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Midway Millennials: Funtagg's Harry Riegel
Midway Transaction Transformation: Digitized Ticketing to Dominate 2023 Season
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The growing visibility of millennials within the upper management ranks of industry companies and the digital revolution transforming midway transactions are two of the unintended but apparently welcomed fair industry trends emerging out of the post-COVID midway. Harry Riegel of FunTagg, the 29 year old son of Steve Riegel, Founder & Owner, seems to embody both trends.

FunTagg is one of a handful of Digital Ticketing systems leading the Cashless Midway revolution in North American Fairs. The company provides systems to some of the leading fair midways in the country, including San Antonio Livestock Show & Exposition, Oklahoma State Fair, South Florida Fair, Maryland State Fair, New York State Fair, Virginia State Fair, Delaware State Fair, and the Topsfield Fair. More than a dozen carnival companies now contract with the system, including Wade Shows, Amusements of America, Powers Great American Midways, Deggeller Attractions and Fiesta Shows.

Fair Majority

"The top 50 fairs are put on by about 20 leading carnival companies. Half of the leading carnival company have some digital ticketing system, but the other half still use people to sell paper tickets and wristbands. Of the leading carnival companies with a ticketing system, 5, which is about half, use FunTagg, and the remaining use a competitor's system," said Harry Riegel, who dislikes to use the term cashless midway. “It's a misleading term, because it's not like cash is entirely eliminated. It's always an option.”

For years, carnival companies and fair boards have balanced the benefits of digital midways against concerns that the community was not yet ready for the change. Technological evolution may be inevitable, but early adapter phobia – i.e., buying digital music instead of CDs—is real. It seemed a global pandemic – and years of successful system implementation – proved to be the key accelerant. Prior to COVID, midway transaction digitization experienced steady growth, but the surge in system adaptation that occurred post-lockdown has yet to crest.


For example, at the 2023 South Florida Fair, Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows expanded the FunTagg footprint from 19 kiosks last year to 42. We didn't want to get caught short. It has become the preferred transaction method. We were up considerably.”

This 2023 Funtagg forecasted expansion includes not just more fairs using the system, but using more of the system. The surge in usage emerging during and right after lockdown was largely sparked by labor shortages – something experienced by both midways and their fairs – enhancing the appeal of automated kiosks over fully staffed ticket booths. Fairs – and their fairgoers – not only exceeded expectations in the speed by which they adapted to the system during the initial post-lockdown seasons, but are beginning to modify fairs for savings and optimizations.

“Our clients are the carnival operators and they pushed into digital ticketing because of labor,” said Riegel. “But now the fairs are seeing the accountability, the data, not having to count cash, seeing the reports and the accuracy of the reports, they're asking for more of the system. Once they make the transition, they move along a spectrum of use. This year, we're seeing more integration of functions – combining presales, games and food, with rides and admission, with the ultimate goal of operating with less labor.”

Another midway trend attributed to the digitized ticketing data has been modifying fair and/or midway hours. “We'll see more trimming of slow hours,” he said. “Operators know when the revenue is trickling in or pouring in, and they're taking this data to the fair boards.”

The data not only motivates cutbacks, but additional hours and radical rescheduling. “We just provide the information, the data is neutral. For some fair boards they see it's better to close on slow Mondays and Tuesdays if they can make more money by being open an extra weekend.”

He added, “Fairs can see their venue revenue by hour, and if that revenue does not cover the costs, then do not open for that hour. The hour-by-hour data persuades them.”

Harry Riegel and his dad, Steve, exhibiting at the IISA Trade Show in Gibtown

New Path

Riegel, who graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Economics & Political Science in 2016, joined his father's company in 2019 when one of the largest midway providers in North America, Wade Shows, placed their initial order. “I was on one career path, but then the order came in and so I'm on another career path.”

A few months later the COVID crisis changed everything, disrupting all aspects of the fair business including the fledgling digitized ticketing system segment. One of the few large-scale, state fairs to open in 2020 was the Delaware State Fair, a premiere of sorts for the FunTagg system. The Wade Shows midway plan – in addition to ride spacing and expanded queues – includes touch-free and minimal contact transactions made possible by the FunTagg kiosks.

Prior to joining the company, Riegel had minimal experience with fairs, now he's been to dozens of fairs in the course of about three years. It's become his favorite part of the job. “Helping clients successfully set up events is what I like best; traveling to the fair. Our work is having all our ducks in a row for a fair to open. We get there on Wednesday, they open Thursday and we are there the get through opening. We trouble shoot on the kiosks, but people catch on to the system really quick.”

His midway experience has not only gotten him hooked on his favorite fair food (Fried Oreos) and ride (Wade Shows' Street Fighter 360), but he's noticed a changing of the guard and increasing absence of techno-phobia. “I'm a millennial and I grew up with technologies and I'm seeing younger people managing carnivals. We embrace change and there's more adoption of technologies, and that will continue as the leadership gets younger. Before, there were no ATMs on the midway, now there's ATMs on every midway.”

Technological savvy is not the only youth-led change he's noticed on the midway. “The carnival industry is a critical part of the American entertainment industry. I can see a resurgence of fairs, a new style of carnival. The future will have more tech, more exhibitions. It's becoming a social thing for my generation. It's more about the rides and the experience.”
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