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New Rides, New Attractions, Grandstand Headliners & More Marketing Money: 2022 Oregon State Fair Hits 14-Year High

Rainier Amusements Provided the 2022 Oregon State Fair Midway
The show debuted its new Freak Out for 2022.

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With an entertainment lineup that included the Beach Boys, Nelly, TLC, and Scotty McCreery, a Rainier Entertainment midway debuting the Happy Swing, Drop Tower and Freakout, and a marketing campaign both infused with extra-cash and led by an on-point tagline –Summer's Big Finish! – The 156th Oregon State Fair was poised for a big 2022. What was surprising was how big – revenues topped $12.7 million, a 52 percent increase over the five-year average. Food and beverage receipts grew 50 percent year over year, and carnival revenue surpassed its 2021 gross by 15 percent.

“Oregonians were in a festive mood, and our attendance and revenue numbers reflect that,” explains Oregon State Fair CEO Kim Grewe-Powell. “This was our strongest showing in the 14 years I have worked here. The entertainment industry has been hit hard, and our vendors, performers, and attractions really needed this financial rebound.”

Just Fun

The Beach Boys perform to a sold out crowd on Saturday September 3rd, 2022 at the Oregon State Fair. Photo courtesy of Oregon State Fair.

More than 346,000 people attended the 2022 Oregon State Fair, a 63 percent increase from 2021 and up more than 10 percent from the pre-pandemic 2019 Fair, which stakeholders called a strong a year, part-and-parcel of what has been the most recent revitalization of a Northwest tradition that dates back to 1861. Mother Nature also seemed to share the fair spirt with weather described as “Perfect…mostly mid-80's every day,” said Grewe-Powell. “A few hotter days, but that didn't seem to affect the crowds. It was a fantastic year! Everything was up and it felt so good to return to a normal fair that exceeded our expectations.”

Oregon State Fair attendees were eager to turn the page on COVID restrictions, and having a dedicated team to keep programing fresh and relevant were key to this year's fair. “People wanted to have fun,” she said. “I think in 2021 people were still a little weary. We work hard to attract our loyalists and new guests to our fair by continuing on with great marketing, providing exciting entertainment, and switching things up.”
The 2022 fairgoer showed a welcomed attitude shift towards unhindered family entertainment. “I think people felt like they could get out this year and not worry as much about COVID and masks,” she said.  “We work very hard, every year, to switch things up. That includes entertainment, layout, exhibits, food, etc. It makes it exciting for our guests to see what's new. People felt like they could celebrate. We didn't have to be as concerned about requiring guests to wear masks as we did in 2021. It was more of a celebratory feel”

Mask-Free Midway

More than 346,000 guests enjoyed incredible summer weather at the 2022 Oregon State Fair. Photo courtesy of Oregon State Fair.

Last year, the less than celebratory feel was directly a result of theworry about COVID and masks. Just before the 2021 fair, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's issued statewide outdoor mask mandate, requiring masks in public outdoor settings, regardless of vaccination status. This public heath directive not only damped the mood, but also shrunk the midway to only 44 rides (2022: 51 rides). “The mask mandate hurt 2021, and we had fewer rides for social distancing than we had in 2019,” said Crystal Hoss, Vice President, Rainier Amusements. “We were seeing revenue up in June and July, before the mandate. Fast forward to 2022, all the social distancing and the mask mandate have been lifted.  The Oregon State Fair really had pent-up demand because last year they didn't have a full fair. They had no fear this year, were extremely excited to return to their family traditions. The fair has been doing great things with their concerts and other attractions, like an indoor rodeo. Every year they add to the fair.”

Behind the Rainier midway scenes, the company was able to avoid the full brunt of the labor woes with 45 H2B workers. Pre-pandemic, the company survived with domestic labor, a mix of fulltime, seasonal and local employees. Not only has the tight labor market dried up part time and local labor pools, many furloughed employees never returned as well. “It was a struggle, because in spots where we were usually hiring a dozen people we only have six people show up and we really should be hiring a dozen,” she said. “It's been very stressful, but the H2B workers have been a real lifesaver, it was our first time and we're very appreciative. But it is a lottery system, so the worry is, will we get the workers next year?”

Summer's Big Finish!

Marketing the fair emphasized the clarion call to close out the season with family fun. The marketing theme and tagline –Summer's Big Finish! – was chosen because “Our goal is always to throw a big party to celebrate the end of Summer. We sure met that goal this year!” said Grewe-Powell.

The budget was increased from $318,000, compared to $282,000 in 2021, reflecting the return of a full-fair. “The increase came from our re-introduction of Pavilion events, special entertainment events like rodeos, monster truck shows, and the demolition derby,” she said. While still covering key media bases, media spending reflected an ongoing trend towards digital advertising and social media outreach. According to Grewe-Powell , 71 percent of the 2022 ad budget remained traditional - TV, radio, outdoor and print – and 29 percent was digital, primarily “Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and programmatic digital display banner ads, programmatic video inventory on connected TVs and browser pre-roll, plus on AudioGo, Pandora's ad service,” she said.

In contrast, 2021 had 76 percent was traditional and 24 percent digital. “We shifted more dollars into digital.  We focused our content production on our two most popular channels, Facebook and Instagram, while also introducing a TikTok account to our fans. There are so many attractions at the Oregon State Fair that it can be challenging giving each one it's time to shine, but TikTok turned out to be a really fun way to produce visual video montages that really illustrated special fair features like our new Homegrown Oregon food cart food court, our Natural Resources zone that celebrates the great outdoors of Oregon, and our Dia de la Familia celebrations for Hispanic guests. Our TikToks had more than 95,000 impressions.”

She added, “all my expectations were exceeded this year. We still have a small team and are rebounding from COVID but we knocked it out of the park. It was such a great feeling to see everyone out having fun, celebrating with friends and family.”
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