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Love is in the Fair: New Mexico Fair Innovates while Expanding Inclusivity
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Cooperative weather, new programs aligned with a changing community, a better economic climate and a new contract for its grandstand entertainment all contributed to making the 2018 New Mexico State Fair a success. Attendance increased by 9 percent over 2017, reaching 504,445 and setting a record for the second Saturday with 65,499 attendees. 

The accomplishment of this year's fair certain reinforced Gary Mourning, General Manager, New Mexico State Fair's enthusiasm for the role fairs play in the entertainment landscape. “This is the greatest industry, when you wake up every morning and make people happy,” he said. “People of all ages are looking for those family friendly entertainments so they come to the state fair to find them.”

Fair & Fairgoer

If there's one key ingredient for the fair, it's the relationship between the event and the fairgoer. “We have made the state fair part of the community, there's a sense of ownership by the community. We have on magnificent display all the cultures of New Mexico; we celebrate them and are proud of them.”

Inclusiveness has been a top priority for Mourning. This year, the fair featured “Sensory Stations", designed for autistic children and essentially provides a quiet and cool “safe space” for special-need families, allowing them to de-escalate with low-key and helpful sensory input activities. The fair also instituted Out at the Fair – a day-long celebration of the area's LGBT community, complete with a mile-long gay pride march, free rainbow flags as well as  free music and performances, “Our inclusiveness is resounding,” said Mourning. “We had a Pride Festival day, but now we made it official and so we are dedicating an entire day at the fair. This was a chance to educate our community and to make the LGBT community really feel part of the fair. This was a great way to celebrate our inclusiveness in New Mexico.”

In addition to inclusivity initiatives, the fair advances towards making transportation to the fair easier and millennial-friendly. These initiatives include a dedicated park & ride that has been in place for nearly a decade to a new Bicycle Valet services and a partnership with Uber. “There's has been a shift, especially among millennials, to use alternative transportation methods. We have better communications overall, so our transportation alternatives worked out very well.”

Better Economy

Two other factors was near-perfect weather conditions and an improving economy.  The weather was “fantastic,” said Mourning. “We only had two small rain incidents on the first Thursday and Friday. Otherwise, we had sunny, warm weather all fair long.”

Regarding the economy, spending and per-caps were up across the board, especially in the midway and food & beverage. “The economy was better this year, there's more money to spend,” he said. “There are more people working. One indicator was that it was harder to get seasonal workers for this year, although we were able to get good quality workers. There was more spending during the fair.”  

He added, “We are not out of the recession totally, people are more penny conscious.” In response, the fair offer a variety of discount—oriented promotions One new for this year were “Graze Days” which were on Thursdays from 11-4 and all the food vendors offered inexpensive food items for $3, appealing to the lunch crowd and boosting an otherwise soft day. “It was wildly successful,” said Mourning. “It brought people in during slower hours, it was an incredible value. Plus it brings people back to the fair. Returning guests are very important, so instead of one and done they return to the fair.  We had multiple discount days, which made entrance to the fair very affordable.”

Words of Love

The fair's marketing theme for 2918 was “Love is in the Fair,” which appealed to current trends of love and acceptance that the annual celebration of everything New Mexico. “If you look at the world today, our country could use a good dose of love, and that is the state fair,” he said. “We believe we hit people in their emotional centers”

According to Mourning, the tagline was invented in-house after a brain-storming session, and was incorporated into a “unique design with our logo, which we use don merchandise, and it was a big hit.” 

The fair spent approximately $350,000 on advertising, equivalent to last year's expenditure. The media breakdown was TV- 42 percent; Radio – 27 percent; Outdoor – 18 percent; Digital – 9 percent; Print – 4 percent. “Social media increased the most,” he said. “We moved some money, did less with our static billboards and more with digital. We also did more spending during the fair.”

He added that the two most popular social media posts “related to the fair were our “Now Open” post, which received 39,000 engagements on our social presence, and our “Dollar Day is tomorrow” post, which received 38,000 engagements,” he said. “We hosted various giveaways related to general fair admission, as well as concert tickets, both of which were very well received by the public.”

Reithoffer Shows 

Reithoffer Shows provided the New Mexico State Fair midway with more than 50 rides. Midway revenue was up in the 10-20 percent range, estimates Mourning. “Reithoffer is a superior carnival company and had an outstanding midway,” he said. 

In addition to four new Kiddie Rides, Mourning pointed out that the new additions of the 7-story Euro Slide and the Sky Ride were top grossing rides at this year's fair, as well as the Tango and the Stinger. We were the first fair in the country to feature the Euro Slide, a 60 foot tall, 8-lane wide carpet slide,” he said. “Aside from that, Reithoffer shows invested $ 1.3 million dollars into our fairground by funding the construction of a sky lift system called the Sky Ride, which runs north and south down our Main Street. This system is a permanent fixture at our grounds, and will run during events, all year long.” 

He added that Reithoffer also modified the layout of the midway, with new, improved trenches and added more pedestrian entry and exit points to the midway. 

The fair presented six concerts in its Tingley Coliseum – DNCE, Dustin Lynch, Dan + Shay, Hotel California, Maddie and Tae with High Valley, and Collective Soul.  Dustin Lynch sold out and the Dan + Shay concert featured a guest appearance by the a member of Rascal Flats making for a very special set. “It was really cool, everyone was blown away,” said Mourning.

 Nonetheless, a seller's market persisted when it came to booking shows. The market now includes five major casinos and a major concert venue, so the competition is fierce. “We are not able to come close to the prices a lot of acts are asking,” said Mourning. “We probably won't do as many concerts going forward. The tribute bands are good value, but the industry is changing, with streaming services like Pandora, acts are not selling CD's anymore, everything is digital and they are making more money on concerts so they are charging more.” 

                The fair did experiment with a new concert configuration. On opening day, Live Nation presented the Reggae-music of 2018 – Rebelution's Summer Rein Tour 2018 – which included Stephen Marley, Common Kings, Zion I, and DJ Mackie. Mourning described it as a rental situation – admission to the fair was free with ticket – and brought in 4,000 additional attendees to the fair. “It was the first time we partnered with Live Nation, and it was a good partnership. We're dipping our toe in the pool, but I am ready to definitely exploring using an outside promoter for more shows next year.”  

The fair also featured 93 food vendors, with the newest, most unusual vendor being the Wonder Stick, an ice cream vendor with new flavored cones. However, the Deep Fried Bacon Green Chile Mozzarella Stick won the fair's 2018 Unique Foods Contest. “In New Mexico, we're known for our chilies,” he said. 

New Mexico is also now known for an innovative, inclusive State Fair.
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