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Festivals & Events, Vendors & Entertainers

Grounds and Attractions for a Fair, Festival or Event
by David Musselman, Capitol International Productions, Inc.
Call 330-227-2000 to book these type of events.

The use of free, on-grounds attractions has, for many years, been a very important ingredient in the fair industry. Grounds attractions not only increase business for the fair, but also for the concessions that are in the immediate vicinity. They also help place traffic in the areas going and coming to the entertainment location.

If done strategically correct, attractions can help control the size, age, and demographic of the traffic as well. Most grounds attractions can perform in questionable weather and are capable of several shows per day, which gives them a distinct advantage over attractions on the main stage or name attractions.

Just to give an example, let's place a spectacular thrill show at one end of the fairgrounds. For the sake of this example, let's say this is a show that will draw mostly young adults between the ages of 18 and 45. Next, let's say out of every 100 of these young adults, 50 of them have at least two children. This is an extra 100 minds that can be introduced to a product or service that the fair feels is important on the way to this attraction, leaving it in the general vicinity.

Now surround that attraction with food and retail vendors, and each vendor will have significant increases in their business. Maybe the fair has a goal of trying to interest this age bracket and demographic in the agricultural business. Between the entertainment attraction that is drawing the patrons to a certain area, and the main gate, these same people have to pass through an interactive agricultural exhibit with many different aspects of teaching that are fun, interesting, and educational. The chances of reaching the goal of introducing a certain number of young adults and possibly the Future Farmers of America to the business of agriculture will be greatly increased. The above is just one possible scenario.

There are many more that can be proposed at board meetings or just brain storming get-togethers. The main thing is to stimulate the members of the fair board to stimulate the public with interesting, interactive, entertaining, and educational attractions.

What type of grounds attractions should we choose?

Grounds attractions that are unique, spectacular, and generate curiosity have proven to be valuable assets in bringing entertainment, interaction, and in many cases education, to the fair.

Choosing the right attraction is an important ingredient in the success of any event. The following are great goals in choosing grounds attractions.

Appealing to the public's curiosity: CURIOUS is defined by Webster as "exciting attention, as strange or novel." ODD.

UNIQUE: In choosing any attraction, it is the obvious decision to seek the unusual. An attraction that cannot be seen locally or something in which the community has shown interest.

There are some excellent attractions that can turn a difficult building or an empty field into a lucrative piece of property.
Attractions that have worked well are:
  • Animal attractions that promote conservation, education, and preservation. These shows must have a presentation that is impeccable in appearance and with trainers who show love that can be seen by patrons. Many times these attractions can run several years drawing bigger crowds each year, like a zoo or museum would build attendance. CAUTION: NO PUBLIC CONTACT WITH WILD ANIMALS! And remember, you are only asking for problems with animal rights activists and you are risking the public's safety as well.
  • Thrill Attractions. These defi nitely fall into the unique and unusual. Many great circus families are still traveling, playing fair dates, and they always draw a crowd whether it is an outdoor thrill show with high acts and dangerous feats or a complete circus under the big top. These attractions normally will draw a very nice family crowd.
  • Strolling attractions are very valuable for driving a crowd and there are many fi ne ones available. They can be used to direct people to other entertainment areas. Obviously clean, courteous, and professional are important words with any strolling attraction.
  • Static Displays. Such as educational, entertaining, and interactive exhibits, sculptures, and displays of high interest such as cars, horses, and others. Whatever the attraction chosen, it needs to be promoted like it was a major name star with good pictures and information in all media, including websites and all fair advertising.
Remember, these grounds attractions are doing more shows for more time than the name stars and by promoting them just as much, they can draw many more patrons to the fair and additionally help move crowds where you need them to go.

Time Management: The industry standard for show length in theme parks is 22 minutes. For any show, it is the belief of this author that fairs should use this proven standard but certainly not run any show over 30 minutes without a significant break to move the crowd. When there are multiple shows at any fair, the show's times need to be staggered. This is to allow the crowd time between each show to move past the adjacent concessions with enough time to stop and patronize them. Every show also must be made to adhere to the schedule. Unless the grounds are huge, it is not a good idea to run two shows at the same time.

