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2018 Missouri State Fair Survives Extreme Heart & Rain Storms
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Summer is heatwave season, to state the obvious. The 2018 Missouri State Fair was plagued by an intense heatwave – compounding the drought conditions that have negatively impacted the state's agriculture industry. Adding insult to injury, rain severe enough to cancel a Casting Crowns/Zach Williams fell. 

Nonetheless, the fair was only slightly down in attendance, according to Mark Wolfe, Fair Director, who did not have final numbers available. Typically, the Missouri State Fair attracts 350,000.  Attendance dip aside, the event was an overall positive celebration of everything Show Me state. “We do expect attendance to be down slightly,” said Wolfe. “The Fair went really well overall.  We did have some weather challenges – extreme heat and drought conditions across the state for the first several days of the Fair, followed by rain later in the Fair.”

Records & Dips

On a more positive note,  the last Saturday of the fair was a record attendance for the fair. Spending was down at the fair, said Wolfe although he noted that while the economy seems better this year compared to 2017, the agriculture industry seems stuck in a recession which has additional negative effects on the fair. “Overall, the economy is better, but we are a very agriculture-oriented Fair and with our state's drought issues this summer we believe that made a negative impact on our attendance,” he said.

But even in a gloomy agriculture economy, when the Missouri State Fair celebrated Youth in Agriculture Day, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the annual Sale of Champions highlighted the day, raising $195,350 – the largest amount ever raised in the history of the Missouri State Fair Sale of Champions. Wolfe also noted that The Governor's Ham Breakfast – a traditional gathering of Missouri elected officials, leaders in agriculture and supporters of the Missouri State Fair – the highlight of which is the auction of the Grand and Reserve Grand Champion Hams and Bacon also set records. Proceeds from the breakfast auction are used to fund premiums to winning exhibitors and to provide scholarships for youth in agriculture. 

“We set some records with our Governor's Ham Breakfast auction  and with our Sale of Champions auction,” said Wolfe. While admitting that expectations for the fair fell short “from revenue and likely an attendance standpoint, but the overall programming was excellent and feedback from fairgoers was very positive.”

The midway by Wade Shows featured  43 rides, with midway revenue reaching approximately $892,000, down about 2 percent according to Wolfe.  Frank Zaitishik noted the management, staff and fair board of the Missouri State Fair “have moved this fair into a whole new level. We were very pleased with this year's fair.”

New promotions at the fair include a $2 Tuesday, which infused new energy into a typically “soft day” for the fair. Wade Shows also implemented wrist bands every day for the fair and expanded is children ride allotment and also featured the Missouri State fair debut of a Super Bumper Boats. “It's a great fair, but we did have some weather challenges. We had a few nights we were forced to closed because of the rain and storms.”

Buyer's Market

The cancellation of a major concert as happened with the Casting Crowns/Zach Williams show certainly had a negative impact, but the fair did showcase a remarkable lineup in 2018. Shows at the Pepsi Grandstand concerts included:  Montgomery Gentry/Whiskey Myers; Rock of the Seventies: Foghat/Atlanta Rhythm Section/Firefall/Pat Travers Band; Hank Williams, Jr./ Frank Foster; Southern Uprising Tour: A Southern Rock Revival – Travis Tritt/The Charlie Daniels Band/The Marshall Tucker Band/The Outlaws; Aaron Watson/Tim Montana and Cole Swindell/RaeLynn. Although no sellouts were recorded, “Hank Williams, Jr. was a near sell-out in our Grandstand, followed by Cole Swindell,” said Wolfe.

The Missouri State Fair remains committed to ticketed grandstand acts, and talent buying may have become less of a seller's market compared to 2017 . “[2018]  was a buyer's year, Wolfe admitted.

The fair featured 380 vendor/concessionaires. Wolfe pointed out that one of the more popular vendors was not of a purveyor of fair cuisine but hair products. “ A new vendor that proved popular and drew a crowd was Mountain Man Beard Products,”  he said. “They manufacture, package, and distribute their 100 percent all natural and organic beard care and protection products. [It was] a fun and inviting space for fairgoers to sit for a spell and swap stories while getting pampered.”

Wolfe added that a single food item was not the most popular in 2018 but the “the menu at the Missouri Grown Bistro drew a lot of media attention,” he said. “For the first time in Missouri State Fair history, students and instructors from L'Ecole Culinaire (a culinary school)  in Kansas City ran the show at the Missouri Grown Bistro. They operated out of the Dr. Taylor Wood Youth Center.  All of the meat, protein, and dairy products and most of the produce were sourced from Missouri growers and producers. Regional producers were highlighted by signage that hung on the bistro walls. Not only did this help promote their businesses but also allowed guests to read about where their food comes from.”

The new Show-Me-State-Centric menu received much local attention. Feast Magazine quoted  Christi Miller, program manager for Missouri Grown  as saying. “One of the initial reasons we came to L'Ecole is to connect those students and the directors of the culinary school with local farmers. That way, when those chefs get into the working world, they know these Missouri producers to use their items on their menu – they can get rice from the boot-heel even if they're in Kansas City. It's worked out really well; we've had a great response from fairgoers as well.”

Come Home

According to Wolfe, the fair's advertising budget  was approximately $500,000, which includes both paid and trade advertising.  “That number is the same as 2017,” he said. 

The media mix for 2018 was: Print Advertising 19 percent; Radio Advertising 37.5percent; Online/Digital Advertising 6percent; Television Advertising 12percent; Billboard/Outdoor Advertising 5 percent; Web 2percent. The marketing theme for 2018 underscored the traditions and nostalgia fairs that distinguish fairs in the popular culture landscape – Come Home.

The fair also pumped up the volume of its social media presence, which included more adverting, fairgoer engagement and new platforms. “We developed some online contesting and challenges to encourage interaction on social media this year,” he said. “We also utilized social media to boost certain posts and for advertising. A Snap Chat filter was developed this year.”

In keeping with current social media trends of more user engagement and an increased level of interactivity, Wolfe reorganized and redirected what is now a social media team controlling the social media presence of the fair. “ Our social media team was redesigned to meet the demands of people using social media as a means to ask questions, and expect immediate answers,” said Wolfe. “More effort was put in to be reactive on social media in as close to real-time as possible. During the Fair we maintained about a 4-minute response time overall.”
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