The 2015 Ohio State Fair extended its record-breaking streak to a third year. The fair, July 29th to August 9th, attracted 982,305, an increase of 7.2 percent over last year, breaking for the third year in row the 12-day attendance record for the fair. The event recorded a record opening day, with the first weekend racking up back-to-back 100,000+ days.
Optimum weather, an improving economy, an effective package of events and a more aggressive marketing campaign seems to have been the wining formula for this year's celebration of everything Buckeye. "We always hope for a great year, and this one broke records when it comes to attendance, midway revenue, concession revenue and more," said Alicia Shoults, Marketing & Public Relations Director, Ohio Expo Center & State Fair. " It was a phenomenal year."
Revenue & Per Capita Up
The fair experienced increases across the board, including midway revenue up 12 percent, concession revenue up 13.3 percent, and overall per capita spending up 4.5 percent.
While attendance may have benefited from mother nature, an improving Ohio may be the main factor in spending increasing.
" It was mostly warm and nice," said Shoults. "The first day was very hot with a storm in the evening, and we had a rainy/dreary day on Thursday ( August 6th). Other than that, the weather was pleasant."
She added, "the fact that our attendance continues to grow, as well as the fact that per capita spending has increased, are signs of economic resurgence in our community."
Agriculture & Champions
In addition, even with the ban on poultry shows due to the avian influenza crisis this year, Ohio's agriculture industry is having a robust year, which also benefited the fair. "We boast entries from every county in the state, and although we did not have poultry shows this year due the avian influenza outbreak, our other livestock entries rose approximately 3 percent."
Another sign of better economic times were record breaking sales at the Ohio State Fair Sale of Champions, such as the Grand Champion Swiss Cheese selling for $25,000 The event showcases a livestock auction of Ohio's premium livestock as well premier Junior Fair exhibitors. On the sale bill were grand champion and reserve champion market lambs, market barrows and market beef, as well as grand champion market goat, a Thanksgiving Dinner to represent the champion poultry and a block of Swiss cheese to represent the six dairy champions.
"The Sale of Champions is driven by dedicated exhibitioners and community-oriented buyers. They are crucial to the success of our Youth Reserve Program, and we are fortunate to have both at the Ohio State Fair," stated General Manager Virgil Strickler. "We are exceptionally pleased with the $264,000 raised at today's Sale of Champions."
Advertising & Marketing
The Ohio State Fair had an advertising of budget of $330,000, about the same as last year, but the allocations were shifted. "We took a break from movie theater advertising in 2014 but brought it back this year," she said. "We also enhanced our digital advertising buys by using more diversified artwork targeted to different audiences, and closely monitored the success of the ads and reacted by increasing the frequency of more successful ads and dropping buys for sizes that weren't performing as well."
Social media was also pushed to a new level. Instead of dividing social media tasks among the marketing employees, "for the first time, we hired a social media specific intern to handle the entire load of social media rather," said Shoults.
Another first was a Facebook Bluetooth Beacon, placed "within a radius of about 500 feet placed in the box office of our concert venue, the Celeste Center, during the Fair to show patrons visiting us to "place tips" which include reviews from their friends who have visited the Fair, recent posts, and encourages visitors to "check in" or "like" the Fair Facebook page," she said.
Social media became the online information resource when the Ohio State Fair's website went down for three days during the Fair. "We relied heavily on social media and email marketing to communicate answers to the most frequently asked questions with our patrons," she said. "Specifically, we added relevant information , copies of our daily schedules, special days, hours, admission prices, etc., to our Facebook page, and opened a Dropbox folder with access to pertinent files and information. We also continued to treat these outlets as a customer service tool, promptly responding to questions."
Social media is no longer an add-on to a fair's marketing program, but is now redefining the promotional philosophy of live events. "Social media has drastically changed Fair marketing, allowing us to electronically market directly to our consumers rather than through the media," said Shoults. "This means that we are able to post videos, photos and answer questions in real time. We can easily promote specific aspects of the Fair and highlight particular items of note with stunning photography, interesting videos and clever posts. In addition, we are able to take advantage of advertising opportunities by reaching the right consumers with sponsored posts and tweets, which helps us to grow our audience each year."
