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Miami-Dade County Youth Fair Sees Record Midway & Attendance

North American Midway Entertainment Provided the Midway
NAME, provided the midway at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair, featuring the show's observation wheel. Photo by Scooter Greg Korek

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The Florida Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, also known as the Youth Fair, is one of the largest outdoor events supporting, promoting and empowering young people in North America. This 21-day showcase of agricultural and educational exhibits, midway rides, concerts, carnival food and games, and family entertainment is one of the largest – and longest – events presented by a not-for-profit organization in South Florida, whose governing board has contributed more than $11 million to Miami-Dade County since 1952.

Mother Nature was cooperative, granting the fair a run of ideal weather and the fair was able to finally put on a post-lockdown fair with a full year of planning (while 2022 was held in its usual slot, the 2021 Miami-Dade County Youth Fair was postponed seven months). The 2023 edition benefited with an attendance resurgence, high-spending and enthusiastic fairgoers, but it was nearly undermined by a growing problem nationwide – and one particularly acute in Florida so far this year – teenage violence.

Teen Stampede 

Local news report that a riotous incident involving youth resulted in increased security and police at the fair. According to Channel 6 South Florida: “Panic ensued at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair Saturday night when a stampede left multiple people with minor injuries and prompted a large police presence. Miami-Dade Police said a group of kids began running at the fair site, causing other people to be alarmed.”

Rumors of gunshots and other violence immediately circulated, although eventually proved unfounded. But a more visible and restrictive police presence was put in place for the remainder of the fair. The Miami-Dade Police released this statement; "Large crowds will be monitored. We are working closely with the Miami Youth Fair management to enforce the code of conduct expected from attendees. We will not tolerate any disorderly or disruptive behavior that endangers others. These individuals will be removed from the fairgrounds immediately and/or arrested for criminal activity."

“The Fair has a long-standing working relationship with the Miami Dade Police Department,” said Eduardo (Eddie) Cora, President of Miami Dade County Fair & Exposition. “MDPD assessed the incident and issued a statement on the facts of the evening. We agreed and stood behind the statement.”

Cora dismisses the notion that the issue is exclusive to his community, pointing out that many shopping malls, entertainment venues as well as other facilities and events have implemented restrictive admissions policies, such as barring entry to unsupervised minors. According to Cora, the youth stampede at the Youth Fair was emblematic of a growing Youth problem nationwide, fueled in large part by social media. 

“There seems to be a trend around the country where unaccompanied and unsupervised youths are acting on social media “challenges,”” said Cora. “These youths are attending events, as well as commercial and retail establishments, with the intention to create panic and disruption in a coordinated manner. Their entire goal is to be as disruptive as possible to be able to post on social media and “one up” the previous group. We have changed our plans and policies when it comes to these groups and any other group who tries to disrupt our event and put the families who come to enjoy a day at The Fair at risk.”

Aside from the youth stampede its causes, ramifications and the social context in which it occurred – and the fact it dominated local coverage of the fair, “2023 was an excellent year,” said Cora. “Every aspect of the event was up from 2022 and 2021.” 


Normal Schedule 

The 2023 Fair was also a welcome returned to a “normal” planning schedule, although if the coronavirus crisis showed this organization its ability to respond to any and all challenges. “Not having the fair in 2020, and the timing of the cancellation by local authorities, was the worst time in our organization's history,” Cora admitted. “For months following the cancellation we were not allowed to host events, which is devastating to any event center, especially one such as ours which is a self-funded not for profit. However, it also gave us the opportunity to evaluate the event and make improvements. Having the 2021 and 2022 fairs 102 days (about 3,5 months) apart let us “test” a few of the changes which seemed to work out well. We have always known that every fair needs to build on the previous year's successes, so change itself is normal. 

Fair attendance reached 516,416, an increase from 483,312 in 2022, “weather was great, we had four days with rain throughout the 21-day run,” he said. “This year saw an increase in spending on food and rides. March 25th set a single day high in ride gross for the Fair. Spending was up from 2022.”

