The 2016 Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair. (Photo by Cooper Design)

More than 1.2 million visitors participated in “11 Days of Awesome” during the 2016 Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair, which showed modest gains in admissions and vendor sales this year.

An estimated 1,206,000 people visited the Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair from Sept. 29 through Oct. 9 at Expo Square, according to Blair. During that time, gate admissions increased by four percent from 2015, while independent concession sales grew 12 percent from the previous year. Concession sales generated by ExpoSERVE, the Expo Square’s food and beverage service, ticked up by eight percent from 2015, while midway ride sales increased seven percent.

Gate admission prices remained the same from 2015. Adult admission cost $8 Monday through Thursday. Adult admission purchased Friday through Sunday cost $10. Youth, senior and military admission cost $6, while children younger than five entered for free.

Net revenue figures for the 2016 fair won’t be available until early 2017, said Blair.

The 2016 fair revolved around the theme “Picture This,” and featured more than 800 scheduled events. New events included Ma'ceo Circo, an equestrian circus that features horse showmanship with a gypsy flair.  

“It was just a different type of show than we’ve had in the past,” Blair said, adding that the show garnered a positive response from fairgoers.

Trough Talk, an educational exhibit, was another new addition to the 2016 roster. The exhibit was designed to showcase the knowledge gained by budding agriculturalists. Children involved in 4-H and FFA brought their show animals to the exhibit and talked about the species, as well as the work it took to raise the animal.

“We are in a city, so not everybody gets exposed to the education of agriculture and where their food comes from,” Blair said. “I think it was a great asset for us.”

Similarly, a new event titled Wild About Monkeys offered an entertaining and educational show about primates.

“Families and children enjoy anything that involves animals so that’s what we focus on,” Blair said. She added that organizers look to “bring something new, something interactive that engages our patrons and, of course, something that all age groups can enjoy.”

Also new to the fair this year was North American Midway Entertainment (NAME), which provided midway attractions. Tulsa State Fair organizers chose the Farmland, Ind. company after a request for proposals process between the 2015 and 2016 fairs.

“They were a better revenue package for us as well as a professional package altogether,” Blair said.

North American Midway Entertainment, a Farmland, Indiana-based company, contracted with the Tulsa (Okla.) State Fair to bring 60 rides to the fair this year. (Photo by Scooter Korek, North American Midway Entertainment.)

NAME rolled out several new rides this year at the Tulsa State Fair, including Bonsai, a thrill ride that appeals largely to teens, and Flitzer, a roller coaster ideal for young riders who have graduated out of milder rides but aren’t yet ready for more challenging ones, said Amy Girton, the company’s director of communications and media relations.

The most popular of the midway’s new attractions was Mach 3, which propels riders through a 360-degree arch from the end of one of two 37-meter arms. The ride lives up to its name, producing an acceleration of up to 3.5 Gs.

To keep visitors connected, the fair offered itinerary and wayfinding services on its desktop and mobile websites, as well as its smartphone app.

“We also use a lot of social media and really engage our audience and make them interactive with us,” Blair said. She added that visitors could use the #11DaysOfAwesome to share their fair experiences with their followers. Photos that included the hashtag were also featured on the Tulsa State Fair’s website. Five human-sized picture frames positioned throughout the fair acted as an invitation for visitors to take a picture of themselves and share it on their social media platforms.

To engage with fairgoers, Tulsa State Fair harnessed multiple social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google+. Across these platforms, the fair generated more than 72,000 likes and followers, more than 95,000 check-ins and more than 14.3-million impressions. The fair garnered 3,844 reviews on Facebook and Google+, and it earned an average 4.2 rating.

Skillful use of social media is one factor that distinguishes successful fairs in the region, said Marla Calico, president and CEO of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions. Another trait, she added, is knowing the market. It’s a trend she’s noticed among the organization’s membership, regardless of the member event’s size or location.

For every fair, “the reason they’re successful, the reason they are thriving, is because they listen to their market.”

“You have to know who you are,” she said. “The members that I know of, they excel in that.”

As a sampling, Calico pointed to three events: the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo, and the State Fair of Texas, Dallas. She added that she chose these three events because, out of the organization’s 40 members in Texas, she’s had the chance to visit them personally and is more familiar with them as a result.

In her estimation, all three demonstrate a knowledge of their markets, along with balanced programming and innovative use of social media. The Tulsa State Fair also falls into that category. That fair, as well as several other fairs in the region, “are tremendous with regard to how they market and how they know their market,” Calico said.

“Tulsa State Fair is regularly a winner in our communications awards programs,” she added. Timing plays a big role, too. The Tulsa State Fair and the State Fair of Texas take place at around the same time, and both usually enjoy favorable weather.

Attendees at next year’s Tulsa State Fair will likely see capital improvements, including a permanent stage for the main outdoor staging area. Improvements to the food concession area, including additional seating and aesthetic improvements, are tentatively slated but have not been finalized, Blair said.

The 2017 Tulsa State Fair is scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 8.

Interviewed for this story: Amanda Blair, (918) 744-1113, ext. 2010; Marla Calico, (417) 862-5771; Amy Girton, (765) 509-1169