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  • The Great Minnesota Get Together Honors Prince & Breaks Attendance Record
    Optimum weather and an 8.5 percent increase in attendance might be enough for any fair, but the Minnesota State Fair even did that achievement one better. 

    Minnesota's 2016 Great Get Together gained international attention by recognizing one of her most famous Sons, Prince.

    Beloved music legend Prince passed away on April 21st and while only few short months before opening day, the Minnesota State Fair knew they had to pull out the stops and celebrate the life and music of the Purple One. 

    Unite In Purple
    "Unite In Purple," held on the first Friday of the fair, celebrated Prince. The state's native son was celebrated with music tributes and cover songs, a Prince with music and dancing led by Generation NOW's DJ Dudley D, Prince's personal DJ, at the fair's Carousel Park; Lavender lighting on iconic fair buildings and carnival rides; A one-night-only Lasertainment's Laser Hitz show featuring a Prince finale; Unite in Purple glow bracelets distributed to 5,000 attendees, and 7,500 Unite in Purple buttons were given out. 

    The evening concluded with the Minnesota State Fair Fireworks Spectacular, set entirely to Prince music and featuring a special pyrotechnic Prince tribute.

    The Prince Tribute was by far the most successful promotion of the fair, said Jerry Hammer, setting a record Friday with 182,926 in attendance. Tributes to Prince had taken place around the world, and especially at music industry settings, Hammer pointed out "It was the first and only public event that gave Minnesotans a chance to acknowledge the passing of our famous favorite son," said Hammer. 
    Luckily, the grandstand booking for the night was Charlie Wilson and Fantasia, "both of whom were influenced by Prince, and Charlie was in Chic. It was a good night, everyone was involved. We staged a large Prince dance party and scores of vendors joined in with a variety of Prince-themed promotions."

    He added, "we knew we wanted to do something grounds-wide for Prince, and by having people wear purple, it was just very cool. You saw a lot of purple on the fairgrounds, although some people were wearing Viking Jersey's, which are purple."

    Otherwise, putting together this sort of tribute in a scant short months  after most of the fair and related promotions had already been planned out - was possible only because of a dedicated and professional staff, all fully understanding the importance for the state's single largest entertainment event to recognize perhaps its most popular entertainer. "We pulled everything together within a few weeks, and it was really no problem at all," said Hammer. "We have an outstanding staff whose SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) is to make things happen.  Perhaps the most gratifying aspect was to see Prince's family here taking part in the events, that was the icing on the cake."

    He noted that while Prince never played the fair - "we tried several times, and came very close to making a deal last year" - he was a frequent attendee. "He loved the Minnesota State Fair, mentioned the fair in interviews and he was spotted at the fair several times," said Hammer. "He was known to attend the fair, and more than once in years past, ride operators would tell me that they spotted him riding their rides - I saw him ride my Ferris Wheel, that sort of thing. Coming to the fair is a difficult thing for a guy like Prince to do, it would be a mob scene. He was generally reluctant to make a big deal of coming the fair. When he did come, he just wanted to come out to the fair and enjoy it, be treated like anybody else." 

    Recording Breaking
    This internationally acknowledged tribute to Prince seemed a fitting capper to a remarkable edition of what is one of the largest fairs in the U.S.. The 2016 Minnesota State Fair - the first one was held in 1859 - Hammer said, was "the best I've ever seen at every level.  Our departments did outstanding work in coordinating the many facets of our operation.  Things went extraordinarily smooth."

    Smooth is an impressive compliment when one remembers that the Minnesota State Fair had a record year. "We'd only cracked 1.8 million once, and this year's attendance was 1,943,719 ticketed," said Hammer. 

    "When we add in free kids and employees, we easily topped 2 million in 12 days."

    To put that number in perspective, consider that the total population of Minnesota is 5.5 million; in other words, an equivalent of more than a third of the state's population attends the annual event. 

    The Great Minnesota State Fair get together is no mere idle boast, indeed. The 2016 fair also include three record days: Friday Aug. 26 (141,023);  Friday Sept. 2 (182,926);  Saturday Sept. 3 (260,374, the largest day in State Fair history). Per capita spending was $56, about on par with last year, said Hammer.

    The crowds were certainly enticed by the optimum fair weather, which he described as " Beautiful.  It rained some off-and-on the first Saturday, but it was inconsequential to everybody but the operator of the Giant Slide, who has to close with any moisture," said Hammer. 
    Escape Appeal
    But weather - and even the Unite In Purple tribute to Prince - was not the main motivating factor pushing this year's fair, according to Hammer. Instead, the bad news prevalent in the recent headlines fueled demand for a respite from today's troubled world.

