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Florida State Fair 'Discovers the Fun' of Record Revenue
Wade Shows sets all-time record ride gross on the Midway
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What do you get when add ideal weather, effective promotions, robustly interactive social media and a vibrant midway footprint? If you’re the 2019 Florida State Fair, record revenue, increased spending and what was undeniably one of the best fairs in its history.

“The 2019 Florida State Fair was one of the best years yet at the Florida State Fair,” said Cheryl F. Flood, Executive Director, Florida State Fair Authority. “We saw an increase of 59, 865 fairgoers, a 14.1 percent increase over last year.”

$2 Tuesdays

Record days included opening day – promoted as Heroes Day – the second Friday of the fair broke a 10-year attendance record and on the first Friday of the fair – “we had over $1,000,497 in midway revenue on that day,” said Flood. “Another record day for both fair and midway revenue was a first ever $2 Tuesday.

 “It’s a real tip of the hat to the Florida State Fair and their marketing,” said Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows. “Weekends with weather permitting can do great, but one of the huge challenges is getting those numbers on weekdays. The $ 2 Tuesday was hugely successful.” 

In fact, nearly every day was a good day for the fair. “We were up every single day in attendance from last year, except on our one rain day which was Wednesday, February 13th,” said Flood. “If we are going to be down on one day, a Wednesday is not a bad one. We had absolutely perfect weather. Some days were a bit warmer than most Februarys in Florida, but regardless the sun was shining.”

Spending kept pace with the attendance uptick, indicating that the 2019 economy in Florida has notably improved. According to Flood, fair revenue increased 11.9 percent compared to 2018. Nowhere was spending more evident than at the Wade Shows midway. “[The] $5.2 Million Dollar midway tells me the economy is improving and families are enjoying themselves. We had the best financial fair in our history.”

Record Midway 

“An all-time record,” is how Zaitshik describes the midway take at this year’s event, but points out the success was a culmination of years of effective fair policies. “We had a safe, incident-and- controversy free fair. This year was built block by block on solid foundation of customer satisfaction. We consider ourselves part of the Florida State Fair and it’s been a winning combination and in my view, we’ve gotten closer this year, everything meshed together. They helped us put together a powerful product. Our ride per-caps were way up.”

The Wade Shows midway featured about 100 rides, which Zaitshik said was slightly lower in terms of individual pieces of equipment, but included more high-capacity rides. “Given the changing climate of the amusement industry, we have created a more efficient business model, where less is more. We validated this with the right mix of rides and more amenities, such as more rest areas and our new wireless music and sound system in our kiddy area.”

New rides for this year’s fair included The Fighter, Downdraft, Haunted Castle, Tea Cups, and Bumper Boats. Top Grossing rides were The Chance Giant Wheel, Midway Sky Eye, The Sky Ride, and the Florida State Fair Electric Slide.  

Discover The Fun

The fair’s marketing theme was “Discover the Fun”. The Fair’s marketing/advertising budget was approximately $425,000 which was allocated: Radio-21 percent;  Broadcast-33 percent; Cable-9 percent; Out-of-Home-13 percent;  Digital/Social-11 percent  OTT (Over The Top/streaming services)-5 percent. The spending shift was decidedly towards more digital media platforms. “We integrated more video, interactive social media contesting and posts,” said Flood. “We also incorporated a lot of surveying. It’s an instant gauge for being able to survey your fairgoer’s interests and whether or not your programming whether it be through entertainment or food options at your fair is gauging interest and adjust accordingly.”

Social media engagement not just increased, but was augmented in order to expand its reach. Social media is relatively inexpensive to implement, noted Flood and the key attributes of the 2019 Florida State Fair social media marketing efforts was decidedly local. “We hosted for the first time this year an “Influencer Taste of the Fair Event” where we picked top trending Micro bloggers in the Tampa Bay region out for a mid-afternoon reception and then allowed them to explore the fair while sharing their experience with their followers,” said. “A lot of these “Influencers” had thousands of followers so it was a unique way for us to tap into an audience we would normally not reach through traditional social media buys.”

]The fair also expanded its roster of ground acts, which included America’s Got Talent participant Bello Nock and his  Super Stunt Show, in addition to the demolition derby, Tractor and Truck Pulls, the Hollywood and Circus, Chinese Acrobats and numerous musical acts. These headline music acts are free with gate admission, and according to Flood, the biggest draws were The Dweebs, Kazual, Savannah Jack, Dennis Lee, and the Alley Cats. 

Talent buying was easier this year, she added. While this might indicate that the seller’s market that has persisted for in the past few years may be easing, the timing of the fair, the midlevel acts the fair generally books and its location in a port city popular with luxury cruise lines were other factors. “Being in February we definitely enjoy a buyer’s market” said Flood. “We are the only game in town. Normally entertainers do not have much going on this time of year and this assist in our ability to negotiate."  

Beneficial Timing

The timing – and its Florida location – of the fair also coincides with leading industry conventions. The 2019 Florida State Fair has become a quasi-national showcase for many categories of fair entertainment, which also enhances their negotiating position in terms of talent buying. “This year many entertainers wanted to showcase at our fair,” she said. “The International Independent Showmen’s Association Trade Show happens during our fair so many fair managers often visit this trade show and then visit our fair also. We love hosting other State Fair staff.”

The fair featured more than 200 vendors. While no specific new fair cuisine item stood out this, there was an influx of new vendors. “We had a lot of new vendors in our Commercial Building including Deep South Barrels, Fire and Pine Creative Designs, Peachey’s Amish Donuts, Konan’s BBQ and Ma’s Irish Kitchen, Lock & Dam Eatery,” said Flood.

Flood of course is very aware of the unique role the Florida State Fair plays in the fair industry. It’s a bellwether event – industry watchers analyze the Florida State Fair in search of signs of the season – and business trends – to come. Record breaking revenue, higher fairgoer per capita spending, more engaged social media marketing, increased midway profitability and a positive talent buying climate – are unquestionably premonitions those prognosticators hope manifest themselves industry-wide. 

 “Being the first State Fair in the nation, we are known to set the tone for the industry for the year,” said Flood. “Vendors and ride owners left happy and excited for the year ahead.”

Flood saw another positive sign as well – an uptick in younger families embracing state fair attendance as an annual tradition. “We saw a unique change in the demographic of our fairgoer. Our midway could regularly be seen full of families with children enjoying all of the sights, smells and sounds the fair has to offer. Our marketing plan targeted this audience. Our hope is that the community can see that the fair is meant for making family memories and it’s a great place to do so.” 
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