Location. Many times, due to lack of planning, the most popular attractions have been placed in a location where there is no chance for success. This author recalls one situation where the fair had placed one of the most popular fair attractions, The Sea Lion Splash, behind a cow barn where there was no traffi c, no concessions, and the public could not fi nd them. It is important that every attraction is placed in a location where the public can easily get to it, making sure there are concessions at the site, on the way there, and on the way back.

Presentation. Sometimes we can be "penny wise and pound foolish." Don't forget you get what you pay for. If an attraction is very inexpensive normally there are reasons why. Maintenance and appearance of equipment has been neglected, vehicles are in poor condition, or proper licenses have not been obtained. It is equally important the attraction looks good when it is not performing as when it is. Remember, the look of an attraction when it is not performing will either bring people back to see the show or say to them, "We don't care if you come back or not."

You can be sure there are many concessions, throughout their years on fairgrounds, that have been placed next to an inferior attraction that did nothing to draw patrons and increase their business.

Give it a chance to grow and draw more. There are certain attractions that develop a following and people will come year after year to see them if the quality remains high and the attraction is worth seeing again.

Examples. There are way too many to mention but here are just a few:
FL State Fair: Welde Bear Show and Exhibit - 15 years
NY State Fair: Dana Kunze's High Dive Shows - 8 years
Dade County Fair and Expo: Advanced Entertainment's Ice Show - 12 years (out of last 19)

Education, Interaction, Entertainment, in that order, are vital components whenever possible with any attraction. These important ingredients will not only help traffi c fl ow and sustain crowds, but will also be much more attractive to sponsors and will provide an all day exhibit to maximize dollars spent.

Promotion on Grounds. Programs and brochures as well as signage:
A traffic flow map is very important guiding the interested visitor from the main gate past every point of interest. Attractions can be numbered and visitors can be directed so they visit each attraction or point of interest as they go past the concessions.

Signs up at major intersections with the entertainment attractions noted and an arrow pointed in their direction would also be a great addition that would not be expensive and could even be sponsored by a local company costing the fair little or nothing.

Announcements For Location And Show Times For Each Show Over The Fair Pa System.

On Grounds Promotions by Inviting the Press to Experience All Shows and New Attractions.

Example: Media races with the go karts competing radio against TV and newspaper. Experience the rides and write about them or fi lm them. Do it live on the radio. Experience the shows Example: Swim with the sharks! (As a promotional stunt by a celebrity.)

Promote Each Attraction on the Website. Making sure it is user friendly. Have your friends try to navigate it and see how they do, and then make necessary changes.

The following are letters received from fair managers who have been kind enough to share their experiences from which we all can learn.


Paul Schober
Erie County Fair, Hamburg, NY

What works best for a constant crowd flow would be all day exhibits as opposed to shows with set show times. The bleachers are empty when those shows are not taking place, and consequently, the concessions in that area might be slow.

There's also baseball cages and paint ball competitions that can be open all day as well. Sometimes it can be other concessions and not just entertainment that can be used to drive people to the concessions!

Note: In these cases, these concessions need to be also promoted like entertainment.

Susan Hayward, Manager
South Dakota State Fair

We made a few changes in the past couple of years to address just this question. As people came in one of our main gates, we had a stage that was not always in use, and fairgoers had a considerable walk to the center of activities. This last year we scheduled entertainment on this stage and put a bike show on the street just in front of the main gate It did two things: got fairgoers excited about the fair immediately upon entering, and got them to the street intersection where we wanted them so they would check out new exhibits on our main street.

We also moved one of our favorite stages to the west end of our fairgrounds two years ago. We wanted to add additional shows and vendors but needed a pull. The first year it worked well because we had a local act there that people knew, and then last year we put the tigers across the street from them. That gave us the ability to pull people to that end of the fair, and this year we plan on adding quite a few additional vendors because we know we can draw crowds with big attractions like the tigers, or this year, the bears.