    "Bits of everything we do add to the attendance, but the biggest factor is that the news hasn't been that good anywhere in the world for what seems like a long time," said Hammer. "Some of that tragedy happened real close to home too. There was a young kid shot in the city and that led to unrest in the Twin Cities, and then there were the mass shootings in Orlando and elsewhere. 

    People really needed some state fair, they needed to go someplace where they know everything is where it should be and hangout with everybody, spending time together. There are zero tensions at the fair, and people really needed that this year."

    Regardless of the exact reason for the increase, the fair prides itself on being able to handle the uptick seamlessly. "All of our systems are in place for public safety, sanitation, and other services, and we keep improving them," he said. "We keep adding restrooms and amenities. You can really tell how well you treat your customers by how clean their restrooms are. The fair was crowded, but it is not really crowded all the time. I've been to Disney parks, where it is tougher to get around because of the crowds."

    The fairgrounds incorporated more green space, and in 2014 opened West End Market, which both attracted fairgoers and served to better distribute crowds.  "Moving around the fairgrounds, you are moving around a lot of different neighborhoods. We have a lot of green, a lot of trees, and a lot of cool architecture to look at." 

    "The total advertising budget was $1.8 million, about 4 percent of total operating budget. The media mix was across the board, although "traditional media, like print and broadcast media is going down and we continue to do more with electronic and social media," said Hammer. "Our web page is something we are bringing a lot of info on, and making it easier to use. We've raised the bar on the website this  year." 

    Entertainment Strategy
    Entertainment is still a cost-effective draw for the fair, said Hammer. While other fairs have reduced and even eliminated paid tickets, the Minnesota State Fair remains a prime Midwestern summer stage.

    When asked if it as a buyers or sellers market when it came to headline act booking, Hammer replied, "as usual it was a little of both."

    There are no lack of competing venues, including arenas and casinos, in the Market but he pointed out, "we've had that competition for 20 years now. Our philosophy is give the acts a good environment, a very special environment, with a good audience and they will come back to the fair."

    Entertainment at the fair included Don Henley, Weezer and Alabama. Garrison Keillor, a perennial favorite and Minnesota celebrity, newly retired from his NPR live program, PrairieHome Companion, came back to the fair with a special The Minnesota Show, which was a sell out. "He gets a kick out of performing at the fair, which he has been going to his whole life," said Hammer. "He is also very prolific and did a variety type show." 

    For Minnesota State Fair, booking may not be getting easier, but the special environment approach and booking acts that appeal to the market is key. For example, the Dixie Chicks had two back to back shows, which sold out in 20 minutes when they went on sale. "They hadn't been on tour for a while, so it was  a comeback tour, and that was exciting," Hammer said. "But it was also the only state fair they were playing. That made them an exclusive act for us, which boosts sales."

    So why does paid ticket headline entertainment work continue to work so well in Minnesota? "We give audiences something they can't get anywhere else," he said.

    Food & Beverage sales at the fair hit  an estimated $46.9 million in sales, "which is more than $4 million ahead of last year's former record for food and beverage sales." In addition, there  were 34 new food items, which Hammer estimated accounted for an additional $1 million in sales. 

    While Hammer didn't notice any specific food trends dominating the 300 food vendors at the fair, there is a move towards quality food. "There are fine dining vendors that do very well, serving food you could get in the best restaurant, but it is served in a paper boat," said Hammer.

    Record Midway
    The 2016 Minnesota State Fair midway, booked independently by the fair, featured 61 rides (31 in the Midway; 30 in the Kidway) and 47 games. A total of 37 different companies provide rides and/or games for the Minnesota State Fair Midway. 

    The top rides and operators included: 
    1. Crazy Mouse Spinning Roller Coaster - SEJM. Entertainment
    2. Sky Flyer - Reithoffer Equipment Co., Inc.
    3. Starship 3000 - Laser Fair, Inc.
    4. New York New York Fun House - Fair Ride Entertainment LLC
    5. Hurricane - Showtime Rides, Inc.
    6. Super Nova Roller Coaster - KB Concessions LLC
    7. Gondola Wheel - Playworld Unlimited
    8. Puppy Express - Prime Pacific Ent. LLC
    9. Rock It - State Fair Services, Inc.
    10. Tilt-A-Whirl - Lauther Amusements
    11. Flipper - S.J. Entertainment 
    12. Equinox - Laser Fair, Inc.
    13. Kite Flyer - Alamo Amusements, Inc.
    14. Magic Maze - Wood Entertainment Company, Inc.
    15. Arabian Daze Fun House - Fun Attractions LLC 

    The total Midway and Kidway ride and game gross revenue  was $7,344,048.40 , an increase of $514,340.57  or 7.5 percent over last year. 

