so called grounds acts category seems to be getting the same scrutiny. In
general, fairs are increasing - albeit slightly - the number of these acts and
recognizing that their inclusion continues to enhance the experiential factor
of fair going.
Warehouse surveyed a few fairs, and while an unscientific study, anecdotal
evidence indicates that grounds or free acts are a more important component of
the texture of the fair. As Andy Cashman, General Manager, Maryland State Fair,
explained, "Fairgoers expect something different than they get at a theme park."
fairs are using free acts more strategically, because it "helps other
attractions by drawing people to them that might not typically see it," said
Christy Enderle, Entertainment & Attractions Supervisor LA County Fair, but
she is quick to add, "We need to be careful not to interfere with other
vendors, exhibits and attractions."
terms of the content of the grounds - here broadly defined as "free" entertainment - it seems the content is up to the individual fairs. There's no discernible trend, although many of the fairs are increasing their regional and
local music acts, which bring a larger social media following and might have
the most noticeable positive impact on attendance. For other acts, measuring
how popular they are tends to be word of mouth and general feedback.
significant aspects to this segment of the fair include rising costs - although
not as high as other headline stage acts; increasing the number of the acts,
better scheduling and positioning, which helps fairs try to increase traffic in
additional areas of the fairgrounds, encouraging more vendor sales and longer
fair stays by attendees. In addition, fair mangers take a very hands-on
approach to grounds acts. Where as outside talent buyers and agencies often
book the main stages, the grounds acts are more often than booked directly with
the entertainer or a smaller agency specializing in this area. In addition,
industry trade shows, especially the Annual International Association of Fairs
& Exposition (IAFE) Convention & Trade Show, are where the new acts are
being found the most, followed by word of mouth from other fairs.
a wide-ranging virtual roundtable, based on responses to a emailed survey, fair
managers discussed the current state of grounds acts, including measuring
popularity, rising costs, using social media and what are the hot trends in
Warehouse: What Grounds Acts are most popular now?
Cashman, General Manager, Maryland State Fair: Swifty Swine; Rock-IT The Robot; Stilt Man. We've had the racing
pigs for 15 years and they are the most popular, I think I would be hung if I
didn't bring them back every year.
Chance, Entertainment Director, Ohio State Fair: Petting zoo; pig races; hypnosis
shows. We bring back the most popular entertainers for 2-3 consecutive years,
but still rotate our free stage and roving acts regularly to keep things fresh. We do have a pig race and petting
zoo every year. We also have a hypnosis show booked
each year, but we have booked a variety of different hypnotists.
Enderle, Entertainment & Attractions Supervisor LA County Fair: Enderle: Pig races, Chinese Acrobats, animal shows.
There are some acts that are all time favorites of our guests (i.e.: acrobats,
pig races) that we bring back every year, but we also want to bring in new and
exciting acts so there is variety and keeps people coming back to see what we
Bullard, Spokesperson, The Great New York State Fair: Our most popular act is Hilby the Skinny
German Juggle Boy, who does a comedy and juggling act in his German-American
accent. He gets huge crowds. Bandaloni the One Man Band is also very popular.
We consider our Sand Sculpture a grounds act as they do the sculpting during
the Fair and it also draws large crowds.
What entertainment categories specifically are the best draw?
Enderle: Interactive and unique acts, animal shows,
stunt shows (acrobats, high wire, etc.), bands that have a strong following.
How do you measure the popularity of act?
Bullard: We know from visitor comments that Hilby,
Bandaloni and the sculpture are very popular and have become traditions. Beyond
that, we rotate acts to keep things fresh.
Cashman: Watching audience reactions. Social media and
email comments. You want the numbers of people. Myself and my staff walk the
grounds, and we watch out for the crowds around the acts, if there's a lot of
young kids around them. You can see how the entertainment fits into the rest of
Enderle: Guest service comments, social media comments,
crowds, word of mouth. Crowd size, entertainment department evaluations, social
What acts created the most excitement last year?
Enderle: Animal shows.
In terms, of what creates the most excitement during the actual visit to the
Fair, I think the unexpected enjoyment of a strolling act can be very effecting
in creating favorable impressions and lasting memories.'
Strolling entertainers. They're all unique and more hands - on. The pig races
really get the audiences involved with cheer leaders and interaction. Family
acts work best, so they can all be part of it.
