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Temperatures Rise at the Pima County Fair

RCS Provided the Midway at the Pima County Fair

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The weather was hot, but the attractions were, too, at Tucson, Arizona's Pima County Fair.

The eleven-day event brought big crowds even during the final exhibition days, when temps rose almost into the triple digits.

Running April 20 through 30th, the fair opened at 3 p.m. on weekdays, and 11 a.m. on the weekends, closing between 10 and 11 p.m. each evening.

General admission was priced at $11.00, with youth, senior, and military pricing at $6. Kids under 5 were admitted free. Concerts were an additional $20 upgrade. Canned food Sundays offered free admission until 11 a.m. for fair guests who brought three canned goods for donation, which benefitted the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Carnival ride wristbands were discounted from $40 by $5 on April 20, 26, and 27th.

There were other early bird discounts, too: a presale offered 10 rides or games for $20. A fair food and vendor happy hour Monday-Wednesday provided $3 menu items and beer on draft until 5 p.m. There was another bonus for foodies this year, too. Attendees arriving before 5 p.m. Monday to Friday could partake of some 1,100 orders of French Fries offered by Piggly's Barbecue with a download from the fair's app.

According to fair entertainment and marketing manage Launa Rabago, attendance numbers have yet to be posted, but appear to be coming in at the fair's second-best year in terms of revenue. Post pandemic closures in 2022, attendance was at an all-time high; considering this year's toasty weather, coming in close to those numbers should be a major win. The fair's Facebook page proclaims “2nd best fair ever! We couldn't top last year's post pandemic HUGE turnout, but we will take 2nd!”

This year's fair theme was “We Don't Judge Fun!” striking a celebratory note for the fair's 110th year.

Fair entertainment included a bird show, sea lions, a steel drum band, a strolling magician, hypnotist, and Cirque Extreme circus acrobatics. And of course, the carnival, supplied by RCS, the ride purveyor for 42 years, was a major part of the fair.

The carnival offered 57 rides this year, including three new midway attractions, 36 games, and 17 food venues. New rides included the Sea Ray from Mulligan, Funtime's Slingshot, and Technical Park's Joker 360, one of two looping fighter attractions traveling in the USA.. There was a fun new plush prize at game booths: a stuffed Bob Ross doll.

Carnival rides were divided between a main midway area and Kiddie Land, which offered rides for tots. The most popular attractions were the Big Wheel, which spun vibrant LED lights in the evenings, the Titan Booster, and Wild River. As a water ride, the latter was especially popular as temperatures soared. The New York New York Fun House was another hit.

Despite the slightly lower attendance numbers than in 2022, ride revenue came close to reaching the same strong numbers, showing a big increase over 2019.

Overall, Rabago says the fair is known for its long-standing successful partnership with RCS, as well as for offering “nontraditional performers” and being “willing to take risks to continue to grow our fair attendance.”

Along with the busy carnival, fair fans also came for the food, which included several new items such as a Captain Crunch chicken sandwich and hot Cheeto chicken on a stick. But chicken wasn't the only innovative dish on the menu. There was also a new pizza that used Hot Cheetos as a part of the toppings, which included a white dill ranch sauce, fresh mozzarella, and dill pickle slices. Then there were stylish new desserts: a fruit roll-up Dole whip sushi, and cotton candy ice cream tacos dotted with Skittles were both fanciful sweet treats that mutated from main course favorites. Of course, fair classics like Indian fry bread and funnel cakes were also strong contenders. The funnel cakes, too, took an original spin with specialty versions including toppings such as Oreos, Nutella, and the Mazapán funnel cake. Fair attendees could also nosh on a full bucket of warm chocolate chip cookies.

Beyond the food and rides, fairgoers also flocked to the livestock barns holding everything from rabbits and chickens to sheep and cattle; and attendees visited the exhibit halls, which carried art, culinary, and sewn items. A booth featuring a mechanical bull was a big hit with guests unafraid to get tossed. Also strong draws: a low riders car show, and the GCPA Rodeo presented by Barrio Brewing Company, included with fair admission.

The concerts held at the fairground's Budweiser Stage included Ginuwine, Ying Yang Twins, Dirty Heads, and Lil Jon among others, all of which drew big crowds. The fair's concert program concluded with a performance by Labertino at the fair's final night.

The fair spent its advertising budget on radio, television, and outdoor ads, as well as streaming and digital marketing, all of which cost $375,000. Print ads were reduced.

New this year: the fair utilized Etix ticketing for the first time, which made attendance more seamless for guests. So too did the use of the fair's mobile app for information as opposed to a printed program, which was also a greener alternative.

Rabago says the fair is already planning for next year's April event, when hopefully the temperatures will drop while attendance does not. She notes that the fair is always strategizing on ways to draw “new demographics” to the fair while keeping some fair traditions firmly in place. Wider walkways and more space for vendors are already being planned for next year's event.

She stresses that “Pima County Fair has a great team,” one that is already ready to innovate and support optimal guest experience – even when the weather doesn't quite cooperate.

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