    The Minnesota State Fair like other organizations always strives to top itself every year, but breaking records is not always planned. "We always expect every fair to be better than the previous year's in terms of program and operation," said Hammer. "We never expect record attendance, though. There are too many variables - any one of which can hold attendance back at least a little.  Having said that, two of our last three years have been record attendance, and that says a lot for our hard-working team.  They're committed to presenting the best fair in the world, they make things happen, they exhibit beautiful teamwork and they always go the extra mile.  When you do these things, revenue and records take care of themselves."

  • Nebraska State Fair Achieves Record Year at New Grand Island Location
    The Nebraska State Fair moved to its new location in Grand Island in 2010. The 2016 State Fair broke the attendance record at the Grand Island location with 361,107 people; a 2% increase from last year's fair. According to the fair's Executive Director, Joseph McDermott, their attendance numbers are steadily approaching the overall attendance goal for the Nebraska State Fair. McDermott attributes the fair's increasing attendance and overall success to the fair's commitment to bring a variety of entertainment, food, exhibits, and rides for people of all ages to enjoy. 
    The Nebraska State Fair organizes an extensive and varied list of concerts for customers to enjoy. Headliners such as Thomas Rhett, Lady Antebellum, Train, John Anderson, Chris Tomlin, Toto, Charlie Puth, and Grand Island Native, Hannah Huston, drew large crowds. The Nebraska State Fairgrounds features an indoor and an outdoor concert venue. The outside venue seats 13,000 people and hosted the three biggest concerts: Thomas Rhett, Lady Antebellum, and Train. Thomas Rhett sold 10,000 tickets, Lady Antebellum sold 4,000 tickets, and Train (the Sunday night concert) sold 2,000. While the Nebraska State Fair had great success with its concert lineup, McDermott explained that booking headliners for the state fair has become more challenging over the years. The Nebraska State Fair competes with two large concert venues: Pinnacle Bank Arena about 90 miles away and Century Link Center about 50 miles away. "These venues bring in big names all year round. Many of the acts we want at the fair that would draw a big crowd play those venues and you don't want to book them both at the arena and at the state fair." 
    For more family entertainment, the Nebraska State Fair features several ground acts and strolling performers. State Fair regulars such as the petting zoo and racing pigs are featured every year and new acts such as a BMX Stunt Team, World Champion Lumber Jill, and Matt's Family Jam add variety to the fair's normal lineup. McDermott says the staff strives to achieve the perfect balance; "We want to keep things fresh but still maintain the popular acts." Additionally, the Nebraska State Fair is sure to bring back popular food vendors and always have something new for customers to try. According to McDermott, the two most popular stands at the far were the Cactus Jack's smoked meat stand and the Nebraska beef pit. One of the new foods people loved to try were fried eggs on a stick from a new stand the fair featured this year. 
    Of course, one of the easiest ways to keep families entertained at the fair is providing an extensive carnival midway. The Wade Shows midway featured a combination of 43 thrill and family rides. This year, they brought four new rides: The Mighty Mouse (a major roller coaster), the Street Fighter Revolution which spins in a complete 360 degree circle rather than the original 90 degrees, a brand new Puppy Roll ride for kids and families, and the Jungle Twist Roller Coaster, another kiddie ride. McDermott cited a fantastic relationship between Wade Shows and the Nebraska State Fair;  McDermott says it's easy to market and advertise with Wade Shows as the company is always willing to try out new deals and packages with the fair. 
    The Nebraska State Fair just extended Wade Shows' contract for five more years. "They do a wonderful job when it comes to presentation. Their landscaping and resting areas make for a beautiful midway," says McDermott. Frank Zaitshik, the CEO of Wade Shows, says he is honored to have an extended contract with the Nebraska State Fair.  " I certainly appreciate the vote of confidence from the Nebraska State Fair team and the agreement speaks to our mutual commitment for a long term, successful relationship." Despite a couple of weather setbacks, Wade Shows was able to achieve similar revenue numbers to the 2015 Nebraska State Fair. 
    The Nebraska State Fair is traditionally an agriculturally based fair and features strong 4H and FFA programs. FFA and 4H run all the livestock exhibits as well as some domestic-type exhibits such as photography and cooking. Mid-week, FFA and 4H hosts open class livestock shows which are very popular with the fair crowd. Additionally, the agriculture department of the fair offers combine rides for customers the last week of the fair. The combine rides are a unique feature at the fair and a fun way for customers to get involved with the agricultural aspect of the Nebraska State Fair. 

