The 9/11 Never Forget traveling exhibit was set up at the Florida State Fair Feb. 11-16.

The Feb. 5-16 Florida State Fair, Tampa, the state’s first opportunity each year to showcase its agricultural prowess, was themed “A Timeless Tradition” and proved to be a success in both attendance numbers and gross revenue. 

According to Jennifer O’Brien, marketing and communications manager at the Florida State Fair Authority, the preliminary, unaudited figures show total attendance to be 388,830, up about 6,500 from 2014. The first Wednesday and second Thursday of the fair broke 17-year attendance records and saw considerable gains in revenue.

Part of the increase in total attendance can be attributed to the fair’s two key exhibits, as well as an upgraded midway complete with new rides. The bigger midway was modified to ease congestion and offered more seating, including additional covered seating. The fair also initiated the Fun Card program, which replaced paper ride tickets. The reloadable cards, which could be purchased at kiosks throughout the fairgrounds, could be used throughout the duration of the fair.

The fair’s popular exhibit, “The Wall that Heals,” was a half-scale Vietnam War Memorial, which ran Feb. 5-10, and the “9/11 Never Forget” Traveling Exhibit, which ran Feb. 11-16, was a 1,100-square-foot exhibit providing interactive education, artifacts, news and video recordings.

“As a compliment to our other diverse range of educational and entertaining exhibits, this meaningful programming targeted and brought in numerous patrons that might not have otherwise attended the fair,” O’Brien said.

Other new, main exhibits included the Balloon Carousel, the Backyard Dream Exhibit, the Firemen's High Dive and the newly refurbished Florida Center with competitive and sustainable exhibits. Also, the new Arts & Crafts Center featured handmade works from artisans all over the country.

Additionally, in 2015 the fair offered armbands each day, including the SuperSaver Weekday Armband, in conjunction with the Discover the Fun on Weekdays promotion—both of which were well received.

In addition to these exhibits and an upgraded midway with new rides, the Florida State Fair put new security measures in place, particularly for the fair’s Student Day. This was in response to the incident last year whereby a 14-year-old student died trying to cross Interstate 4, after leaving the fair. In addition to required adult chaperones, the fair installed more lights, raised platforms to monitor crowds, and a law enforcement command center where officers monitored more than 200 surveillance cameras.

The increase in attendance resulted in approximate gross ticket sales of $3,200,000 for 2015. This year the Florida State Fair partnered with Wade Shows Inc. as the midway provider in a hybrid agreement. Preliminary, unaudited figures show midway revenue as $4,399,446. Rather than taking a percentage of the gross sales from independent concessionaires, the fair charged a flat fee.

This year’s new fair sponsors, including Wade Shows, White Castle, GEICO, Progressive Waste Solutions, Gwaltney, Bluegreen Vacations, and Fresh From Florida, added to the fair’s bottom line, with fairtime sponsorships of approximately $869,134 in cash and approximately $90,000 in trade.

The fair's headline concerts are traditionally free with the price of admission.  The only concert that was not free was The Country Gold Tour, with gross sales of $29,600. What’s more, 2015 talent fees were approximately $637,000.  This not only included the headline concerts, but also all other performing talent at the fair.

“Our most popular headline acts included the Charlie Daniels Band and Beatlemania Live,” said Fred Brown, director of operations at the Florida State Fair. “The Country Gold Tour remained very popular with the weekday crowd.”

O’Brien said the 2015 fair received very positive feedback from fair visitors, and the new midway, grounds improvements and exhibits were well received. “Other good news is that gate revenues increased about 6 percent, and midway revenue increased almost 15 percent,” O’Brien said. “Of course, predicting how the weather will play out during the 12 days of the fair is always the biggest challenge.  Fortunately, the fair has many indoor exhibits, vendors and concessions for patrons to enjoy in inclement weather.”

Each year, the staff at the Florida State Fair Authority participates in an in-depth evaluation process to assess and improve the event. Fair staff are currently in that process and are eager to begin planning next year’s Fair, which will be taking place Feb. 4-15, 2016.

Interviewed for this story: Jennifer O’Brien, (813) 627-4318; Fred Brown, (813) 621-7821