dramatically from 2022 to 2023,” she said, adding that the budget was approximately $650,000.


NAME Midway

The NAME midway had returned to its typical 50+ rides, including “a permanent Sky-Ride down our main street of the Indiana State Fairgrounds,” said Whelchel.

"NAME was pleased to be able to participate, once again, in the Indiana State Fair,” said Franc. “ Given our home base is in Indiana, this particular event is very near and dear to our hearts. We had a great year and have seen and echo the attendance increase over the last few years - the Indiana State Fair is certainly on a path of growth and that's largely because they are providing consumers with exactly what they want.”

 And exactly what do Indiana fairgoers want? “Great food, thrilling rides, and all kinds of entertainment,” Franc explained. “The team is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to make the fair appealing while simultaneously sticking with the tried and true successes. You'll see the classic midway rides like the Ferris Wheel in one part, and then you'll also have the chance to enjoy a "Night Glow Drone Show".”

 Striking an optimal crowd-pleasing balance between the traditional and innovative was an objective by the fair as well, especially with 2023's Basketball theme. “Our most popular attractions are those iconic traditions that the Indiana State Fair is known for, including Little Hands on the Farm, DNR Fishing Pond, Pioneer Village, and so many more,” said Whelchel. A few new exhibits we hosted at the 2023 State Fair that were huge wins including HOOPFEST: A basketball-themed amusement park, Land of Legends: A custom exhibit celebrating the Indiana Basketball Story and ILLUMINATE: a custom-built indoor magical lantern exhibit.”

The fair's grandstand is one of the few Midwestern fairs whose grandstand tickets are free with admission yet feature some of the biggest legends on tour post-lockdown. “One of our greatest brands for the Indiana State Fair is our Hoosier Lottery Free Stage,” said Whelchel. “We bring in a nightly headline entertainer throughout the 18 days of the Fair, and these concerts are drawing significant attendance numbers for us. This year, our larger crowds were at the following concerts, in no specific order: Styx, Keith Sweat, Clint Black, Toby Mac, Skillet, CeCe Winans and Buddy Guy.

For other fair managers looking to concoct a state fair that succeeds despite two rained out days, the Indiana State Fair formula is simple: Program content that appeals to your audience. Of course, those decisions are only as effective as how well the organizers understand their audience and the unique role fairs play in society.  Says Whelchel: “Fairs have been a fabric of their communities for centuries and that is possibly more important than ever in the post-pandemic world. It is our rich tradition to bring people together to celebrate, educate and entertain!”
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