    Grand Island is in the middle of Nebraska, away from major population areas, making advertising for the Nebraska State Fair crucial. The marketing team faces the challenge of spreading the details about the fair to the East and West far reaches of the state. McDermott says that the fair staff strategically planned certain activities during the fair to draw crowds from all over the state. For example, new this year, the fair featured high school and college volleyball tournaments (a sport very popular in Nebraska) during opening weekend. The Nebraska State Fair also capitalized on the recent running craze and hosted a full and half marathon for the second year in a row to draw a different demographic to the fair. McDermott says the number of runners has doubled in two years and they expect the upward trend to continue. 
    The Nebraska State Fair operates with a $400,000 advertising budget and has an extensive media mix: online/social media, electronic billboards, bus sides, print, television, and radio. Additionally, the fair has a great relationship with local news stations; two stations, an ABC and a NBC affiliate broadcast live during the fair, helping to spread the word to the whole state. The fair also hosts several admission deal days throughout the fair to draw in more customers: $2 Tuesday, $3 Thursday, and $5 Monday and Wednesday admission are  very popular and help to offset the weaker attendance on weekdays versus weekends. Like many other state and county fairs, McDermott says that the Nebraska State Fair has been placing more focus on social media advertising. "'We host a Facebook special for $6 admission on weekends instead of the $12 at the gate admission. Social media deals work very well for us and we've seen an increase in customers taking advantage of those deals." 

    Overall, the Nebraska State Fair has a budget of $7.5 million. $3-$3.5 million comes from the Nebraska Lottery Proceeds and the rest of the operating budget is money generated at the fair from various sponsorships and gate admission. The Nebraska State Fair utilizes their budget wisely: divvying up the funds to hire the best vendors, entertainers, and midway, as well as organizing productive and educational exhibits for customers to enjoy. Year after year, the Nebraska State Fair provides fun for the Cornhusker State. 

  • Despite Challenges, 2016 Wisconsin State Fair Sees 4th year of Attendance Exceeding One Million
    The Wisconsin State Fair confronted two significant challenges this year - an internal scandal made public three months before the fair and a violent, near city-wide protest during the final weekend of the fair. 

    In May, Rick Frenette, an industry veteran who had been Executive Director of the fair since 2010, was fired. The dismissal, the result of dispute over salary increases and bonuses, was a local scandal well covered in the Wisconsin media. Kathleen O'Leary, who was the chief operating officer, was named interim Executive Director, taking the helm for the 2016 event, allowing the dust to settle from the controversy, and postponing the search for Frenette's replacement until after the fair.

    The other challenge was the closing weekend of the fair coincided with a tragedy that has become all too familiar in the U.S. On August 13, Milwaukee police lethally shot a 23 year old African American, setting off two days of rioting, which include burning of a gas station, buildings and cars as well as violent confrontations with police and citizens in the Sherman Park neighborhood of the city, less than six miles from the fairgrounds. The entire city was tense and on alert, and no place more so than the highest profile of the year for the city - The Wisconsin State Fair.

    Greatest Days
    O'Leary said that any lingering negative publicity from the dismissal had long faded by opening day. "The  2016 fair was very successful," said O'Leary. "the challenges we as a staff faced, I feel we did an exceptional job. We bill the fair as the Greatest 11 days of Summer, it was a celebration of Agriculture and Wisconsin." 

    Just prior to opening day of the fair, O'Leary announced she would be "vying for the position," of Executive Director, a search expected to begin this month (September). 

    She credited Frenette with putting together a very talented staff and everything moved forward. "Attendance was down slightly, but revenue was up. Spin City was up 2 percent. At the onset, when I took the helm of this great fair, there was a concern but we had a successful fair."

    In addition to an uptick in Spin City revenue, the fair had two sold out shows,  Shawn Mendes and Rascal Flatts, with approximately 10,000 in attendance. 

