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New Mexico Fairgoers Feel Fair Love
Reithoffer Shows midway up 10% over 2018

Photo by Steve Hinz

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All you need is Love, the Beatles sang. The New Mexico also needed good weather, strong community support, a redesigned layout and upgraded infrastructure. But there was one secret ingredient to tie it all together and it was a secret that the fair was smart enough not to keep a secret. Turned out, that secret was in the fair all the time.

Love is in the Fair was the marketing tagline for the 2019 New Mexico Fair. “We paid attention to how people tend to experience the fair,” said Dan Mourning, General Manager. “We find something for everyone to enjoy, regardless of race, creed, and sexual orientation. All our programs, all our partners in the fair, contribute to that love. The food, the environment, the midway, it's important to people and their families.”

Marketing Love

Approximately $350,000 was spent on a marketing centered on the affectionate messaging. “The theme really resonated. People when they found out that I work for the fair, would always me pull me aside and say I really love the fair. Everyone on staff had similar experiences. The theme was just a natural.”

The marketing budget was about the same as 2019. On social media, the marketing expanded the cost-effective, consumer engaging contests. “Contests are king for us,” said Mourning. “We hosted about 40 contests/giveaways in the months and weeks leading up to the fair, all of which saw extremely positive feedback and response trends.”

The big shift in advertising was replacing funds for television advertising that were cut in 2018. Television remains a crucial outlet for the New Mexico State Fair. Unfortunately, this particular form of old media is a popular vehicle for other players. Last year, heated mid-term and gubernatorial races pushed the costs of television advertising to unaffordable heights and the fair cutback on this medium. In 2019, television expenditures returned to previous levels.

“We did spend more on television than we did last year,” said Mourning. “With no political race this year, there wasn't the competition driving up the costs, which made it very difficult to advertise. We switched more funds back to television.”

The theme also struck a chord with local media. “We seemed to really get more media coverage,” he said. “The theme really brought the ‘love' out from the media. We had an ABC affiliate who broadcast from the fair all day and into the night.” 

The Love is in the Fair theme also proved to be an unexpected boost to the fair's merchandising – the line of annual souvenirs products the fair produces every year. “With our merchandising store, sales increased 40 percent this year. Things were really flying off the shelf, which is one of the indicators that the theme resonated with our visitors.”

A signature marketing detail of the fair is creating a fair beer, a limited edition beer brewed specifically for the fair.  The specialty beer was a German Pilsner. “Local breweries and craft-beer breweries are a huge industry in New Mexico. Love was in my Pilsner this year. We've been doing this four years and it's a great marketing vehicle and creates extra income for the fair.”

Inclusive New Mexico

Maybe the Love is In the Fair tagline connected with the audience of the fair not just because it sounded catchy, but it seemed to capture the mood the progressive state and its annual celebration of a welcoming culture. Mourning stated the emphasis of the fair has always been inclusivity. He cited the example of “Out at the Fair Day” held on the first Sunday of the fair, a special celebration of the LGBT community. The fair expanded this program in 2018, moving it to the main pavilion of the fair, adding music and fun events, such as a Drag Queen and Drag King contest. Mourning estimates that about 7,000 people participated in the festivities.”

“We wanted to reflect the attitude of New Mexico towards same sex couples and families,” said Mourning. “It was packed wall-to-wall people. We educated people that fairs are fairs are everybody, fairs are all inclusive, a safe environment. It's a great place for all families. Love was truly at the fair.”

It was also the second year for the fair's Sensory Stations –where people with autism and other disabilities—can go to have a quiet place. “We go to great lengths to make sure everybody is comfortable at the fair. The Sensory Stations is a place where kids with those disabilities can straighten out if they are getting too upset. It really worked out well, people appreciated it.”

Midway Changes

That appreciation was felt on the midway, provided by Reithoffer Shows. Rick Reithoffer estimates that midway revenue was up more than 10 percent over 2018, “The fair continues to get bigger and better every year,” said Reithoffer. “Attendance drives revenue growth and we had more attendance this year. The fair keeps attracting more people with their new and exciting programming.”

The midway itself underwent significant infrastructure upgrades. The most noticeable was what wasn't noticeable – cables. “This year, we continued a trench system project around our midway in order to place power and utility cables underground for the carnival, said Mourning. “None of the cable was in view of the general public. This was huge not just from the appearance aspect of the midway, but there's less trips and falls and other risks. Not exposing the cables saves us money.” 

He added, “It's a true partnership with Reithoffer Shows and I think that it is unique for a fair. They have a real commitment to the our state and our fair. [Rick Reithoffer] is constantly improving the show, analyzing the midway. Reithoffer Shows also reorganized their ride setup this year to optimize the fairgoers experience.”

One midway shift was moving the signature Reithoffer piece – the Giant Wheel – to a more visible location so it is more visible from the tree-lined main street of the fairgrounds. “It was all lit up with new LED lighting. It looked like magic. They really create an exciting atmosphere, where people want to go to and spend their money.”

Reithoffer also moved the Giant Slide so the Kiddie Land area could be seen on both the right and left of the midway. “We kind of took the focus off the main midway, but we created a visible impact at the far ends of the midway.

The entire complement of Reithoffer rides have now been outfitted with LED lighting. Rides having their New Mexico State Fair debut included the Wild Claw, Zero Gravity, Mini-Carousel and Tea Cups.

The company also added 15 new rest areas and 150 park benches, adorned with Reithoffer Shows and New Mexico State Fair logos. “We had a very good design, they're very comfortable. We donated them to the fair for their use year-round. We want people to be able to rest and relax while looking the midway and the fair. That way they stay a little longer.”

Headliners Sell

Headline entertainment has always been a staple at the fair, but in 2018 the concerts didn't draw as well and due to rising costs and increased competition, fair organizers were revaluating the role of expensive shows at the fair. While costs don't seem to be declining and the seller's market persists in the talent buying segment of fair programming, it turned out that the booking was easier than year. In addition to country acts such as Eli Young Band, Clay Walker and Aaron Watson, they pushed the entertainment envelope with 90s luminaries Smash Mouth and the Spin Doctors and a Latin music evening with Pepe Aguilar.

According to Mourning, Clay Walker and Pepe Aguilar were sellouts and Aaron Watson was close to a sellout.

“We were very fortunate this year,” said Mourning. “Ticket sales were better, the bottom line was better and we covered costs. We were able to get some good routing, and some acts like the Spin Doctors are testing the fair market. For the first time we heard of a little ticket scalping going on, which we don't like to hear and are looking into it, but that is a sign that concerts at fairs are doing better this year.”

While Mourning was unable to quantify revenue increases at the 2019 event, there is a distinct improvement over last year. “Spending was definitely up this year, which is always an indication that the economy of New Mexico shows signs of improvement,” he said.

But it's the fair concept itself that seems to be attracting new audiences. “People are looking for more wholesome events, smaller events that are live and real and are an escape from all the violence and bad news we hear about all the time. People in the fair business ask all the time, how do we capture the millennials?  We capture them with the traditional great experiences of going to the fair, and celebrating the pride we have in New Mexico and its art and industry. In the end it's all about the programing and giving people value for their entertainment dollar.”
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