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Two Fairs in Six Months? After Back-to-Back Cancellations, Miami Youth Fair Doubles Down

NAME Midway at the Youth Fair
North American Midway Entertainment featured approximately 84 rides including the shows "Super Wheel". Photo by Scooter Korek.

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As COVID tales go, the few are as unique as the odyssey of the Miami-Dade Youth County Fair. In March of 2020, as news of the pandemic erupted worldwide, the fair and its midway was assembled and ready to greet fairgoers when the first lockdown orders went into effect, closing down the fair hours before it was scheduled to open.

For most of the fair industry, 2021 was the comeback year – the vaccines were finally available, communities had adapted to masking, social distancing and other protocols – and for most fairs turnout was strong and spending often at record or near-record levels. But that was the second half the year; the first half of the year was still in disarray in many places.

The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair took an unprecedented step of postponing the 2021 fair about seven months – rescheduling it from March to November – but retaining the 2022 calendar slot. “It was a decision that was done out of necessity,” said Eduardo (Eddie) Cora, president of Miami Dade County Fair & Exposition. “At the end of 2020, when the vaccines were kicking off, we made the decision that instead of cancelling the fair, we worked out dates that we figured would be at the backend of the vaccines, then in 2022 we would go back to our normal dates. It forced us to plan two fairs over the same period of time where we plan one.”

Creative Marketing

Challenges were many and nearly all stressful – of course, overcoming challenges has been part-and-parcel of the pandemic era – and Cora and his team followed one guiding principal. “We can't fail.”

Cora, a former chairman of the youth county fair board, created a business plan and “budgeted conservatively.” The timing of the fair – the tail end of the season – enabled contracting ease with midway partner NAME (North American Midway Entertainment) and the majority of its concessionaires. The double-shot also created marketing synergies. “We kept the two events separate, we have different entertainment for both and it's a different experience,” said Cora. “But we were able to piggy back purchases for radio spots. We wrap 90 buses with our logos and we just changed the dates and they kept running with the ads the entire time. We capitalized on our relationships with our media partners and leveraged very favorable deals.”

The November event was a successful fair, which certainly planted the seed and whetted the public's appetite for the impending return in the new year.  Tickets went on sale Dec. 6 per usual, but the Christmas holidays occupy the public's marketing attention, so the fair's push doesn't really kick into gear until January. The fair significantly tweaked many aspects of the fair, including redirecting funds towards digital and social media, shifting away from print and television. They also bought more effectively.

“When we advertised on radio, we would take over the drive-time period, when radio listenership is the highest, and it sounds like we are on the radio all the time,” he said. “Radio still has a loyal fan-base, we get an awesome response.”

The fair added Tik-Tok to its arsenal of social media platforms, expanding its online outreach. “Social media is best at converting people into fairgoers. We make it fun, and we play one platform off the other. We also highlighted all the things the fair is about, the rides and the food and the family fun. Miami has that image that it's all glitz and glamor, but the people who come to the fair are the people who live here and most of them work in the hospitality industry.”

Travel restrictions and spikes in coronavirus variants have eroded the snowbird migration to the sunshine state during the winter season, and while they consist of a significant source of tourism dollars, the youth fair turnout is almost entirely local. As a gesture towards the community, the fair implemented a $5 Thursday, which is actually an extension of a discounted opening day. “We wanted to show appreciation to the community by offering this value on opening day, which was a Thursday,” he said. “We used to keep it $3, but it actually works better for whatever reason at $5. This year, instead of just opening day, we did it every Thursday. We keep the fair affordable for families.”

He added that the marketing for the discounted day was “our most effective use of social media promotion. They understand the messaging.”

Happy 70th

Realigning the overall marketing campaign to encompass the two fairs being so close together may have been a creative challenge, but making things easier was having an effective and easy core marketing message – Happy Birthday. The fair may be a celebratory tribute to younger generations, but the event itself is happily settled into its golden years. The Miami Dade County Youth Fair turned 70!

“It was easy messaging — come celebrate being together for 70s years,” said Cora. “We had a giant birthday cake with LED scissors on a lift and we started every day of the fair with the cake and a DJ dance party, which was front and center inside the gates. We moved this entertainment to the front.”

Placing the birthday in such a primetime spot was only of the several layout enhancements Cora instituted. “NAME put in low capacity but brightly lit rides in an area that was primarily food. This placement moved the guests around more efficiently and brought attention to an underutilized area.”

The NAME midway featured a total of 84 rides, about the same as 2021, but a noticeable dwindling of equipment compared to pre-pandemic editions of the event. The 2019 Youth County fair featured 99 rides. “NAME has been phenomenal partner,” said Cora, “They enhance everything we do with the fair.”

“The Miami-Dade County Fair was shut down just before opening in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, so we were honored to be able to open up with them in 2022,” said Lynda Franc, Corporate Marketing Director, NAME. “ While it was a two year hiatus, we were in constant communication with the Miami-Dade County Fair team to see when we could safely run as well as whether we could collectively offer valuable alternatives. All of this communication led to the Fall Fair which we believe highlights the truly spectacular efforts of everyone involved.

Adhering to the innate and widespread optimism of the fair industry, Franc emphasized the positive aspects of two youth fairs so close together. “There weren't so many challenges as there were benefits to hosting these two events 100 days apart. Most of our rides were nearby and ready to set up, and it was also an opportunity for us to strengthen our relationship with the Miami-Dade community. In respect to the rides, food stands and games, we work with each of our partner fairs to figure out which rides to host at each event so that we can offer the best possible midway presentation. We saw great attendance, and fairgoers seemed particularly interested in the Super Wheel, the Merry Go Round, and the Slide. We were pleased to introduce the Raptor Run and the Crazy Surf to the Miami-Dade County Fair as the featured new rides.”

Attendance Dip, Spending Spike

Attendance did decline compared to pre-pandemic fairs, and while the fall edition had a sizeaable turnout, about 70,000 fewer fairgoers came out for the 2021 fair, which reached 356, 488. In 2022, attendance was 483, 312 (In 2019, the fair reached 552,404, a 20 percent increase over 2018). But in terms of the overall youth fair, this attendance downtick is a misleading metric in assessing the 70th Miami Dade County Youth Fair.
“Spending far outpaced attendance,” said Cora. “Spending was through the roof.”

The fair is still crunching the numbers, but the 2022 revenue is likely a record. This comeback may be somewhat attributable to the times – disposable income seems higher and unemployment is hitting record lows. But Cora points out that since 2018 the fair has made a concerted effort to up its experiential gain, with the pandemic merely interrupting this steady progress. “Our mantra has really been the guest experience and we really doubled down on that. We put our guest at the center of everything. We've been able to monetize that by giving people a reason to stay longer. It's a safe, affordable environment for the entire family. People liked being here.”

Fair CEO Eddie Cora & Board Member Doug Lora
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