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Charles Dickens famously said it was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

When asked how the 2018 Oklahoma State Fair went, J. Scott Munz, Vice President, Marketing & Public Relations paraphrased Dickens. The 2018 edition of the annual celebration of everything Oklahoma was “Not the best, not the worst.”

Ups & Downs
All things considered, not being the worst fair is not the worst that can happen to a fair. As to why it wasn’t the best fair ever, the main culprit was mother nature – a cataclysmic downpour on a key day. “The Fair was doing quite well going into the second Friday when the local weathermen began predicting catastrophic rains, including heavy flooding, for the area,” said Munz. “It rained from about nine in the morning until nine at night including some periods of heavier than usual rain. To say that the day was a ‘wash’ would be an understatement.”

Overall, the fair attracted more than 850,000 attendees, which Munz described as down “slightly” compared to 2017. It is still a healthy enough attendance for the event with fairgoers making the most out to the non-deluge days, although the fair doesn’t report revenue or record individual day attendance figures.

But one positive indicator was a noticeably improved economy compared to 2017. While it may be too early to declare that boom times are back, Oklahomans seem to be working with more disposable income this year. “Prior to the rains coming on the second Friday, we were in pretty good shape so I believe that we have turned the corner on the recession to some degree,” he said. But, [we’re] not completely out of it yet.”

More Social Media
The advertising budget remained about the same as last year, with the media mix being 30 percent television, 25 percent radio, 15 percent print, 15 percent outdoor and 15 percent digital. The big shift in the media buys was towards digital, including an emphasis on social media. “We had had a strong presence on social media for quite a few years now so we didn’t do much different in 2018 with the exception of maybe more contests,” said Munz.

Talent buying remained a “seller’s market” and the fair has tended to stay away from booking high-cost entertainment acts. Instead, the arena during the fair featured Disney On Ice presents Dare to Dream and the PRCA Xtreme Bulls, with openers Big & Rich one night and Aaron Watson the next night. Otherwise, the headline acts which are free shows with outside gate admission included: Colt Ford, Neal McCoy, Beatlemania LIVE!, Los Traileros Del Norte, Jordan Feliz, Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noon, Elvis Extravaganza, Dylan Scott, Foghat and Space Oddity – The ultimate David Bowie Experience.

The fair featured 145 food vendors, but indicative of a more positive economic outlook, Munz said that “even with the almost complete loss of the second Friday, the food gross was only about 6 percent off last year.”

The imagination of food vendors were on full display with an extraordinary range of more than 25 new food items, which the Fair’s publicity described as “Old Fashioned Fun at Our New Fashioned Fair. The innovative interpretations of fair cuisine included the more subtle, such as Drizzled Muffins – warm muffins with chocolate, caramel or white chocolate drizzled on top – at the A Latte Love Coffee House to the complex and outrageous: Cotton Candy Pie, Root Beer Float Pie, Cherry Limeade Pie; Deep-Fried Hot Pepper Rings; Mac-N-Cheese Topped with Ground Beef and Fries; BBQ Chicken and Bacon Calzone; Waffle Wrapped Snow Ice; Beer Cheese Bacon Fries; Cheese Curd Taco Flaming Hot Cheetos Fish Taco; Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage and Kit-Kat Fries.

Exemplifying both the old and new fashion ethos of this year’s new food creations was the Funnel Cake Burger (“Everything you love about a half-pound burger…except the buns have been replaced by funnel cake! This unexpected combo is the perfect mixture of sweet and savory! Find it at Porky's!”)

The food twists at the Oklahoma State Fair have a long history, with some returning favorites that included Watermelon Salsa; Wonder Boy Corn Dog: (a Cap’n Crunch battered corn dog served with honey mustard dipping sauce); Avocado Fries; Deep-Fried Coffee; Gator Burger & Gator Bites; Mac N Cheese Burger; Deep-Fried Watermelon; Caveman Turkey Leg; Pork Chop On-A-Stick; Funnel Cake Fries and Wonder Stick Ice Cream.

According to Munz, top selling dishes at the 2018 Oklahoma State Fair were: “Watermelon Pie, Honey Pepper Bacon Dog and Mac N Cheese Burger, he said. “And the why is because of their each unique tastes.”

Destination Wheel
Wade Shows provides the midway at the Oklahoma State Fair, with a footprint of about 74 rides. Frank Zaitshik, President/CEO, Wade Shows Inc., shared the good fair except for the closing Friday flood assessment voiced by Munz. “It was a very good year, but we lost a significant day on Friday,” he said. “We were up a quite a lot going into that Friday. The Saturday was down a little, but we had strong closing Sunday.”

Wade Shows increased the price of its armband slightly for the fair. “We had discussed options whether or not to increase price of advanced sale,” said Zaitshik. “We decided to increase the cost of the armbands, and we didn’t hear any negatives about it.”
Although Zaitshik explained that advance sales were off due to the loss of a distributor, any loss was made up by partnering with the fair for its group sales program. These group sales – typically directed to corporations – was one of the strongest among the fairs on his route. “They do an excellent group sales program and that helped put us over the top.”

Highlights of the midway include The Fighter, which had not appeared last summer, Super Bumper Boats, RC48 Roller Coaster, New York/New York, Super Cycle and Magnum. “We had a very powerful lineup,” said Zaitshik.
The centerpiece was the new Sky Eye Plaza, which featured Wade Show’s and Wood Entertainment's Giant Wheel, considered to be North America’s largest traveling observation wheel. The ride features more than 500,000 LED lights and 35 gondolas, holding up to six riders each, and escalates to a peak height of 155 feet, allowing views up to 15 miles.

The fair and Wade Shows designed a separate area for this spectacular ride, away from the regular midway. “They were great partners and we created an entertainment plaza for the Sky Eye Wheel, which we pushed as an observation wheel and made it a destination “for all fairgoers, it was a separate price from the midway tickets. We explored several locations, and presented it to them to promote as a special attraction. We combined entertainment and food concessions in the plaza.”

Zaitshik admits to having a sentimental attachment to this fair – his parents were concessionaires at the fair and he’s been the carnival company – in one form or another – since 1993. “It is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “But it’s a great facility and they are constantly improving the facility. They have real out of the box thinking for a state fair in the variety of entertainment and the exhibits they present. Everybody on the fair staff is dedicated to building attendance and giving great customer service.”
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