    The 2016 fair, which also was 165th Wisconsin State Fair, had 1,015,815 attendance, while a dip of about 20,000 compared to 2015 - a record year - it marked the 4th consecutive year of attendance topping one million. State Fair attendance the past 3 years: 1,012,552 in 2013, 1,030,881 in 2014 and 1,033,053 in 2015.  

    Police Shooting
    The closing day was one of the best closing days in this four year run of success, but mainly because the fair immediately responded to the Sherman Park shooting incident. O'Leary described Milwaukee, after the police shooting and citizen protests, "as a city of unrest, there was a terrible fallout after the incident.  We are in an urban setting and to have rioting so close to our fair was unnerving, But there wasn't a place in Milwaukee that was safer than the fair."

    She praised law enforcement, which came from several jurisdictions and precincts as well as 30 state troopers. "We all worked together, and set up a command post. We created a safe environment without imposing on our guests."

    With violent incidents dominating the headlines, most fairs reexamined their security procedures and implemented new protocols. The Wisconsin State Fair was no exception, this year they installed metal detectors at the gates. O'Leary said costs exceeded $25,000 which included reconfiguring seven gates to handle the system, as well as enhancing staff and training personnel. "It was not an easy decision, but safety is our most important seller," said O'Leary. "It was the right decision, considering the world we live in today. Guests had a sense of security they hadn't had before, and people are used to security procedures. We didn't really receive any complaints, but people are used to higher security. It's the world we live in."

    Weather Woes
    Weather was generally cooperative, although periods of rain and heat probably accounted for much of the decline in attendance. "Wisconsin is open to intense heat,  but even with some storms on opening day, we had a record breaking weekend, she said. "We did have some record breaking heat, it got extremely hot, and heat is the nemesis, heat can be ten times worse than rain.  Families, especially those with younger kids, either don't come out in the heat."

    The weather was ideal by closing weekend, which O'Leary said was record breaking. "I think there was pent up demand, and a validation that when we get the weather, they want to come out to the fair." 

    While O'Leary declined to disclose total fair revenue figures, "our preliminary numbers are up," she said. "There is no more affordable entertainment spending than the Wisconsin State Fair, for the price of admission and the multiple discounts we offer, that the people of Wisconsin love the fair. People in Wisconsin are fiscally prudent, how  you spend the dollar is important, and even things are better comically, they come to the fair for the value."

    She added, "Fairs are the last bastion of Americana, and our mission is to showcase the Agricultural industry, and all the positive attributes of the ag industry. Wisconsin's agricultural industry - according to O'Leary - has been healthy in recent years, and entries, competitions and other indications of the industry "are on part with last year."

    For the agricultural  exhibitors, O'Leary implemented a new receivership policy - rescheduling when large trucks load and unload during the fair. "This was a large change in the how we handle the trucks," said O'Leary. "We simplified the procedures and made it easy and convenient for our exhibitors, and less disturbing for the fair. It was incredibly successful, we improved the timing of the rigs and they moved into clean barns. It was a relatively significant change, although very subtle." 

    New Promotions
    The fair did implemented a new promotion,  Humana Senior Day, which "did very well. But Kohl's Family Value Day was our most successful promotion in terms of attendance - we had a record breaking Monday this year, the day of the promotion, with more than 90,000 in attendance. 

    The fair used  Snapchat for the first time this year, and were also featured in a national snapchat story featuring "State Fair Foods," "which was very exciting and lots of fun," said Kristi Chuckel, Communications & Marketing Manager.

    The Wisconsin State Fair has one of the largest selections of fair cuisine among all the Midwest fairs, with more than 200 vendors every year. According to Chuckel,, there were more than 80 new food vendors. In addition, an estimated 315,000 Original Cream Puffs - a signature food of the Wisconsin State Fair - were sold, as well as 105,000 ears of corn, 55,000 Real Wisconsin Cheese grilled cheese sandwiches, 50,000 Wisconsin Baked Potatoes  were sold in the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, and 5,000 Klement's Famous Racing Sausages Corn Dogs eaten.
    The 4th Annual Food Competition, The Sporkies, a high-profile fair event with a panel of celebrity judges, including: LeRoy Butler - Super Bowl Champion,  Steve Palec - Milwaukee radio veteran, host of Rock 'n Roll Roots on WKLH for 29 years, Donny Most - Ralph Malph from TV's Happy Days and Anson Williams, best known for Potsie, another beloved Happy Days Character (Happy Days was set in Milwaukee).

