WRAL.com at the State Fair

Breaking Down the Numbers and Looking at Next Year

Posted October 27, 2008 11:25 p.m. EDT

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!