Buoyed by a positive economy and a streak of ideal weather, the Central Florida Fair broke records and proved to be a return to form for this Sunshine State Event. Attendance – upwards of 200,000 – increased by 25 percent at the admission Gate and 14 percent at Midway, including several record breaking and near record breaking days.
“We had some record days,” said Shawn Krauel, President/CEO, Central Florida Fair and Expositions Park. “We had two record weekdays for the Midway and a few during the week for Gate revenue. “The Fair was great. We had good weather, good attendance and a positive impact. That’s all we can ask for.”
The climate cooperated in what was tantamount to being a close-call; with a non-fair conducive front threatening cold and rain closing week that eventually bypassed the area. “We had a little surrounding weather the last weekend but it went around us and the cleared way for great weekend to close out fair.”
The economic climate has also been cooperative. The recession hit Florida harder than many states and lasted several years longer, especially in the Orlando area. However, tourism and other local industries have recovered and the fair has been able to focus on what it does best – provide a unique entertainment experience – in one of the most popular theme park destinations in the world. “I think we are past (the recession) it and people want to have the same memories they had when they came to fair as kids. The Central Florida Fair continues to be successful as a fair with the least support I’ve seen from any other fairs from City/County government officials. But we are in the biggest entertainment community in the world!”
The bottom line for 2019: more people came out and those who came spent more. “Gate Revenue was up,” said Krauel. “Midway was up. Per cap is hard to tell all around since we only do footage for food [and other vendors], but vendors seemed happy and we think they had good experience this year.”
He added, “The Economic impact and jobs it creates year round in any other location in Florida would be a showcase of the community. So we keep grinding and doing our own thing and serving our purpose.”
Million Dollar Midway
Perhaps no sign at the 2019 Central Florida was better evidence of the turnaround of this fair was the midway revenue exceeding $1 million. “It was not a record, but we are back on the right track, passing the one million mark was a very big deal for Wade Shows at this fair,” said Frank Zaitshik, Wade Shows president. “That felt very good. We have jumped a lot of hurdles and they are now certainly encouraging an exciting, family friendly environment.”
A major change, according to Zaitshik, happened a few years ago when the fair dates were moved from early spring to late winter. “There were no other carnivals before the fair in the area, the date change has worked out much better for the fair. It was an extenuating factor.”
In addition, the fair changed direction in terms of marketing, understanding both younger families and the growing gen-y demographic. “The fair has a young, progressive management team,” he said. “They understand millennials as well as the older generations, guys like myself, so they are able to balance what the millennials need with other age groups, and they know how to identify that audience and they know how to market the carnival to them.”
The 2019 Wades Shows midway at the Central Florida Fair featured 55 rides, about the same footprint as previous editions of the event. According to Zaitshik, Wade Shows “was able to strike a deal” with Krauel and the fair board to bring the super spectacular Sky Eye Wheel. “This was an additional attraction and brought in additional people.”
The midway also featured the Giant Wheel, the top grossing ride of the fair, and the Bumper Boats. “We are the only carnival company in America that owns one, which gives the midway an amusement park-like feel. In Orlando, you are competing against a lot of entertainment and that level of professionalism is what is expected.”
He added, “we are always adding amenities and are very consistent in what we do. We equal or enhance the ride presentation and with the Sky Eye and other rides, this was a major enhancement to the midway.”
The fair’s advertising budget was approximately $145,000, and the 2019 media mix was: 60 percent Online/20 percentRadio/10 percent TV and 10 percent StreetTeam/Events. Like other fairs, the shift has been towards digital marketing and away from older media. The objective was engagement and measuring metrics. “Print is tough to engage,” said Krauel. “Online we get to see the results.”
The fair also revived Groupon marketing, which in some circles had fallen out of favor. “Groupon does a great job of promoting us as well as increasing our gate sales. Offering Added-value tickets helps push attendance to weekdays.”
Social media engagement also increased for the fair. The Central Florida Fair formed a crew that specialized in social media posts, Facebook Live, and Instagram stories with a new emphasis on video. “We hired a younger staff who worked to push experience/Video promos for younger generation, including music videos etc. “
The fair featured approximately 75 food vendors and although no food & beverage statistics were available, Krauel said “vendor feedback seemed positive.” The most popular food items can be categorized as traditional fair cuisine: tacos, corn dogs, funnel cakes. “The classics always kill,” he added.
The Orlando area may be one of the most popular theme park destinations in the world, but the revamped Central Florida Fair and its robust 2019 turnout proves that the traditional Americana of the community fair maintains a solid place in the pop culture entertainment landscape. “If you have good weather and people have good experience they will come out and spend money and enjoy family events like the Central Florida Fair,” said Krauel.