    The Root Beer Float Cake - Sprecher Landing & Sprecher Root Beer Everything, won first place in the Sporkies competition, followed by Klement's Famous Racing Sausages Corn Dog - Saz's Bavarian Haus; Deep Fried Ol' Fashioned - Water Street Brewery. Other finalists included:  Chili-Mac Bottom Pizza - Brew City, Deep Fried Ol' Fashioned - Water Street Brewery, Elvis Chicken and Waffle Sandwich - Slim's Lakefront Brew Pub & Eatery; Fiesta Cookie Dough On-A-Stick - Cookie Dough Fondue; Mountain Man Bloody Mary Burger - Exotic Meat Grill; and the Thanksgiving Day Burrito - Mexican Grill. 

    Spin City Up
    Spin City - the fair's independent midway - had about 50 rides this year, an allotment consistent with other years.

    "We didn't have any new rides at this fair," said Shari Black, Director of Event Services, Wisconsin State Fair. "The Rock-It was a popular ride and that came after not being here for a few years. We kept a lot of our mainstays, such as the Super Nova Coaster, Hurricane and Gondola Wheel."

    "We are always trying to improve the midway," said Black. "We added new plants and landscaping, we want it to be a nice and welcoming environment. We added new umbrellas. 

    The midway featured 30 games, which Black said have actually become more popular. "People always enjoy the games, they remind you of their childhood. We have come very great game operators."

    Nostalgia may determine game popularity -"the Bottle Up was the probably the biggest game, everybody seems to play the Bottle Up," said Black - but current trends dominated the plush. "Paw Patrol were hot items, but there was a lot of Pokemon prizes. Everyone wanted a Pikachu, they were all over the midway."

    The Wisconsin State Fair is also one of the largest independent midways in the U.S., a format the fair plans to continue. "We take pride in that we produce a great product," said Black. "It's much more labor intensive on the fair's end. We're there on the midway all the time, we do the entire ticketing system and take care of all the operational aspects. But we get to cherry pick what rides and games we want on the midway, and we get to pick what operators we want to work with. For an independent midway, you have make sure all the T's are crossed, but we work with a lot of great ride operators who are very professional." 