The most effective social media promotion for the Ohio State Fair were concert ticket giveaways, "We set a social media calendar with a few giveaways each week for different types of concerts leading up to the Fair," she said. "Each giveaway receives hundreds of entries and engagement, thus promoting the Fair and its concerts."
The midway featured 75 rides, which was about the same as last year. The midway ride gross was $2.5 million. New rides included a Zero Gravity, and a Pharaoh's Fury. The most popular rides were the Sky Glider, which is owned by the Ohio State Fair, the Giant Slide, Giant Wheel, Sky Wheel, Expo Wheel, Crazy Mouse, Space Roller, and Fireball "The weather was tremendous, we had a great line up of rides, and we had our biggest midway there," said Rob Vivona, Manager, Amusements of America. . "We had some new additions and the fair made some improvements to the grounds which helped the flow of pedestrians. When you make the midway more comfortable for people, they stay longer and that helps revenue."
According to Vivona,, the improvements were relatively minor - a building was removed and a walkway was extended - but the result was a larger expanse for the Amusements of America presentation. "We were able to make Kiddie Land bigger, adding a ride. Our midway was packed with concessions. Whenever a fair makes us look better, that is a good thing."
The carnival company expanded its game collection by 24, for a total 78 games, plus eight more food vendors and a two more straight sale vendors. More was the merrier for the midway, attracting more fairgoers and giving them more reasons to linger in the exciting and fun world of Amusements of America.
"We had several days that were either on par or the best single day we've ever had at the Ohio State Fair," he said. "We had our best Wednesday we ever had at the fair, those middle of the weeks were much stronger than they were last year. Saturdays on Sundays weren't record days, but they were right on par with last year."
The Ohio State Fair was a stellar stop for this carnival company, marking a strong start of the final stretch of its season. "There was a lot of rain in the spring and Summer, but July and August have been some of the best we've had and we were really able to start doing what we do best, it's turning into a great year," added Vivona.
REBA Sells Out
The 2015 Ohio State Fair Hyundai Concert Series, at the10,000+-seat WCOL Celeste Center featured a range of artists including Alabama, Patti LaBelle, Jake Owen, Deep Purple with special guest Nazareth, and a 70s double-dream-bill of Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick. The Ohio State Fair also were stops on two major artist tours, the REBA tour by country legend Reba McEntire and Meghan Trainor: The MTrain Tour. "We had two sold-out shows this year: REBA and Meghan Trainor," she said.
Although the entertainment lineup was considered successful, in terms of talent buying for the 2015 fair, Shoults admitted, "It was, most definitely, a seller's market."
Food and beverage revenue was approximately $5.2 million, with 191 food vendors, although the cuisine trended away from the more outrageous concoctions. One of the most popular new items was more traditional Pizza where presentation and quality were key. " Fire N' The Hole" was a new vendor selling wood-fired pizza in a very aesthetically-pleasing booth," said Shoults.
She noted that there "weren't any particular new hot trends this year.
In keeping with the Ohio spirit and agricultural celebration of the Ohio State Food, local products were impressively popular with fairgoers. "The Dairy Products Building continues to be one of our most popular food locations, at which ice cream, milkshakes and cheese sandwiches are sold," said Shoults. "We have worked with Ohio-based ice cream company Velvet Ice Cream to make an exclusive flavor of ice cream available only at the Ohio State Fair the last three years, and it was again incredibly popular this year with the newest flavor, elephant ear ice cream."
Other Ohio-centric food items that were popular " include deep-fried buckeyes, Ohio Roast Corn, Bourbon Chicken, Cox Corral with barbecue items, and the Taste of Ohio Cafe , where Ohio farmers serve meals from the various commodity groups: pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, dairy, wine, etc.," she said, adding "Schmidt's Sausage Haus, a local restaurant that sells German food and celebrated 101 years at the Fair this summer."