Crowds gather on the Murphy Bros. carnival midway at the 2015 Tulsa State Fair.

Plans were underway for next year’s fair on day three of the 2015 Tulsa State Fair and the biggest change will be a new midway operator. North American Midway Entertainment (NAME) will replace Murphy Bros. as the carnival provider next year. Contract negotiations were still being confirmed at press time.

“We have 25 to 30 separate meetings on every aspect of the fair that can be broken down, including parking, ticket takers and rest rooms, completed by Thanksgiving,” said Mark Andrus, president/CEO of Expo Square/Tulsa State Fair. “We started planning for next year on day three of this year’s fair.”

Perfect weather resulted in an attendance increase at this year’s Tulsa State Fair. An estimated 1.2 million people attended the event, held Oct. 1-11, compared with 1.1 million in 2014.

“This fair is always in the top 20 in terms of size,” said Andrus. “We’re a well-supported bigger state that has two annual state fairs.” The Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City, just over 100 miles away, ran from Sept. 17-27.

The Tulsa State Fair, which includes more than 800 scheduled events, has been held on the same 240 acres in the middle of mid-town Tulsa, four miles from downtown, since 1923. The property, Expo Square, is also home to 300-plus other events during the year.

This year’s theme for Tulsa’s fair—Goat-Tastic—is in homage to the fair’s mascot, Dizzy the Goat, and was combined with last year’s tagline, 11 Days of Awesome.

Along with attendance growth, there were notable increases in midway ride sales at 9 percent, SkyRide sales at 41 percent and a 6 percent increase in ExpoSERVE Concession sales over 2014. Paid gates were up 1 percent and parking sales rose 5 percent this year.

Food sales were also up at the Tulsa State Fair.

A number of promotions helped drive this year’s increases.

“Over the years, one of our most popular promotions continues to be Ford Family Fun Night,” said Sarah Thompson, marketing and development supervisor for Expo Square/Tulsa State Fair. “This promotion includes support from the presenting sponsor, Ford, as well as the carnival operator, Murphy Bros. Entertainment.” 

On opening night, gate admission is $1 with a coupon from a local Ford Dealership, and the midway rides are $2 each. 

“This allows our community to experience the fair at a low cost, as well as provide valuable traffic to our sponsor locations,” said Thompson. 

There also were a variety of additional promotional days at this year’s fair, including Family Fest, where gate admission was $5 per person, children under five were free and seniors 62 and up were free until 2 p.m.; and Coca-Cola T-Shirt Day, where the first 4,000 guests paying gate admission received a free 2015 Tulsa State Fair T-shirt compliments of Coca-Cola, the official soft drink of the fair.

This year, the Tulsa State Fair had over 31,000 entries into the livestock shows and competitive exhibits, with competitors from all 77 Oklahoma counties.
For the second year in a row, the Junior Livestock Auction raised more than $600,000 in scholarship funding for Oklahoma 4-H and FFA youth, selling 167 animals.

The Tulsa State Fair also hosted Disney on Ice presents Frozen, which garnered a 54 percent increase in ticket sales compared with past Disney on Ice shows. The show ran over the weekend from Oct. 1-4, with ticket prices ranging from $20 to $45.

“Disney on Ice had sellouts every night, with a total of 10 performances and approximately 5,000 attendees at each show,” said Andrus.

The fair’s main Oklahoma Stage included performances by national recording artists Colt Ford, for KING & COUNTRY, Andy Grammer, Dustin Lynch and Theory of a Deadman. 

“These concerts were well-attended and definitely have an impact on the overall fair’s attendance,” said Thompson. “All Oklahoma Stage concerts are free with the purchase of gate admission.”

Thompson said this year’s grounds shows also were a draw. These included the All Star Stunt Dog Challenge, the Great Cat Experience, Swashchuckler’s and High Diving Pirates. Indoors, the fair featured Little Ray’s Reptiles and The Chipper Experience. Other attractions included the Southwest Dairy Milking Parlor and an Intertribal Powwow.

This is year one of the fair’s 10-year operating agreement with SkyRide and Don McClure, who also owns Buckhill Ski Resort in Minnesota.

“Don also owns and has operated the SkyRide at the Minnesota State Fair for the last 13 years that is nearly identical to ours in Tulsa,” said Andrus.

The 2016 Tulsa State Fair will be held Sept. 29 through Oct. 9.

Interviewed for this article: Mark Andrus, (918) 527-0062; Sarah Thompson, (918) 744-1113