  • New Carnival, Attendance Increase for 2016 Oregon State Fair
    The Oregon State Fair attendance increased by ten percent in 2016. Manager Don Hillman says the fair had 295,600 pure, unique visits. In the past three years, the fair has drawn 81,000 extra people without expanding the dates of the fair. "We take getting people into the gates very seriously. In fact, it's our only job. It's then up to our partners inside the fair to entertain the customers and make money. As long as we get people in the gate, our partners are happy." 
    Regular gate prices are $8 for adults, $6 for kids (6-12), and kids 5 and under are free. This year, the fair team tried out a special where seniors were admitted for just $1. The promotion went very well and the fair saw an increase in senior attendance at the fair. 
    Additionally, the fair provided four admission specials this year. On opening day, admission was only $1.50; "We wanted a huge opening day to kick off a huge weekend," says Hillman. After opening weekend, the fair team does surprise admission Monday. Only about 10 people on the fair team know what the admission price will be and it is announced to the public through social media on Monday morning. This year, admission on Monday was $1. 
    The last special day the fair provided was military/veterans/first responders day; all military personnel, veterans, and first responders plus their families got in for free. 
    These three specials were planned and advertised; However, on the morning of opening day, the fair team decided last minute to provide free admission to be used any day of the fairs to the customers who came to the fair that day. "We had a 90 degree day on opening day. It was miserably hot, so we gave everyone free passes to come back. We handed out 20,000 passes and 9,000 people came back" says Hillman. Hillman and the fair team were very pleased with the result of the specials. 
    The Oregon State Fair is a unique operation. The State owns the fairgrounds but does not run the fair. Instead, the Oregon State Fair is operated by the State Fair Council, a municipal corporation. Hillman says that moving from a state run fair to a state fair council operation has been a blessing. The State Fair Council has fewer full time employees than a state-run operation would have. Hillman says "the five or so full time employees are nimble, quick, and reactive to what's happening. Now that the state does not run the fair, we can skip a lot of the bureaucratic rules and red tape when making decisions for the fair." According to Hillman, decisions like handing out free admission passes on opening day would not have been possible if the fair was state run. 
    In addition to getting people in the gates, the State Fair Council focuses on providing plenty of entertainment for fairgoers. Every night of the fair (except HIspanic Culture Night), a big musical act performs in their 8,500 seat theater. Tickets to the concerts are free with admission. However, the theater features 2,500 gold circle seats which can be purchased for additional charge. The gold circle seats costs $35 but includes admission into the fair. "The gold circle seating is a great buy for customers because it guarantees them a good seat at the concert. All other seating is first come first serve" says Hillman. 
    Hunter Hayes, Foerigner, Melissa Etheridge, Pat Benetar, Mercy Me, and Montgomery Gentry are a few of the acts included in the 2016 Oregon State Fair lineup. The Oregon State Fair does not have a specific, budgeted amount for entertainment fees. Instead, the State Fair Council tells the entertainment buyer to get acts that will fill all the seats in the theater. "We give our entertainment buyer a goal; fill 2,500 seats at $35 a seat. He achieved his goal at almost every concert" says Hillman. 
    The Oregon State Fair has five stages other than the concert venue. One of their most popular stages, the Familyville Stage, features family friendly shows every hour. The Oregon State Fair hires a clown, a hypnotist, a petting zoo, and pig races. Stage performances as well as strolling and street performers are booked to help increase the guest experience. Hillman says the fair finds themselves hiring most of the same entertainers every year; "We stay consistent to the formula. If the performer draws crowds then we definitely want them to come back next year." Starting three years ago, the Oregon State Fair uniquely welcomed street performers to come to the fair to perform for tips. According to Hillman, the customers love the performances and the street performers always do well. 
    This year, the Oregon State Fair tried out a new carnival provider. Rainier Amusements partnered with a California amusement company to bring 45 rides to the Oregon State Fair. Rainier Amusements featured five new rides at the fair and brought crowd favorites such as the Giant Wheel and a featured roller coaster. The carnival gross was up fifteen percent; Hillman believes part of the carnival's success was due to their advance sale deal with Walgreens. Rainier Amusements collected over $700,000 from pre-sale. 
    The Oregon State Fair has a strong agricultural presence. 4H and FFA run lots of programs during the fair. The first seven days of the fair, there is a draft horse show which fills a 2500 seat stadium. The last four or five days of the fair, they host an open class horse show; a very popular event for customers. In the 4H auditorium, 4H hosts a fashion shows and other domestic exhibits. 4H featured a new robotics exhibit this year which drew large crowds and took up about 1/3 of the building. Participation in 4H events at the Oregon State Fair has increased over the years: opposing the national trend. 
    Of course, the Oregon State Fair has a lot of delicious food for customers to enjoy. According to Hillman, one of the most popular foods at the fair is a turkey leg wrapped in bacon. "The food stands that cook food in front of you and outside tend to do better" says Hillman. Pork chops on a stick, and BBQ chicken stands always have long lines and satisfied customers at the Oregon State Fair. 
    One of the most important aspects of running a state fair is the advertising. The Oregon State Fair has a $450,000 advertising budget which accounts for about ten percent of their revenue. Hillman says that they do not spend any of their advertising budget on print.  Instead, the focus is on social media advertising, radio, and television. On social media, the Oregon State Fair media team hosts giveaways and contests in order to increase online sales and chatter about the event. Hillman credits his media team for a lot of the fair's success; "We have the best media team. They know how to communicate a message and get it out there quickly to attract as many customers as possible to the fair." 
    The Oregon State Fair operates with an overall budget of $5 million which. The transition from a state run fair to a council-run fair has proved to be a positive change for the Oregon State Fair.

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ArkLaMiss Fair
Monroe, LA
9/22/2016 - 10/2/2016
Powers & Thomas
Rowan County Fair
Salisbury, NC
9/23/2016 - 10/1/2016
Reithoffer Shows
The Bloomsburg Fair
Bloomsburg, PA
9/23/2016 - 10/1/2016
Butler Amusements
Centrqal Washington State Fair
Yakima, WA
9/23/2016 - 10/2/2016
Deggeller Attractions
State Fair of Virginia
Doswell, VA
9/23/2016 - 10/2/2016

IAAPA Attractions Expo - Orlando, FL
[more info..]

I.I.S.F. Gibtown Extravaganza - Gibsonton, FL
[more info..]

2015 TOP 50 FAIRS
1. Texas State Fair - Dallas, TX
2. Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo - Houston, TX
3. Minnesota State Fair - St. Paul, MN
4. San Antonio Livestock Show & Ex. - San Antonio, TX
5. Canadian National Exhibition

View Top 50 Fairs
The Industry Buzz
Gold Star Amusement's Richard Hanson passes
It is with great sadness to report the passing of Richard Hanson.  Richard was a lifelong friend of the Featherston family and served as a manager at Gold Star Amusements.  Funeral arrangements are as follows:

October 6, 2016 at 11am

Pellerin Funeral Home
211 Berard St. 
Breaux Bridge, LA 70517

The Featherston family is grateful to Father John Vakulskas for rearranging his schedule to officiate the service.  

