NC State Fair Books Another Good Year Breaks 1,000,000 attendance for second year in a row
By Ron Weber, Editor
For the second year in a row, the North Carolina State Fair broke the 1,000,000-person attendance mark. Beautiful weather for the majority of the fair and the fact that many families make the event an annual tradition are two factors cited by fair manager Wesley Wyatt for the fair,s success in 2011. "We continue to offer time-honored traditions of thrilling midway rides, thousands of agricultural competition entries on display and quality vendors that sell and sample unique products", said Wyatt, speaking of the fair,s success.
The fair also remains an affordable family destination. Regular ticket prices remained the same at $8 but, this year, military families with ID could be admitted to the fair for $5, a $3 discount. Other discounts include opening Preview Day, where the fair offers admission tickets at the advance sale price and unlimited ride wristbands are offered for $25, the only day of the fair wristbands are available. On Food Lion Hunger Relief Day, visitors could bring four cans of food to receive one free admission ticket. All food was donated to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC.
The advance sale program, mentioned above, has been a tremendous success for the fair. Tickets are offered at a deep discount. Ride tickets are also available in advance. A sheet of 18 tickets costs only $10 in advance, compared to $1 per ticket at the event.
Several years ago, the fair made a transition to online sales with eTix, making it convenient for customers to buy their tickets from home at their leisure. The online tickets can be printed at home, saving the time required by staff to stuff envelopes and mail tickets. Advance tickets are offered for sale about 2 ½ months before the fair, and there are incentives to buy tickets online. The Early Bird Special rewards buyers with one free admission ticket if they buy at least $40 in admission, ride, concert or grandstand event tickets online. If the buyer spends between $100.01 and $200 online, they then receive two free admission tickets. Spending more than $200 online earns the buyer three free admission tickets. The Early Bird Special ends about two weeks before the fair.
In addition to online sales, the fair partners with several retail outlets two weeks before the fair to sell advance tickets for those people who are unable to, or unwilling, to buy their tickets online.
The fair also tried some new marketing approaches in 2011, utilizing social media and new media. One use was advertising on Pandora, the free Internet radio service. Wyatt said this program turned out to be quite successful with many people commenting that they heard the ads on this non-traditional medium.
"We have been advertising on a variety of online websites for a few years, and that seems to be working well as a tie-in with advance ticket sales on our website. We do still advertise in traditional outlets such as the newspaper, a few magazines and radio, and we put a large chunk of our ad budget into TV commercials because that continues to be the number one place where our fairgoers report hearing about the fair", said Wyatt.
The fair has also been using social media for the past four years or so. They have a blog called "Deep Fried Blog" and they are active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, sharing photos and video through the latter two.
The fair uses Facebook, Twitter and the blog to tell those unique stories about entertainers, artisans, vendors and competition exhibitors. They post items online that people might find interesting, but that might not be good for a traditional press release or pitch to a local reporter. "These platforms are effective as a way of getting our story directly to the people who are interested in hearing from us, and we are able to respond to questions and have public conversations with our followers", said Wyatt. "We are also lucky that Raleigh, NC has a very active social media community, and we have worked to build relationships with members of that community both online and "in real life" at social media events and activities", he added.
The fair also added new free entertainment attractions throughout the fairgrounds this year. The one that seemed to be a huge success according to fair organizers was DiVine, the Living Vine. DiVine is a stilt-walker/dancer, and at first she looks just like a tall vine attached to a building. Then suddenly the vine seems to come to life and walks around, to the amazement of fairgoers in her vicinity. The attraction was added to the Flower & Garden Show area, which is an unusual location for roaming entertainment and people were excited to discover this attraction in an unexpected place.
The fair did make one significant change to the infrastructure this year. They expanded the size of Gate 1 to accommodate the large number of people who enter the fair from the south side of the property. 2011 was a trial run before moving forward with installing a permanent ticket booth structure over the next couple of years. The new gate worked well. Gate 1 is near a major shuttle bus drop-off point and the entrance is growing in popularity.
The fair is just beginning to plan for 2012 and will announce some new attractions and activities in early spring.
On the midway, Powers, Great American Shows and Wade Shows combined to provide 109 rides for five distinct midway areas. Powers presented their newly refurbished Skydiver with a dazzling LED light package. The ride, situated on the "old midway", gave off quite the show for fairgoers.
Wade Shows brought their Mondial Fighter, the only traveling ride of its kind in the US and the ride did very well at the event.
Both companies said the season was good when the weather cooperated, a common theme heard about the season in 2011.
As the fair ended, press reports indicated that a recent outbreak of e.coli in the Raleigh area seemed to come from the fair. Wyatt said the fair,s thoughts and prayers were with the patients and their families and management and staff were hoping for a speedy recovery for all involved. The fair has been providing assistance to public health officials in the hope of finding the source of the outbreak. Wyatt said there was currently very little information available about a potential cause but he was confident the investigators, with the assistance of the fair, would be able to track down answers quickly.
The total budget for the annual North Carolina State Fair is $6,643,077. The fair usually makes a profit, but specific numbers were not currently available as bills and expenses had not been fully paid and accounted for at press time.
The 2012 North Carolina State Fair is slated for Oct. 11-21, 2012.
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