Big Tex at dusk watches over State Fair of Texas, Dallas, the biggest state fair in the U.S.

A little bit of rain prompted an 8.4 percent decrease in attendance at the State Fair of Texas, Dallas, which saw an estimated attendance of 2.2 million compared to last year’s 2,402,199. But fair officials are pleased with the second-best gross revenues for food, beverages and rides in 131 years at $54.5 million, down from last year’s $56 million, said Karissa Condoianis, vice president of public relations.

“We did experience some rain this year which may have had some impact,” Condoianis added. “We don’t have any study that tells us why, but we are more than happy with 2.2 million.”

The fair also broke the single-day gross coupon sales record on Saturday, Oct. 14, the day of the Red River Showdown rivalry football game that matches the University of Texas Longhorns against the University of Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl. Food, beverage and ride revenues for that day were $5.1 million, compared to the previous single-day record of $4.8 million, which was set during last year’s Red River Showdown day.

In its second year of partnering with Etix, the Sept. 29-Oct. 22 State Fair of Texas continued to offer more convenient ticket buying to fairgoers, allowing them not only to purchase them online but also allowing them to show the ticket on their smartphones to enter the event, instead of waiting for tickets to arrive via mail.

“It’s been moreso for the customer experience and to be more with the times,” Condoianis said.
It also allows fair officials to release fair attendance, which they had declined to do in the past. Food, beverages and rides are still purchased with coupons, which are tallied to measure fair revenues.

On the independent midway, the Texas Star Ferris wheel, owned by Tom and Mary Talley, continued to be the most popular ride, said senior vice president of operations Rusty Fitzgerald.

The rest of the top 10 rides and their owners included the Texas Skyway, State Fair of Texas and operated by Mike Demas; the Crazy Mouse roller coaster, Steve Vandervorste; the Top O’ Texas Tower, State Fair of Texas and operated by Demas; the Love Bug, State Fair of Texas and operated by Maury Haworth; Pirate, State Fair of Texas and operated by Haworth; the Fast Trax Super Slide, Tom and Mary Talley; Wind Storm, Vandervorste; the Scooter, Patrick Sheridan; and New York New York, Bobby Myers.

As usual, the well-known Big Tex Choice Awards garnered national media attention for the fair, including from several Food Network shows as well as a Netflix reality series. The Gulf Coast Fish Bowl by Clint Probst of Crazy Otto Concessions won Best Taste Sweet, while Tom Grace of TS Foodsystems won the other two awards, for Best Taste Savory and Most Creative for the Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger.

“It’s everything it sounds like,” said Condoianis, while noting that the Gulf Coast Fish Bowl was a tropical blue alcoholic beverage that utilized Nerds candy as gravel in the bottom and Swedish Fish floating around inside.

The Big Tex Choice Awards took place a month before the event on Aug. 27 as a fundraiser for the college scholarships that the fair offers. Tickets cost $100 each to watch the competition and taste samples of the entries.

Other popular foods among fairgoers included Deep-Fried Froot Loops, the Surf and Turf and Tater Boat featuring a baked potato filled with steak and lobster with a lobster claw sticking out on top, and Oreo Beer, a milk-stout beer with oreos inside and on the rim. “It was one of those things that people either loved it or weren’t a fan,’ Condoianis said. “If you liked that kind of beer, it was popular.”

Fairgoers could catch free concerts daily at the open-air Chevrolet Main Stage, which featured headliners on weekends and regional acts opening up for them and playing on weekdays. The popular shows included Flo Rida, For King & Country, La Mafia and the Charlie Daniels Band.

“Whether it’s on the Chevrolet Main Stage or smaller stages throughout the grounds, we have live music that fairgoers can tune into to enhance their visit,” Condoianis said.

Gate admission held steady at $18 for adults, although Condoianis noted that fairgoers could take advantage of a variety of discounts, including a free Military Day for soldiers and their immediate families. Fair officials do not release any budget information, but Jennifer Schuder, senior vice president of marketing, said her budget was comparable to last year’s, with a breakdown of direct mail, 30 percent; outdoor, 10 percent; print, 20 percent; TV, 20 percent and radio, 20 percent.

Highlights of the marketing strategy included a focus on increasing season-pass sales and increasing the number of times a season-pass holder attended the fair, with online sales of season passes increasing 22 percent over 2016, and the optimization of the email marketing program and increasing the email database.

“The fair was able to increase its email database by 72 percent—more than 120,000 email addresses—and drive incremental revenue through the program,” Schuder said.

One of the fair’s initiatives was Big Tex Urban Farm, in which organic produce was grown in more than 500 mobile boxes and later donated to the community to such organizations as a farmers market and soup kitchens that feed the homeless.

“We also have a hydroponic grow tank, which was an attraction during the fair,” Condoianis said. “People came and learned about hydroponics, and the farm donated 220 pounds of fresh produce, 108 lettuce heads and 72 live basil plants from the new hydroponic exhibit we had on display.”

Next year’s dates are Sept. 28-Oct. 21.