In honor of Richard's relationship with Jaylin Koerner, it is requested that in lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Make-a-Wish Foundation (  

For those who knew Richard up north, the Featherston family is planning to have a Memorial during the Midwest Showmen's Association/MN Federation of County Fairs Convention in Bloomington, MN on January 14, 2017. Time and place TBA.
  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/29/2016
Top 15 Grossing Games at the 2016 Minnesota State Fair
The total game gross at the 2016 Minnesota State Fair set a record at over $3,259,566.99 in gross receipts, an increase of $377,792.27 (13%) over 2015.  Like rides, all games on the Mighty Midway operate on tickets and no cash or coin is accepted.  The top 15 grossing games include:

1. Bottle Up - Candice P. Anderson
2. Goblets - Candice P. Anderson
3. Goblets - Candice P. Anderson
4. Whopper Water Race - Cassata Concessions 
5. Fish-A-Rama - Oren Concessions LLC 
6. Shoot Out The Star - Midwest Concessions, Inc. 
7. Rising Waters Water Race - Cassata Concessions 
8. Long Range Basketball - Oren Concessions LLC 
9. Long Range Basketball - Oren Concessions LLC 
10. Milk Cans - Potopas Concessions, Inc. 
11. Top Glo Water Race - Cassata Concessions 
12. Ring-A-Bottle - JBS Concessions 
13. Ring-A-Bottle - Trejo Concessions 
14. Big Mouth - Potopas Concessions, Inc.
15. Balloon Pop Water Race - Thornberry Concessions 
  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/21/2016
Top 15 Rides at the 2016 Minnesota State Fair
The Minnesota State Fair achieved a record ride gross during its 2016 run with over $4,084,481.41 in ride receipts, an increase of $136,548.30 (3.5%) over 2015.

The top 15 grossing attractions on the Mighty Midway and Kidway include:

1. Crazy Mouse Spinning Roller Coaster - S.J. Entertainment 
2. Sky Flyer - Reithoffer Equipment Co., Inc. 
3. Starship 3000 - Laser Fair, Inc. 
4. New York New York Fun House - Fair Ride Entertainment LLC 
5. Hurricane - Showtime Rides, Inc. 
6. Super Nova Roller Coaster - KB Concessions LLC 
7. Gondola Wheel - Playworld Unlimited 
8. Puppy Express - Prime Pacific Ent. LLC 
9. Rock It - State Fair Services, Inc. 
10. Tilt-A-Whirl - Lauther Amusements 
11. Flipper - S.J. Entertainment 
12. Equinox - Laser Fair, Inc. 
13. Kite Flyer - Alamo Amusements, Inc.
14. Magic Maze - Wood Entertainment Company, Inc. 
15. Arabian Daze Fun House - Fun Attractions LLC 
  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/21/2016
Labor Day Weekend State Fairs Set Record Attendance
Near perfect weather helped three state fairs break record attendance numbers over Labor Day Weekend.  The Nebraska State Fair broke its previous record set in 2015 with over 361,107 guests passing through the turnstiles (up 2.5% from 2015).  In New York, the newly-redesigned state fair midway saw attendance numbers reach 1,117,630, which broke the previous record of 1,011,248 set in 2001.  In Minnesota, the Minnesota State Fair shattered previous attendance records registering 1,943,719 guests through the gates.  The previous record was 1,824,830 set in 2014.  Both the Nebraska and New York State Fairs midways are provided by Wade Shows while the Minnesota State Fair operates an independent midway.  Attendance numbers from the DuQuoin State Fair in Illinois have not yet been reported.
  Posted by Matt Cook on 9/6/2016
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LIFETIME Products is building bunk houses for carnivals, concessionaires, entertainers and more with units starting at just $39,900.  Call 813-781-9182 for info.

Evans United Shows is now booking game concessions for the 2016 season!  Call Tom Evans   (816) 392-0759
 or email

Luna Park manufacturers and sells quality amusement rides worldwide.  Visit us at or at the IAAPA and IISF Gibtown trade shows!

For all your financing needs, contact Firestone Financial.  We specialize in financing amusement companies, concessionaires, and more.

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