The sun has set on another State Fair. How many people came through this year? Photo by Creagh Cross.

State Fair of Texas

What We Can Learn from the State Fair’s Attendance Numbers

The fair, which only recently started tracking its own attendance, says it welcomed 2.2 million visitors this year, slightly down from 2016.

The State Fair of Texas wrapped Sunday, putting Big Tex back on the shelf until next year and leaving Fair Park eerily quiet and mostly empty.

The fair this week issued an interesting sort of by-the-numbers report card on its 2017 run, with details on how many Fletcher’s corn dogs were sold (615,000 across seven stands) and how many people saw the “Texas in the First World War” exhibition at the Hall of State (150,000, about 75,000 fewer fairgoers than went to see the “Taylor Swift Experience” show at the same site last year.) As for coupon sales, long the fair’s biggest measurement of its own success, it pulled in about $54.5 million, much of which will go toward vendors, as the fair is quick to note. It’s the second-highest total in the fair’s history, behind only last year’s coupon haul of $56 million. That’s worth keeping in mind as debate continues over how much of the fair’s excess revenues should go toward much-needed repairs at Fair Park, or to the community surrounding it.

Coupon sales used to be given even more importance in reckoning with the fair because, for decades, it didn’t reliably track its own attendance, counting on those sales and eyeball estimates to come up with attendance figures. This made it especially hard to accurately gauge the fair’s economic impact on the city and on Fair Park, and those fuzzy numbers were ammunition for many of the fair’s critics. The fair reported its annual attendance as hovering around 3.5 million from 2004 to 2008, and had it closer to 3 million from 2009 to 2015. A damning 2016 Baylor University report had the fair’s actual annual attendance as low as 1.5 million.

The fair’s attendance this year, the second since it started taking a headcount with a new ticketing system in 2016, falls somewhere in between, with the fair reporting about 2.2 million visitors during its 24-day run. That’s down from more than 2.4 million fairgoers last year, and lends some credence to the Baylor report’s suspicion that the fair was previously inflating its attendance numbers.

Here’s how the State Fair’s vice president of public relations, Karissa Condoianis, described the new process for attendance-taking in an email:

Fairgoers now have the option of not only purchasing their tickets at the gates or online and having them mailed to them, but this new system helped us offer the convenience of purchasing them at BigTex.com or through their smartphone. They can pull up their tickets on their phone and have them scanned at the gate. With all tickets now being scanned at each gate, this allowed the Fair to officially report an attendance number starting last year and going forward.

Whatever quibbles one may have with that system, it’s almost certainly more dependable than the coupon-counting eyeball test used for the previous few decades, and should prove more useful in discussions about the role the State Fair of Texas could play in attempts to revitalize its longtime home.

While we’re here thinking about attendance numbers, let’s look at how things went this year for the Minnesota State Fair, held up as one of the most successful, largest, transparent, and well-run state fairs in the country. The Minnesota State Fair, which reports its daily attendance online, welcomed a record-setting near-2 million visitors during its 12 days at the fairgrounds in between the Twin Cities. For comparison, that’s almost as many visitors as the State Fair of Texas, in half the time, in a metropolitan region with half the population of Dallas-Fort Worth. Its daily attendance is the highest of any state fair in the country. (The Minnesota State Fairgrounds are, it should be said, at the risk of offending any size-obsessed Texans, slightly bigger, comprising 320 acres to Fair Park’s 277.)

The Minnesota State Fair does all this while remaining more affordable than the State Fair of Texas, while keeping its fairgrounds vibrant and active year-round. All without a giant talking cowboy and a storied college football rivalry.

There are challenges unique to the State Fair of Texas, to Fair Park, and to Dallas, but we should at least figure out what they’re doing right up in Minnesota.

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Comments

  • C Newman

    What are the events held at the Minnesota fairgrounds throughout the rest of the year that keep it “vibrant and active”?

    • PeterTx52

      You’re reading D Mag they’re just like the DMN they won’t give you key information like what keeps the MN state fair “vibrant and active” . That would require them to actually ask questions and to report the answers

    • PeterTx52

      this link will take you to the Mn fairgrounds activities throughout the year
      http://www.mnstatefair.org/events/default.lasso?show=future

  • bmslaw

    “The Minnesota State Fair does all this while remaining more affordable than the State Fair of Texas . . . .” On Military Appreciation Day, MSF charges $9, while the SFOT charges $0 for all active military and their spouses and children, and retired military and veterans. On Senior’s Days, MSF charges $9 admission for seniors, while the SFOT charges $0. MSF does not have a canned food admission day, while the SFOT has a canned food admission day each week ($4 for all). MSF does not apparently offer the many discount opportunities that the SFOT does (Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, McDonald’s, etc). I could not determine whether MSF gives away free admission tickets to school children and school personnel, but the SFOT certainly does. I would say that FREE is more affordable than $9 per person, and even those who do not qualify for FREE have a lot more discount opportunities available at the SFOT than at the MSF. Sure, one can spend a ton of money at either State Fair, but at Fair Park, one does not have to spend a ton of money to have a great time.

    • RompingWillyBilly

      On my last visit to the State Fair, I noticed a lot of young fellows of color getting in for free by climbing over the fence. High up police perches had been erected to help prevent people from getting mugged and robbed. See, the idea is to have a fun relaxing time at the Fair. Like everyone else, I was attending it trying to get away from such thoughts of Beirut and terrorism.

      Let’s face reality here. Both the Dallas Fair Park and the State Fair of Texas are dead on arrival. Their lives today are in the filthy hands of a bottomless pit made up of crony city officials.

  • RompingWillyBilly

    That two million people will endure the terrorism in the neighborhood of Dallas Fair Park to attend the State Fair is incredible. Fair goers aren’t warned beforehand of this danger because of how the local media is gutless. The ominous surroundings of it has to hit them in the face like a brick.

    At the same time, the new cash cow for city officials has become the Dallas Arts District. That city officials would allow the Fair Park to crumble would anger me to no end, but what should one expect from such terrorist leaders?

    Having given up, I’ve come to realize the city of Arlington is the better place to hold the State Fair of Texas.
    I would feel far safer attending the attraction in that neighborhood.

    Meanwhile, it is sad to think that the area around the Fair Park – the gateway into the social spending poisoned neighborhood of South Dallas – is going to further erode into broken windows, graffiti smeared walls, community centers, bingo parlors, police store fronts, and bail bondsmen.

    I’m over it myself. Let’s demolish the place and move on.

    • bmslaw

      Instead of moving the State Fair (and Fair Park) to Arlington, why don’t we just move YOU to Arlington. That’s a win-win for everybody (except Arlington). Could you be more bigoted, blind, and hateful? Probably not.

      • RompingWillyBilly

        The State Fair of Texas at the Dallas Fair Park is like Blue Bell ice cream. It is nice, but isn’t necessary. The idea is to have an enjoyable experience. Expecting people to gamble on catching listeria when eating the ice cream under the excuse that nobody is perfect ain’t going to cut it.
        Similary, I’m not going to attend the state fair to experience a civics lesson both having to endure pain and suffering because of long social inequality and having to always look over my shoulder.
        I am the boss as the customer. As such, I am always right. Bigot or not, I’ll attend a State Fair function in Arlington.
        In my opinion, the Dallas Fair Park has been judged by corrupt Dallas officials to be the same as a confederate statue. It is doomed because those that built it were of the southern persuasion and of a light skin tone. When they look at the fair grounds, they see no social redeeming value.

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