Interacting with the animals at Colorado State Fair.

Attendance rose slightly at the Colorado State Fair, Pueblo, but essentially remained on par at 476,966 compared to last year’s 474,914.

However, the concert program did much better in 2013, said GM Chris Wiseman.

Great weather helped, with a downpour on the carnival preview night before the fair opened and then only one subsequent evening of sprinkling rain. “Other than that it was a great run,” Wiseman said.

Devastating floods hit Colorado a week after the conclusion of the Aug. 23-Sept. 2 fair, but the hard-hit area was north of Pueblo in Boulder and the fair was not affected. However, the fairgrounds did take in some animals in June when fires hit closer to home.

“Our facilities have been used a lot for fires in the past,” Wiseman said. “People come to the fairgrounds, too, but that was the need for this fire. We did provide areas for people to hold animals.”

Crabtree Shows provided 45 rides on the midway, Wiseman said, and in spite of the slight attendance increase, the carnival was down 1-2 percent, “not a huge number.”

The downpour on the carnival preview night before the fair opened was the culprit, Wiseman said.

“Last year on opening night we did $46,000 worth of revenue,” Wiseman said. “This year, we only did $22,000. That Thursday night was just the carnival sneak-a-peak. The fair doesn’t open until Friday. But because of that rain, we got less than half the revenue. It really affected us quite a bit.”

Pay-one-price wristbands cost $30 but there were discount days that fairgoers could get them for $15, Wiseman said. “We also had a dollar day where people could ride the rides individually for a dollar each. We had a lot of discount days.”

The fair held four concerts in conjunction with the rodeo in the Budweiser Arena Grandstand, which has seating for 5,800 but can hold another 7,000 on the infield.

Randy House, Dwight Yoakum and Creedence Clearwater Revisited sold out all the seats but “We still had standing room we could have sold,” Wiseman said. “No one hit the 12,000 mark.”

Country music band Gloriana also played in conjunction with the rodeo.

Tickets for those concerts cost $25.

Last year only two concerts were held in conjunction with the rodeo, Wiseman added. One was moved out of the 7,200-seat Southwest Motor Events Center and another was performed in conjunction with the Mexican rodeo.

“It helped us quite a bit in terms of the profitability,” Wiseman said.

The fair presented additional concerts at the Southwest Motors Events Center. Those concerts included the Oak Ridge Boys with a capacity of 2,951; Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch, 5,216; Seether, 3,517; and Lynyrd Skynyrd, 6,253, which was considered close to a sellout.

“When you get to the last 1,000 seats, you’re getting to obstructed views and the side of the stage,” Wiseman said. “We’re happy with the shows. They did better than the year before.”

Tickets for those concerts ranged from $25 up to $37.

The entertainment budget was $450,000 and the acts were booked by Romeo Entertainment in Omaha, Neb.

The fair changed ticketing systems, going from Ticketmaster to Denver-based Tickethorse, which does the ticketing at the Pepsi Center.”

The Pepsi Center is the home of National Hockey League team the Colorado Avalanche and the NBA team the Denver Nuggets. Tickethorse also does ticketing for the Major League Soccer team the Colorado Rapids.

“They did a great job for us,” Wiseman said. “They were able to take our ticketing system to the gate. If you came to the 2012 fair, you’d come to the gate and pay gate admission, and then you would go to that venue to buy a ticket. The way it helped us was that all tickets this year were available at the gate.”

This year, concert-goers could buy tickets for a show at the gate but they did not have to pay gate admission.

“Whatever you paid for the ticket in June, it was the same price that you paid the day of the show,” Wiseman said. “There was no upcharge the day of the show.”

That also means that in spite of the slight attendance increase, gate revenues will be down.

“Overall gate admission was down but concert revenue was up,” Wiseman said. “The money was transferred from one place to another.”

Gate admission cost $10 on weekends for adults and $7 for children, and $7 for everyone on weekdays.

“We had a lot of value days,” Wiseman said. “On both Mondays, you could buy-one-get-one free, and on Dollar Day, it was a dollar to get into the rodeo.”

The fair also went to a cashless midway, provided by Cashless LLC, that allowed fairgoers to go to a kiosk and load a card with credit, which was required to pay for food, games and the carnival. 

“To be perfectly honest, we loved it,” Wiseman said. “It was a learning curve with the public. We’ll more than likely use the same system next year but we’ll try to do things that will be more customer-friendly. It was a generational thing. The younger you were the more you embraced it and the older you were, the less you liked it.”

Part of the learning curve is to come up with an automatic refunding system that will pay fairgoers for their unused cards as they leave the fair. 

“Right now, we’re in the process of writing refund checks,” Wiseman added.

The other goal will be to allow a fairgoer to combine two cards if they do not have enough credit on one card to pay for an item. That is not the case now.

The overall fair budget was $4.8 million and $450,000 of that went into marketing. The fair buys traditional ads including in the local newspaper but also has allowed a marketing company to organize its Facebook page for three years, doing concerts and outreach to both older and younger fairgoers.

“Facebook is an open forum and when we get complaints, they help us respond quickly,” Wiseman said. “They help us to quickly monitor Facebook for comments that we think we need to respond to. They help you not to overreact or underreact to issues. That stuff is more immediate than the newspaper and you really need to monitor it. They really help us stay on top of things.”

Next year’s dates will be Aug. 22-Sept. 1. 

Interviewed for this article: Chris Wiseman, (719) 561-8484