He added, “the guests came out to enjoy the Fair and they did. The entertainment venues, such as the circus, ice show, pig races, and stages, were extremely well attended. Food and ride grosses were up from previous years and up from pre-pandemic years. Families were coming early and staying longer.”


The Youth Fair marketing tagline invoked the expansiveness of the event and its underlying purpose – World of Fun. “The theme tied in all components of our Fair from the marketing to the exhibit competitions to the entertainment to the creativity on our digital platforms and more,” said Cora.

Although he declined to specify by what percentage, Cora said “This year's advertising budget was increased from the previous year.” 

The 2023 media mix was : Digital - 39.8 percent; Radio - 28.3 percent; TV - 11 percent; Cable - 6.9 percent; OOH - 14 percent. Social Media also evolved this year as the fair reached out to the “influencers” in innovative ways. “We are continuing to incorporate more video content as well as collaborating on skits with influencers with a local following to reach our following more “authentically,” he said. “We had an increased number of participants for our social media ticket giveaways which has helped grow our subscribers list. We have also been assigning promo codes to influencers to encourage ticket sales.” 

Outlaw Coaster

The midway provided by NAME. (North American Midway Entertainment), featured 86 rides with the Observation Wheel; Euroslide; and Sky Ride being the top grossing amusements, according to Cora, who noted two new rides, Sky Screamer and the Outlaw Rollercoaster, and the latter become an instant fan favorite. “The (2023) Miami-Dade Youth Fair was a success and NAME was very happy to have been a part of it. NAME released two new rides, the Sky Screamer and a newroller coaster called "Outlaw,”  said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director. ”Guests were thrilled to be able to have a new coaster to try out and it ended up being one of our top rides for the event. As always, we try to find a balance between thrill rides and kiddie rides to make sure that there's fun for all ages. In the last year, we've introduced 10 new rides to our units including the Raptor Run, Flying Jumbos, X-Drive, and a new Ring of Fire. 

Even for the largest Midway Provider, navigating through the global pandemic and its impact on equipment manufacturers continues to be a challenge. “We know that we're very fortunate to have been able to introduce so many new rides this year, especially given the supply chain disruptions of years past,” she said. “Fortunately, we are always planning for the future and that's helped us to stay on top of our game”.

​The Youth Fair also has earned  a gastronomic reputation as a leading showcase of fair cuisine with this year featuring 127 food vendors and 18 new food introductions which ranged from a Miami Cuban Funnel Cake Sandwich to Pickle Lemonade and Wizard's Deep Fried Milkshake, which is described as a “deep fried butterscotch ice cream covered in a butter simulated Caramel sauce and topped with a flavored whipped cream topping.” 

Even though the Miami Dade County Youth Fair gains local exposure for its innovative fair cuisine concoctions, tradition dominates the South Florida Fairgoer palette. “As always, the turkey legs, elephant ears, funnel cakes, and roasted corn topped the list of bestsellers,” said Cora. 

The leading economic story of the year of course is inflation, which has proven persistent across the board. Cora pointed out that while inflation did impact the 2023 fair, price increases were done in a methodological fashion and generally accepted by fairgoers. “The Fair, its concessionaires, and midway company understood the need to increase prices but did it in a way where we were not taking advantage of the situation at the expense of our guests,” said Cora. “The increase in the cost of everything on the midway from food, toys, and fuel forced an increase in pricing throughout the fair.” 

Did the 2023 Youth Fair meet or exceed expectations? Cora sees the answer is a little more complicated given that COVID continues to alter how outdoor event success is defined. “The expectations coming out of the pandemic were to provide the best guest experience possible,”  said Cora.” It was difficult to guesstimate the attendance number, but if we provided the guests with a quality entertainment experience, we could build on that in the future. Given the spending number, we did something right. Now we need to dive into post event surveys to put the entire picture together.”

As the final numbers are fully crunched and the Youth Fair continues its youth empowerment mission, it seems the 2023 edition succeeded on many levels.  “We've (NAME) been with the Miami Youth Fair since 2004 and love the model that they have going,” said Franc. “Being able to take something that's fun and add a philanthropic spin to it is always a win in our books, and we're happy to be a part of it!”
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