Mostly the interactive
shows, i.e. ones that have sides of the audience competing against each other,
audience participation, etc. Also we've had some unique stilt walkers and other
strolling shows that have generated a lot of buzz.
you booking more acts in 2017?
Bullard: We book about 18 grounds acts and they cover
the range from solo shows like Hilby to large-scale performances like the
Pirates of the Colombian Caribbean to animal-related shows. It's hard to tell
which does best, especially since we rotate acts nearly every year. We think
the strength is in the breadth of the lineup - there's something for everybody.
We've increased the number of free acts and the size of some of them in order
to take advantage of the wide open spaces created by our $50 million renovation.
Yes, we have increased
the number but we've also increased the quality. Fairgoers expect
something different than what they get at a theme park, thus the grounds acts
are important to fairs. We try to switch them up every few years. You get a
good bang for the buck with grounds acts, and we're finding that you get what
you pay, so we've increased the budget.
Do you have a talent buying philosophy when it comes to ground acts?
Cashman: A variety of entertainment works best. We try
to provide one or two new free entertainment options each year. We are looking
at a new act that are like Transformers. You can't stay the same. We are
looking at super heroes because kids can relate to super heros.
Are prices for Grounds Acts rising?
Enderle: I think they are rising a bit but since our
Fair is such a long run we are usually able to negotiate a better price.
Pricing can depend on the number of people in the group, travel expenses,
additional costs (food and care for animals, etc.). Pricing and availability
plays a big part in which acts get booked. Sometimes I want an act but the
routing doesn't work, they aren't available the dates I need, or the price is
Prices may be rising
slightly, but I haven't noticed anything drastic with respect to "grounds" acts. Prices for grandstand
entertainment have gone up drastically in recent years.
Bullard: Entertainment prices seem to be following the
trend when everything is slowly increasing in price as time goes by, however we
have found that you definitely get more bang for your buck. The adventure,
sports and animal shows seem to be more expensive, while roaming shows prices
stay more consistent.
Cashman: Always going up, but they aren't rising as fast
as headline entertainment, which is now close to out of whack. Prices are
rising across the board,
Do you have system for scheduling entertainment?
Enderle: We have various themes throughout the Fair so
we book entertainment based on those themes (i.e.: pirates, dinosaurs, circus,
etc.). I try to book entertainment so that there is always something going on
but there aren't two acts close by that overlap each other. It also depends on
the number of shows an act is willing to do and the length of the performance.
Do you position acts to draw traffic to under-visited areas of the fair?
Cashman: We don't do that. Usually strolling
entertainers go around the fairgrounds adding focus to all areas.
Enderle: If we want entertainment to draw people to a
specific area then it needs to be something big that they can't see anywhere
else. Sometimes the entertainment helps other attractions by drawing people to
them that might not typically see it; however we need to be careful not to
interfere with other vendors, exhibits and attractions. Placement is very
important because you don't want to create crowds that are too big and block
other attractions or noise that impedes on a vendor trying to sell merchandise.
Signage, word of mouth, and social media all help draw traffic.
Bullard: We promote the entertainment and publish
schedules of their show times. We place shows and vendors in proximity to help
each other out. We schedule several shows per day and we try to keep them out
of each others' way so people can attend as many as possible.
Shoults: It is
very important. We strategically place our free attractions and strolling acts,
which serve as pop-up performers, to draw fairgoers to particular areas
Chance: If you
have vendors or exhibitors in less-traveled parts of the grounds, then locating
a popular free attraction in that area can be very helpful to them.
How do you use social media to promote entertainment?
Enderle: Our MarCom Dept is in charge of our social
media outlets. We heavily promote our entertainment on social media with
previews, photos, short videos. We ask all acts to promote the Fair and their
participation on their social media platforms. Bands tend to promote the most
through social media.
Shoults, Marketing & PR Director, Ohio State Fair: We
post photos and videos on social media of the act performing and engaging with
fairgoers. We've also had a great response when we provide our GoPro camera to
entertainment acts and have them film from their attractions or while wearing
the GoPro. Engaging national touring acts - whether those are free grounds
entertainment or grandstand-type acts, tend to have the largest following.
Those who post creative and engaging content give us the opportunity to re-post
or share their content with our followers
The grounds shows have
built-in fans but it's hard to say people come here exclusively for that and
would not come otherwise. We announce all of our grounds entertainment every
year in press releases and post individual items on our social media to
introduce fairgoers to the new shows. They help us by supplying raw material
such as photos and videos and are good about re-posting.