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Tradition Sells! South Carolina Sees High Midway & Record F&B Grosses

North American Midway Entertainment Provided the 2024 South Carolina State Fair Midway

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Unlucky weather that dampened three evenings and shutdown the last Friday suppressed attendance at the 2023 South Carolina State Fair by about 10,000. The dip however, was compensated by an upticks in midway and food/beverage revenue, as the 154th celebration everything Palmetto State relied on what it does best, renewing tradition.

“Overall, we enjoyed another good, successful fair,” said Nancy Smith, General Manager at the South Carolina State Fair. “ Most importantly, it was a safe one. The SC State Fair remains a tradition in our state and, from social media, online, and personal interaction with our patrons, it was evident they enjoyed themselves and, once again, looked forward to this tradition of the fair. We continue to see more families (which is a great thing) and we also enjoyed a good College Night on the Monday of the fair.

She noted that the enthusiastic crowds were also spending, “an attitude that mirrored 2022” she said. “For the most part, yes. We had a record food gross along with an excellent ride gross. We did see the trend in more patrons buying tickets early, both online and at our Circle K stores.”

That trend might have also been  fueled by inflation, where fairgoers were more bargain aware than last year. “We had a significant increase in patrons purchasing tickets early to take advantage of the savings,” she said. “The number of company functions held on the grounds was also less than in previous years.”

High Grossing

Still, the fair attracted 345, 416 and while no record days were recorded in 2023, “both Sundays were excellent, after a football game Saturday and a rainout the last Friday,” said Smith. “Not from an attendance standpoint; however, we had a record food gross the first Saturday of the fair.”

Spending rates were actually a pleasant surprise for the fair manager, who was apprehensive about the purse springs tightening up for this late-season event. “Along with many folks, we were not certain what to expect from the spending side,” she said. “However, our patrons came, they rode, they ate, and they enjoyed everything the SC State Fair had to offer.  Online sales were at their highest this year, which is a trend we have seen increasing. Although we had challenges with the weather, (something over which we have no control) we had a very successful fair, in spite of those challenges, which tells us people like, support and look forward to their fair. “

The fair showcased 78 food vendors and when it came to tradition, the fair unabashedly expanded its definition when applied to fair cuisine.  The top selling food items were “Turkey Legs, oriental chicken on a stick, poutine sundaes, and Italian and Polish sausage sandwiches,” said Smith. “We added “Wisconsin Cheese Curds” this year for the first time. Also, with SC being a barbeque state, we had a local vendor selling Barbeque. Although not new vendors, we had 13 new food/drink items offered at the SC State Fair this year, which is something the media really likes to promote.”

Fried Salted Pretzel Caramel Brownies, one of the new foods for 2023

The NAME (North American Midway Entertainment)  midway featured 59 rides, with midway revenue up 2.6 percent, according to Smith. Top Grossing rides were Sky Ride, Super Himalaya, Double Decker Carousel, Giant Wheel and the Super Wheel. The company showcased a completely reconditioned classic Zipper ride, which has not been at the fair since before the global pandemic crisis.

"The South Carolina State Fair had another successful year and NAME was happy to be along for the ride!, “ said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director, NAME.  “The Zipper made its return after a few year hiatus and the crowds were ecstatic to have this classic fair ride back on the midway. There's something about the chaos of being spun three different ways simultaneously that has set the Zipper ride up as a nostalgic ride to almost the same level of the carousel or Ferris wheel. We knew the fairgoers would be keen to spin the cages on their friends again!”

The fair long eschewed the high cost and inconsistent drawing power of headline entertainment, but found its biggest attraction of the year could not be more traditional: a Circus. “We no longer have the grandstand with ticketed artists; however, our “Circus at the Fair” enjoyed a fantastic year with a full house for the vast majority of shows [3 shows per day].”

Meet Me At The Rocket

Tradition seemed key to this year's marketing campaign, which utilized  a well-known fair icon to center its marketing theme. Since 1969,  an intermediate ballistic range missile that was donated to the city of Columbia has been a familiar landmark on the grounds. Few fairs have such an identifiable object, so this year the theme simply played on a what people have been saying for more than half-a-century: “Meet Me at the Rocket”.

“The rocket has been a fair landmark for decades now, so why not use it as a marketing focal point in 2023?,” Smith explained. “The Rocket is an icon on the fairgrounds. It was erected in 1969 and, since that time, has been the recognized and known “meeting spot” for patrons at the fair. Our fair patrons can page their friends or family to “Meet them at the Rocket”, a tagline that is well-known and, thus, the decision to utilize a well-known tagline as our theme. It was well received by our patrons and, for those not in the immediate area, it allowed an opportunity to tell the interesting and fun story of why a Rocket is on your fairgrounds!”

The 2023 media mix broke down as: Television: 25 percent, Cable 3 percent, CTV 9 percent, Radio/Streaming 14 percent, Outdoor 9 percent, Print 7 percent, Digital 30 percent, Other 3 percent. Compared to 2022, cuts were made to television and print and more dollars went to digital and radio/streaming ads. “This year we did more reels than before - added Threads and Linked In to our mix,” Smith added.

And after meeting at the rocket, fairgoers experienced the unique splendors of a classic harvest-time event. After a century-and-a half, the South Carolina State Fair has promoted agriculture and Americana to a welcoming community. “Fairs, in general, have the unique opportunity to showcase everything that is good about their area or their state,” said Smith. “This is what sets fairs apart. Where else can you go and see the Best of Show in Livestock, along with the Best of Show in Art, Agriculture, Flowers, and more. I believe our patrons are much like others, as they think of Tradition, Fun, Agriculture, Food, and Memories when they think of their fair. In today's world, we need more of this and now more than ever.”

The fair's long-time midway provider enthusiastically concurs. “At NAME, we love fairs and are perhaps biased in believing that fairs are relevant to contemporary culture and society, but at the same time - the proof is in the pudding!,” said Franc. “Fairs offer probably the best bang for your buck in that there are educational opportunities, entertainment, food, community engagement, social engagement, promotion of local products, overall positive economic impact, and, of course, tradition and nostalgia. You would be very hard pressed to find another event that offers so much in one space!"
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