Revenues were up at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, so GM David Bednar said he hopes attendance will best last year’s 1.2 million.

However, Bednar does not have a final count yet for the Aug. 19-Sept. 5 event, which he said went well.

“It was wonderful, almost beyond wonderful,” Bednar said. “It just had a real good feel to it. Obviously fair managers say these things about their fairs but — this one of the 14 I’ve had — this one felt the best.”

One aspect that could throw a wrench into the figures was that Ontario Place, which for 39 years has had a common gate with the CNE, gave free grounds admission for its 40th anniversary.

“Our previous agreement was that we would fence it in such a way that entry into Ontario Place was entry to the CNE and people had access to both areas,” Bednar said.

Ontario Place is a 93-acre waterfront park that features, among other attractions, a water park, rides and an IMAX theater. Bednar asked park officials to keep the agreement with the CNE in place for the fair, but they declined.

“It meant we had to set up separate entry points,” he said. “It continued to be free grounds admission during the 18 days of the fair.”

The weather cooperated for the most part and the fair had good early attendance, Bednar said, “which is something we hoped for for years. Unlike last year, we didn’t lose the last weekend.”
Last year’s attendance was down 100,000 from 2009 largely due to rain, including the cancellation of the CNE’s air show on the last Saturday of the fair.

This year’s Labor Day weekend saw some rain in Toronto, but not enough to dampen attendance, which spiked on the actual holiday.

“We have this one entrance that is basically a huge part of public transit, the GO Train,” Bednar said. “We close our gates early on Labor Day, but at 4 p.m. that day the platform was packed.”

“The buildings were only open another three hours and the midway another five hours and they are continuing to stream in,” said Bednar.

Free entertainment in the CNE’s bandshell, which can accommodate up to 10,000 people, “found an interesting niche” with artists that included Neil Sedaka, Tommy James and the Shondells, and Glen Campbell, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and currently conducting a farewell tour. “It may be his last live performance in Canada,” Bednar said.

Other performers included the Canadian singer who goes by the name Lights, Canadian rapper k-os, and punk-pop band Marianas Trench.

Campbell came closest to filling up the bandshell capacity, Bednar said, followed closely by Marianas Trench.

The concerts were free with admission, which cost $16 for adults and $12 for senior citizens and children. The Canadian-American exchange rate is about even.

However, special priced days meant that fairgoers got to see Campbell for $5 if they arrived after 5 p.m., which was admission offered Monday through Thursdays.

North American Midway Entertainment placed 62 rides on the midway and was up 12 percent, said Tony Diaz, GM of the international unit of NAME.

“We set a ride record gross at the event for the seventh year,” Diaz said.

The most popular was the Giant Wheel, which also had a new look because of light-emitting diode (LED) lights added both to it and the Century Wheel in the Kids World portion of the park.

“We got a lot of great comments on the Giant Wheel and the Century Wheel,” Diaz said.

The fair did a ride-all-day pass (RAD) that cost $36 and included admission if bought in advance, Bednar said.

“It’s a 31-32 percent savings over purchasing it separately,” Bednar said. “That’s an advance that has grown steadily over the years as awareness has grown.”

The overall fair budget was $24 million and the entertainment and activities budget was $4.25 million. That budget also included the twice-daily Aerial Acrobatics & Ice Skating Show featuring Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette in the Ricoh Coliseum, which drew an average daily attendance between 10,000-12,000, Bednar said.

About $2.7 million was spent on marketing, which included traditional outlets except for TV.

“And we’ve diversified,” Bednar said. “We did 21 different radio spots, because we’re trying to convey information through those. And we did quite a bit of newspaper and outdoor was big for us. We do outdoor shelters and buses and billboards. For us, outdoor replaced television.”

TV ads were scrapped a few years ago because the fair was spending $50,000-$60,000 in production for a $250,000 return. “In today’s world, the exposure wasn’t worth it,” he said.

Social media included not only Facebook but also Bednar tweeting throughout the event on a variety of topics, including the Krispy Kreme Burger that was offered by one concessionaire.

“What we’ve found to be really effective is quick little contests that are trivia-related – “be the 20th person to answer this question to get two ride passes,’” Bednar said. “We get lots of hits off that.”

Interviewed for this article: David Bednar, (416) 263-3400; Tony Diaz, (601) 842-8496.