WRAL.com at the State Fair

Breaking Down the Numbers and Looking at Next Year

Posted October 27, 2008

At the start of the Fair I took a guess at attendance, figuring that Steve Troxler would not get his million (sorry Steve) but that the Fair attendance would be over 800,000. I was way off on that one. Total attendance was 765,067. That's well over the historical average, but falls short of the 5-year and 10-year historical averages for Fair attendance. It was the lowest attendance, in fact, for the Fair since 2002. (You can see all the attendance numbers since 1986 at http://www.ncstatefair.org/2008/general/attend.htm .)

I'm sure that's disappointing for the Fair folks, especially since this year launched the new opening day of Thursday. But there's good news too -- two new daily attendance records set (I don't count the first Thursday as a "record-breaking" day) and solid attendance throughout the week.

Looking at the attendance for the last several years it seems like expectations might have been a little high for 2008 -- there's been at least one record-setting day for five of the last six years, with all three years of 800,000+ attendance happening since 2000. There were good things that happened this year, they just weren't reflected in the attendance numbers.

Like what? The green initiative, for example -- a big push for recycling and energy conservation. The Dorton Triangle. Some new competitions. What seemed to me like more and better use of the Waterfall Stage. (One year it's not going to be too hot, or too cold, or raining, and we'll all be able to enjoy that stage area more.)

Thinking about it, it seems to me that there are three large spaces that remain underutilized throughout the Fair. First is Dorton Arena, which has a nightly concert. Can it be used more during the day? (I know there's Senior Day on Tuesday.)

Second is the Sam Rand Grandstand. Those orange seats are empty most of the time except for people eating lunch. But with the way the big midway is situated, and the fact that what's left of the track is still unpaved, there may not be a lot that can be done with this space.

The final area is the large clearing across the pond from Heritage Circle. There are exhibits up there, but also lot of open space. It's hard to promote that area ("Go down the hill to the Village of Yesteryear, go to Heritage Circle, walk to the back until you find the little bridge over the pond...") and there are access issues. But with the push for green changes and awareness, maybe that nice shady glen up a hill will get a little more love.

Are we going to see an opening Thursday next year as well? You bet: next year's Fair is set for October 15-25, 2009. I'm sure we'll be learning more about next year's opening day strategy -- but not for a while!


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  • Dreamin of Disney World Oct 30, 2008

    I took my son and his best buddy the last Sunday. It was elbow to elbow, but so much fun. We had free passes, and a friend sold me 2 books of tickets for half price. We had to try the fried mac-n-cheese..awesome. Of course we spent a bit on food, and my favorite Amish fudge..but it is once a year, and we had such a wonderful time.

  • BELLA28 Oct 30, 2008

    I have three kids and had not been to the fair in 4 years. For the most part, I had to give too many directions, "slow down, speed up, hold your sister's hand, wait here" LOL! Parents, you know the drill.

    But this year, after deciding on going, I visited the fair's website to purchase ticket books at the discounted price. Little did I know that on the first day, you could purchase an "armband" for $25 for unlimited rides. This was perfect since you have to purchase a million tickets to have the kids ride everything they want. So, it cost $25 x 3 for rides, plus $17 dollars to get in. The kids each had a $10 budget on whatever they wanted. They were most interested in food and each one was able to purchsae two food items they wanted.

    It may seem steep, but a great deal compared to what I was used to spending.

    The trick is to STICK TO A BUDGET!!!

    No fair for me next year though, I'll just take the kids to Adventure Landing!

  • bluebird1075 Oct 28, 2008

    I went Sat. afternoon and had a good time. We played a few games and ate. We didn't ride any of the rides but, watched others having a great time. It seemed like there was alot more food choices this year and less rides. I never ride the rides so maybe I just don't notice that so much but, I do love the food!!! Roasted corn and the best polish sausage dog ever!!! I thought the fair was great!!

  • needmocash Oct 28, 2008

    Animal Lover - It sounds like we agree. You said "The economy and high prices for rides, food, attractions greatly affected fair attendance, especially those who had to come a long ways to get here & families who are already hurting" - Which is a different way of saying what I had said.
    BTW, I wasn't "upset" because I didn't win my GF a Teddy Bear. I probably could have but I didn't want to spend $500 trying to win a $6 bear while I was eating a $5 apple.

  • CestLaVie Oct 28, 2008

    I disagree, needmocash. The economy and high prices for rides, food, attractions greatly affected fair attendance, especially those who had to come a long ways to get here & families who are already hurting. The entry fee was small compared to what you might spend once you were inside the gates. You proved that by your discussion about TRYING to win something special for your GF & then she being disappointed.

  • needmocash Oct 28, 2008

    The low attendance at this years state fair had very little to do with the economy but more to do with the high (very) prices at the fair. My GF and I went the first Saturday. The crowd was strong and so were the prices. After $8 each to get in, one vendor was selling two candy apples and two cotton candies for $10! I tried to win my GF a stuffed animal and the game was $3 per ball!. But I wanted to win my GF one of those big teddy beards. After I played about 3 times, I won. My GF closed her eyes thinking she was going to get the big bear, but the vendor reached under the counter and gave her a little green frog. She felt ripped. After the fair, I told everyone I could the fair was a rip. It wasn't the economy that killed the fair, it was word of mouth.