California State Fair, Sacramento, wraps a successful 2015 run with a nearly 5-percent increase in attendance.
Comfortable weather, drone racing, great live music and top-notch activities made this year’s California State Fair in Sacramento a big hit.
“We had a spectacular year this year,” said Rick Pickering, CEO of the California Exposition & State Fair.
Numbers across the board were up, with overall attendance growing to 787,833 this year compared to 750,455 in 2014. Daily attendance averaged 45,992 — the highest the California State Fair has seen since 2007. Additionally, paid attendance was the highest it’s been in 10 years.
New events and extended horse racing helped boost business, fair vendors and administrators said.
“There were a lot of things that the fair did to keep it going strong,” said food vendor Amber Vandewarker, who owns The Bacon Habit with her husband, Nathan. “There were a few good concerts this year, a big rugby tournament, national drone racing and horse racing.”
Those events combined with favorable weather in the mid 80s to low 90s kept fair participants engaged in the various activities.
“There were a lot of things that the fair did to keep it fun,” Vandewarker said.
It’s the third year that she’s served up her bacon treats to fair patrons, and this year she sold roughly 2,500 pounds of bacon treats, including corn on the cob wrapped bacon. Although the corn was produced by local farmers, the bacon was not, as it’s difficult to get that much pork locally, Vandewarker highlighted.
Fair participants helped feed the $9.5 million in food and beverage sales at the 17-day event, which was a 14-percent increase from the $8.3 million the fair logged in 2014.
It was “a substantial contribution to the Sacramento economy and further proof that this region loves its food,” stated a press release from fair officials. “The majority of food vendors saw increases in sales. … The single highest grossing food stand was Terry’s Barbecue, which had sales of $413,177. In total, nearly $1 million was spent at the barbecue stands at the fair.”
Additionally, craft brew sales were up a stunning 87 percent, Pickering said.
“That was a pretty spectacular number. The excitement of craft beer continues to grow,” he said.
To add to the excitement, the fair hosted its first national drone race, where drone racers from across the U.S. gathered for aviation fun. Fair officials had to get clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration for the racing, Pickering said.
“We hosted the U.S. Drone Racing Championship. The drone manufacturers have done wonderful things with drones and technology. Drones have done a number of things for the agricultural and farming business,” he said.
Horse racing also commenced at the nearly 700 acres of land that encompass the California State Fair.
“It was the first time we had three weeks of thoroughbred horse racing,” Pickering said, noting that in years past there’s been only two weeks of racing.
Horse racing attendance also was up with more than $2.2 million in bets placed at Cal Expo, with the per person wager up 14.4 percent, from roughly $65 this year compared to around $57 last year.
“Horse racing on the final weekend of the fair attracted nearly 14,000 fans. The final day of the fair saw 6,324 race fans — a record number of attendees at the track,” stated the press release.
It also was the first year for the extra virgin olive oil competition, with around 140 entries. And, what’s a state fair without a large carnival?
Butler Amusements hosted the carnival, tallying a 13.5-percent increase in sales in 2015 compared to last year. In total, the carnival logged $4,651,109.
The fairgrounds operate year-round, and the 2016 California State Fair planning began well before the 2015 fair, Pickering said.
He and his team are constantly working on conserving water and how water is used throughout the fair in light of California’s drought.
Security continues to be a large focus for fair officials. Each year, they work to make the fair bigger, better and safer than the last, Pickering said.
Interviewed for this story: Rick Pickering, (916) 568-9619; Amber Vandewarker, (760) 215-3582.