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Thursday, August 19, 2010

DELAWARE STATE FAIR ATTENDANCE FIGURES (FROM THE DOVER POST)

Delaware State Fair attendance tops 300K for third time in history

By Sarika Jagtiani, Staff Writer Dover Post,
Aug 17, 2010
Dover, Del. — Temperatures in the upper 90s with heat indices over 100 roasted visitors during the first three days of the Delaware State Fair. Once the spell of steamy weather broke, though, people swarmed the Harrington Fairgrounds, bringing in the third-highest attendance in the fair’s 91-year history.
This year’s fair brought 302,880 visitors to the grounds, a 7% increase in last year’s attendance. It didn’t look as if the numbers would go that way early on in the fair’s run.
“The extreme heat including heat indices approaching 115 on Saturday, July 23, killed our attendance during the first few days of the fair,” said General Manager Bill DiMondi in a press release.
Officials delayed opening the midway July 23 because of the excessive heat. That Saturday, 30,000 people walked through the gates, a 12,000-person drop from the first Saturday of last year’s fair.
“You can spend a whole year planning an event, and it all comes down to weather,” said Danny Aguilar, assistant general manager and director of marketing.
Cooler temperatures during the second week boosted attendance, Aguilar said, with the second Saturday, July 31, becoming a record-breaker with 46,312 visitors.
Delaware not only winning fairThere are multiple factors as to why fairs everywhere are doing well, according to Marla Calico, director of grants and special education for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. One of the keys to their success is a still-slumped economy.
“It goes to the heart of what makes state fairs very unique — they are community based, they are about celebrating the best in our community. People tend to support that in tough times,” she said.
Calico said the Delaware State Fair is early in the season, with most running through August and over Labor Day weekend. She has been tracking fairs that have finished for the season and said about 65% of them have seen increased attendance. The North Dakota State Fair broke attendance records for the second year in a row, and California’s state fair increased attendance by 10%.
When compared to other family activities or vacationing, a fair can be much more affordable, Calico said, which helps.
That bang-for-your-buck thinking is what boosted the Delaware State Fair’s numbers, Aguilar said. They enhanced their ground entertainment, investing 60 cents per every $1 brought in. This year, that went toward free entertainment such as the giraffe menagerie, returning favorites Vocal Trash and Circus Hollywood.
Another area that saw favorable numbers was the exhibitors’ tally.The total number of entries increased 14% over 2009, with more than 56,000 entries turned in by 3,127 exhibitors, according to DiMondi.
Grandstand artists, social media draw favor with fansWilmington Trust Grandstand performers drew their share of visitors, too, with crowds flocking to see cook Paula Deen and country star Brad Paisley.
“It’s always a challenge to find that right blend for entertainment. It really hurt for Selena Gomez to cancel,” he said.
The Gomez concert was trending toward a sell-out crowd when news hit that the teen star had cancelled the show. All Star Weekend, the group slated to open for Gomez, played a free concert instead that Aguilar estimates 5,000 concertgoers attended.
One of the handiest tools the fair had this year was its digital media component, including emails, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other outreach. It especially helped with last-minute additions or promotions, and unexpected delays and cancellations, such as the called-off Gomez show.
“You cannot underestimate social media and the whole viral capabilities of that message hitting over 14,000 [Facebook] fans and migrating outwards,” Aguilar said.
Organizers asked their Facebook friends what entertainers they would like to see next year and netted about 800 different responses. In the lead are country artists such as Lady Antebellum and Luke Bryan. Delaware’s early time slot in the fair circuit helps them at times get high-profile acts, Aguilar said, but a lot of it comes down to whether the fair fits into the performers’ schedules, logistically.
“Sometimes it’s pure luck that an artist is rounding your direction,” Aguilar said.
Some performers are out of the fair’s price range, too. Organizers have purposefully stuck with tickets between $20 and $59, not topping that $60 mark. As shows get bigger, though, it might make it harder to keep those prices in check and still attract big names.
Artists also may balk at a setting where they’re exposed to the elements. The long-term goal is to have an enclosed, air-conditioned structure for year-round concerts. It’s unclear when and how that would happen as of now, though.
Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com
BY THE NUMBERS
8,182 Seats in Wilmington Trust Grandstand
Percentage of attendees from Delaware 8.9 Percentage of attendees from Dover 56,700
Entries from 3,127 separate exhibitors 46,312 People attending on record-setting day,
July 31, 302,880
Total attendance for 2010 fair2 Years with higher attendance (2004, 2007)

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