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The Minnesota State Fair Breaks 2 Million Mark Second Year in Row
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For the second year in a row, the Minnesota State Fair broke 2 million in attendance. One of the most iconic fairs in the United States – the Great Minnesota Get Together – not only consistently ranks near the top in fair attendance— it was #3 on the Top 50 North American Fairs as compiled by Carnival Warehouse – but at 12 days, it is about half the length of the two Texas Fairs that rank #1; Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and #2; the Texas State Fair.

The 2019 Minnesota State Fair drew a total of 2,126,551, setting a new overall attendance record. The previous record of 2,046,533 was set last year. In addition, the fair had six record breaking attendance days, including a Labor Day record attendance of 184,740 and a Sunday attendance of 245,243.

New Building
The consecutive increases of back-to-back record breaking fairs has been part of a winning streak of the past several years, beginning around the same time as Jerry Hammer was appointed as Executive Vice President & General Manager of the Minnesota State Fair.

In the following years, the fair reinvested in the facilities, ranging from a new West End Market and Transit Hub in 2014 to a $16 million, 12,000-square-foot North End Event Center building.

The debut exhibit at the new facility was the Angry Bird Universe – an interactive STEAM traveling exhibit, which was making its Midwestern debut in the new state-of-the-art, climate controlled building. “The kids loved it, and we were able to add two food concessions,” said Hammer. “About 300,000 people went through the exhibit, which was higher attendance they told me than places they were at for a month or more.”

Other improvements included replacing restrooms, repaving parking lots and expanding the optic fiber network. “We constantly look at the comfort of the fairgoer, because that encourages return visits. That also means clean restrooms, but we have wider walkways, so it's quite the experience for the customer. Even on the busiest days the lines aren't long because our concessionaires have become real pros. Everybody steps up their game”, he added.

The addition of the new center also enhanced the overall “aesthetic appearance” of the fair. “We have buildings from different eras of the fair, like the Art Center that was built in 1907, several WPA era buildings and a stage that was really in 1970 and now looks retro. People can see the story of the fair in all our buildings, old and new.”

Fair Experience
For Hammer the objective was never to set records, but to maintain a beloved tradition and keep it relevant to the core audience: Minnesotans. “The irony is not we're not trying for growth,” said Hammer. “We want just to do the best job we possibly can. We create a powerful experience for people built on the framework of a traditional American agricultural fair. You make people comfortable, give them value, make it affordable and give them more they can do in one day.”

Creating that comprehensive experience, balancing the old with the new means understanding finding what the fairgoers want. As an example, the fair has increased its food and agricultural offerings. “The Twin Cities is now a foodie paradise. Craft breweries are way into the hundreds. You find elements of that at the fair. We are able to tie that into agriculture with the farm to table movement. Agriculture is a little bit harder to find in the metro area, but it's one reason people love coming to the fair.”

The Minnesota State Fair has established is a “great sense of ownership,” said Hammer. “It's not rocket science, give people what they liked to do and give them more to do in on day.”

Global Fair
In 2019, there was recognition that the fair's reputation has gone international. Newsweek Magazine named the fair as one of the 10 Best Late Summer Festivals in the World. “I'm not sure what the criteria were, but we are a world class event. Where else in Minnesota can you go to a world class event?”

Enhancing this reputation was a headline concert lineup that reached 115,427, featuring such names as Hootie & The Blowfish: Group Therapy tour with special guest Barenaked Ladies; Dierks Bentley with special guest Caylee Hammack; “Weird Al” Yankovic Strings Attached Tour; Daryl Hall & John Oates with special guest G. Love & Special Sauce; Lionel Richie; and a sponsored show, The Current's Music On-A-Stick featuring Brandi Carlile with special guests Mavis Staples and Savannah Conley. 

“I'm not sure if it was an easier booking climate this year compared to last year,” said Hammer. “But we do have acts that aren't typical fair acts. We have acts that like playing here and to our audiences. The shows are profitable.”
The independent midway featured 59 rides, contracting with 22 companies (two less than 2018). The top 15 rides included: Crazy Mouse Spinning Roller Coaster (S.J. Entertainment); Starship 3000 (Laser Fair, Inc.); New York New York Fun House (Fair Ride Entertainment ) Sky Flyer (Reithoffer Shows, Inc.); Wave Swinger ( Fair Ride Entertainment); Puppy Express ( Prime Pacific Entertainment); Techno Power (Wood Entertainment Company); Equinox (Laser Fair, Inc.); Air Maxx (Mr. Ed's Magical Midways); Cliff Hanger (Arnold Amusements, Inc.); Haunted Castle Dark Ride (Fair Ride Entertainment); Tilt-A-Whirl (Lauther Amusements); Beach Party (D & K Amusements); Alpine Bobs (B-Thrilled Attractions); and Flipper – S.J. Entertainment.

Get Together Marketing
The advertising budget was $1 million, about the same as 2018. An emphasis on social media continued, with the fair using it to grow its video marketing. “Social media continues to evolve,” said Hammer. Its driving our marketing. You just want to stay caught up and out in front.”

“We worked with a video production team that produced videos about the fair, what to bring, how to get to the fair, and amenities at the fair” said Lara Hughes, Communication Supervisor, Minnesota State Fair. “. These were designed for first time fair visitors.”

According to Hughes, the 2019 marketing expenditures were “a combination of traditional media buys in print, radio and TV in the Twin Cities metro area as well as greater Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Bus sides, digital billboards, specialty publications, and Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat ad buys are also part of the mix.”

With the record-breaking attendance, fair revenue is likely to also achieve records. The 2019 economy may be stronger, but the state's agriculture industry is not immune  to issues afflicting other states. “Farmers are betting clobbered,” Hammer said, “The weather is getting a lot of the crops, and the tariffs are killing some of them. But what I also heard this year, is that we really need this fair. They told me that it was a chance to get away from all the doom and gloom. Coming to the fair helps them through the rough times. Farm families have been coming to the fair for generations.”

He added, “other than the ag sector, unemployment is low. I know that one sign of a good economy is that it was really hard recruiting fair workers.”

The only negative about this fair was that on the closing day of the fair, outside the gates, news carried reports of gang-related violence, including fights and nonfatal shootings. According to Hammer, the fair has a comprehensive safety and security plan “developed and implemented in partnership with multiple law enforcement agencies and experts at every level.”

The problem though is not within the fair, but outside the fairgrounds and the reach of the fair. “There's been a rash of problems not just outside our gates but throughout the city,” he said “It was outside, so there's little we can do. It's maddening and it is frustrating that this happening,”
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