Melinda Parsons, Entertainment Director
Oklahoma State Fair

One thing I think that has helped is the visual aspect of attractions. When I'm booking attractions, I am not only looking for a professional show but also an extreme visually exciting set. If you want crowds to be drawn to a certain area, try to put something tall and colorful where the public can see it from far away.

A great example of this is a high dive show, and especially one with an awesome set. We opened up a new area last year and needed to get people to the area, so I placed a high dive show, which has a gigantic blow-up pirate ship, as its set. It was a huge hit and you could see it from afar. Vendors on that side of the fair were thrilled, and now everyone is requesting to be there.

Another example is placing a popular animal attraction where the animals are out, all day, on display in an area that needs traffi c. People will fi nd those types of attractions and it will keep them in the area and coming back as well.

Greg Kinder, Entertainment Director
California State Fair

Basically, we try things out, and if successful, we repeat them the next year, otherwise disavow any knowledge of such!

We do like to space our venues out throughout the grounds, and schedule the show times so we can spin the crowds between shows, and have each show promote other shows. It can keep a crowd fl owing between each show. This stimulates repeat visits to the fair.

Also, we have a stage in our food court area and use it to entertain folks who are eating, and at about 9:00 PM, we place a higher energy act on this stage as the type of fairgoers change and are more into dancing, so we use a Motown type act at night.

We have our Blues and Brews venue. It is off the beaten path some and we have drawn in fairgoers with a high volume, which you'd expect with blues, and it works.

Signage is critical to communicate when and where shows are located.

Pam Edwards, Entertainment Director
West Virginia State Fair

Definitely the use of entertainment helps to move the crowds through the fairgrounds. When we are planning our event one of the most important things is how to attract people through the outdoor exhibit area.

Although a great addition to the fairgrounds, our youth center visibly cuts our facility in half and makes it difficult to direct people through or around it to the concessions on the other side. Entertainment has helped to solve this problem. People look for the entertainment, and putting family-oriented attractions in areas that need traffi c is a major part of our planning.

Nancy Smith, Entertainment and Sponsors
South Carolina State Fair

Roving Entertainers

In the last several years, the SC State Fair has reaped the benefi ts of utilizing roving entertainers. We have found this to be very beneficial to draw folks in buildings or certain areas of the grounds where additional traffic is desired.

In many instances, these areas are along the paths of the concessionaires. This is off of the "entertainment" line, but I think something that all concessionaires would benefit from. Patrons love places to sit, especially covered places. (Guess what they are doing most of the time when they are sitting? You are right-EATING!!!) We have found the more hospitality/food tents you have for patrons, the better.

Buildings on Grounds

As we have done with "Baseball America's Game," "Presidential Exhibit," and the "Barbie Exhibit," we have used entertainment to draw folks into specific buildings on grounds. For the Cantey Building at the SC State Fair, this has worked extremely well. We have found it to be a good "family draw," which is what the fair is all about.

It is true we haven't yet thought of everything, and there are many more ideas, but that is why we are here sharing. We invite you to do the same, and let's make each year a better year for the wonderful fair patrons.

Planning a Successful Event,
Table of Contents

1. Planning
2. Organizing
3. Fundraising
4. Corporate Sponsorship
5. Promotion
6. Buying Media
7. Setting the Image of the Event
8. Operating
9. Buying Music Acts
10. Grounds Attractions
11. Sound, Lighting & Staging
12. Sample Artist Contract and Rider
13. From the Entertainers View
14. Backstage Hospitality
15. Talent Contests
16. Queen Contests
17. Parades
18. Horse Events
19. Rodeo's and Horse Events
20. Farm Youth Program
21. Choosing a Carnival
22. Concessions
23. Legalities and Risk Management
24. Event Insurance
25. Royalties
26. Location/Physical Facilities
27. Grounds and Facilities
28. Office and Staffing
29. Tractor Pulls
30. Estimating Crowd Attendance
31. Festival Evaluation
32. Event Impact Studies
33. Conclusion, Final Word

12 Ways to Kill an Event

Bibliography: Sources and Contributors