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South Florida Fair: High Revenues & Engaged Communities

Record Breaking Wade Shows Midway
The Wade Shows midway at the 2023 South Florida Fair broke all time revenue records.

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The South Florida Fair not only had its best attended, post-lockdown fair, but also its highest grossing  revenue.  An early fair,  often viewed as a harbinger for trends in the upcoming fair season, this year's South Florida Fair saw large crowds freely spending, extending stays and returning visits.  Although a violent clash between teenagers and security undermined the festivities, overall, this iconic fair again proved the viability of a Florida tradition.

Victoria A. Chouris, President & CEO, South Florida Fair & Palm Beach County Expositions, Inc.,  simply declared,“The 2023 South Florida Fair was the best Fair financially in history. Attendance was in the top three of all years and spending by visitors was way up.”

A major concern as a new fair season dawns, is will fairs again catch the public's imagination to remain a viable option in the popular entertainment landscape. Due to a set of COVID-related circumstances, the SFF held two fairs in one year in 2021, and in 2022, showed a robust resurgence but attendance only reached  335,579. In 2023, attendance was 420,043, comparable to pre-pandemic years.

Expanded Reach

Larger numbers of people seems a positive factor in swelling the revenue streams of the fair. But for spending to reach historical levels, fairgoer quality is as essential as fairgoer quantity. Thus another apprehensive concern seems quelled. The 2023 family budget does not seem as tight as some  pundits feared.  Inflation has yet to inhibit spending and fairgoer enthusiasm.  But other observers cautioned spending was was artificially high because fairs responded faster and with more vigor than many other events and venues.  South Florida showed that the post-lockdown fair-love felt by guests was not just a fluke, and is showing no signs of abating.

“There was a real feeling of happiness, energy and excitement in the air,” said Chouris. 

“So many people were playing the games and carrying big stuffed animals, and the shows were filled.  People just enjoyed being here at the fair.” 

Chouris speculated that West Palm Beach and its surrounding Miami Metro Area seems to be growing as a destination, especially as COVID-fear and public health risk continue to fade. “People are just coming out and doing things again. People like being here. All of our events are going, we had our best Octoberfest attendance ever. People are just out and about and doing things in our communities.” 

Some of the growth may be that snowbird migration – “Winter Residents” – has returned to pre-pandemic levels, which is more-or-less true for the entire state of Florida. Chouris believes that the fair's reach has become more regional, with the bulk of the new tourism and fairgoers attracted to a new local destination. “It's my speculation, but we're getting more visitors in than before the from other coast of Florida and other parts of the state.” 

It was the first time for the fair to let kids under 10 in free, although they were scanned, which also seemed an ingredient  in this year's recipe for success. “There was an increase in spending,” she said. “We started letting kids in 10 and under free some days during the 2021 fair and we realized that it didn't hurt and actually it brought more people to the gate.” 

She added, “Spending was definitely up. It was up on the midway and it was up in food spending. Our indoor sales vendors also reported having one of the best years ever. People did not hesitate to make purchases and we really did not receive complaints about costs. We did not raise our admission prices so that was a positive.”

Wade Shows Midway 

As one its first dates of the year, the South Florida Fair is one of the tea-leave-reading fairs for Wade Shows and an important debut showcase for its 2023 ride selection. “We have always set lofty goals in our forecasts, and this year was no exception. We set them, and then  we crushed them,” said Frank Zaitshik, owner of Wade Shows. “There were more people, they were spending more money, and the spending was across the board.” 

He said that he changed the 2023 “carnival footprint, where we highlighted new attractions. But the credit goes to Vicky because, under her leadership, this fair has continued to expand and grow. She's connected the dots of West Palm Beach and the surrounding communities. She's continued to grow our customer base.” 

An increase in credit card usage – over cash and debit – also continues to be a trend. “The question to myself is, will credit card debt rear its ugly head and come due when that interest rate gets above 20 percent. But I haven't seen any impact of inflation on spending. You can't over think it.”

While not completely cashless, Wade Shows expanded its FunTagg  footprint from 15 to 48 Kiosks. “We didn't want to get caught short. It has become the preferred transaction method. We were up considerably.” 

Teenager/Security Clashes

The tarnish on this year's shiny South Florida Fair  was caused by teenagers and young adults. Last year, the fair implemented a new policy where  fairgoers under the age of 18 needed to be accompanied by an adult and children between the ages of 6 and 17 are required to purchase a ride wristband upon entry. “We did have the policy in place and we did adjust it mid-Fair again because we had young people still acting out on the middle Saturday, said Chouris. “We changed it to be all youth under the age of 18 had to be accompanied by an adult 21 and older. The party size could only be 6 people. Ages 11-17 had to pay admission and purchase a wristband to enter after 8 p.m.  Ages 3-10 had to purchase a wristband. Admission is free for that age group.”

As has been the case at fairs from Minnesota to Mississippi, new restrictions are only part of the solution.  Incidents, though fewer in number, do sometimes crop up.  Local news reported that a fight broke out at the fair,  resulting in four arrests and 60 ejections. 

“We did have “behavior” problems on our middle Saturday night,” she explained. “Because of our high presence of police officers, we were able to get it under control immediately. There were no significant incidents the following weekend.  The sad thing is that kids are unsupervised, especially at night, and they cause problems. We handled it well, because when it happens you nip it in the bud immediately, which is what we did.”

Mother Nature was more cooperative than some Florida youth, “We were blessed with near perfect weather this year,” she said. “We had a cold opening weekend but other than that, we had sunshine and blue skies.”

Dynomite Year!

The fair's marketing theme emphasized a new family-friendly edutainment  exhibit. – “The South Florida Fair was Dynomite this year!”  

She explained, “Our exposition center was themed with dinosaurs. It was extremely well received, especially by the little ones. We always highlight our theme in all the marketing materials. The use of dinosaur photos caught the attention of the viewer. The first question we are asked by the media is “What is your theme?”

The fair's advertising was $600,000, comparable to 2022, with a continuing shift to online marketing. “We allocated more dollars to the digital platforms which was a very successful strategy,” she said. “We hired two young professionals right before the Fair to be our presence on social media and to monitor the activities. This was extremely beneficial. We had more comments – even from our concessionaires – stating that our social media was great. We also worked with a local radio group to place our digital advertising.”

In 2023, media spending was allocated as  follows : Radio – 24.6 percent;  TV – 22.2 percent; Billboards – 8.6 percent; Digital – 36.1 percent; Production – 8.5 percent.

“We really expected 2023 to be better than 2022, but we had no idea how much better it would be,” she added. “It exceeded our expectations. The weather was perfect, the people were happy and spending was high. We had a safe Fair and made many memories for our community.”

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