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Florida State Fair: Attendance & Per-Cap Records Set, Advertising Budget Increased & New Security Measures Implemented
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With days of record attendance, revenue and per-cap spending – and an increased advertising budget – the Florida State Fair – in theory, the first “state” fair of the year – continued its  growth trajectory with a very strong 2023 annual celebration of everything Sunshine State. “The 2023 Florida State Fair was a success,” said Cheryl Flood, Executive Director of the Florida State Fair.“Many records were set. Operationally our team made some changes this year to improve the overall guest experience and we were pleased with the results. Most importantly, we have received positive feedback from our patrons, partners and customers.” 

The 2023 Florida State Fair was the first since the global pandemic to not just be held in its usually February slot, but planning returned to a 12-month format. In 2021, variant outbreaks and spikes pushed the fair to a spring date, which not only resulted in a 36 percent dip in attendance, but delayed planning for the 2022 event. This year, not only was the fair held during its usual calendar slot but organizing and planning returned to its 12-month format. 

Flood explained, “The extra time allowed for us to have adequate time to plan and feel better prepared for the 2023 State Fair, without worry of COVID being on the top of everyone's mind.”


Overall Downtick

The 2022 event reached 428,200 – according to Flood, the 2023 event achieved “Unaudited 405,888” the slight downtick she attributes to the perennial bane of all outdoor events, Mother Nature. “We were down in attendance slightly due to high winds and rain the first weekend. The first weekend of the State Fair was not ideal, with heavy winds and turbulent weather on both Saturday and Sunday. The second Saturday was record midway revenue and per capita spending. The second Sunday was also record per capita spending for the midway and gate.”

But weather did take a toll and when all the numbers were finally crunched, “Our combined gate and midway revenues were down 6.5 percent versus the 2022 Fair,” said Flood.

The fair increased its advertising budget approximately 8 percent, to $550,000, and decided on direct messaging to the consumer, creating a marketing program centered around the tagline: Your Fun Is Here! A light-hearted call to action evoking a timeless message to Floridians, the marketing theme heralded a new marketing strategy that furthered the slide from old media and accelerated the continued dominance of social media. 

This year's media allocation for the Florida State Fair was: Broadcast TV/Cable 37.7 percent,  Radio 7.5 percent, OOH 11.3 percent, Digital 36.8 percent, Print and Integrated TBT Media 7.7 percent. We moved a share of 2022 traditional broadcast to digital, but the format and content of digital focused more specifically on Digital Direct Response Advertising versus traditional digital advertising.

“We implemented an extensive campaign that leveraged social media with direct digital response advertising across all SM platforms from Nov 1 through end of fair,” said Flood. “Additionally, Flash Sales were a focus for pre-fair and the same SM/digital ad strategy was integrated into all executions to build impressions and drive impulse before opening day. This year in partnership with New Noise Media we were able to increase our advanced sale leading into the Florida State Fair by 268 percent.” 


Wade Shows Midway 

The Wade Shows-managed midway featured 90 rides – a return to a full-complement of equipment  – and nearly 80 games, prompting Frank Zaitshik of Wade Shows to declare, “I've never personally seen 80 games in one location. 

But the abundance of games and action-packed midway fun – and fairground improvements – convinced this industry veteran that the 2023 Florida State Fair midway was one of Wade Shows' most impressive.”

He added, “Florida State Fair upped their game with their improvements and amenities. The fair is competitive with any state fair. It was the best assortment of new rides and almost new rides we ever had. In addition, we were able to roll out several rides that we were not able to set up since the pandemic.”

Zaitshik credited his subcontractors, which included Powers Great American Midway and Dreamland Amusements, for rounding out the massive midway with new equipment. Some of the new rides at the 2023 midways included a Wave Swinger and Double-Decker Carousel.


Wrongful Death

A controversy for the fair was the threat of teen violence and controversial policies implemented to suppress outbreaks. In fact,  prior to opening day, local news reported that the 2023 Florida State Fair was the first to open after a jury in September awarded $15 million to the family of 14-year-old Andrew Joseph III in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO), who provides security for the Florida State Fair. 

According to Fox News Tampa Bay: “Since the tragic night, his family has been fighting for the sheriff's office to be held accountable for how things were handled. But, HCSO has repeatedly invoked qualified immunity, a law that protects officers from civil suits and also keeps information from being released. HCSO's latest appeal in 2021 was denied, which gave the Joseph family the break they were looking for… HCSO has said the agency has since taken steps to make Student Day safer for the kids in attendance. Students are no longer allowed to be at the fair without a parent after 6 p.m. Security has also been stepped up with deputies on high platforms throughout the fairgrounds along with cameras to help deputies keep an eye on everything going on. There's also a tent outside the entrance to make sure any teen asked to leave has a way to contact their parents.”

“Safety has always been a top priority of the Florida State Fair,” said Flood. “Any changes we made this year were a result of our annual review of all safety and security policies. The 6 p.m. Youth Policy was an obvious next step; one that many venues and State Fairs are having to implement across the country.”

Not only were reported incidents of teen violence at the fair nonexistent in this year, fairgoers welcomed more visible and restrictive security. “We have great confidence in our Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office,” said Flood. “They adjust staffing levels based on activities, promotions and programming on property. Honestly, the feedback from our patrons are they feel more comfortable with a law enforcement presence.” 

The fair showcased 170 food vendors, which Flood stated was actually down from previous years. Nonetheless, with its status as the First State Fair of the year, Flood is fully cognizant of the leadership role the Florida State Fair serves in showcasing fair cuisine. “Being the 1st State Fair of the new year, we love to highlight new foods that are trending within our industry,” said Flood. “This year the Tampa Cuban Funnel Cake Sandwich, Dill Pickle Lemonade and Apple Fries were fan favorites.”
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