Storms Hurt Fair Attendance in Pennsylvania

Attendance drops 14 percent at the Great Allentown Fair, but the concert series surfs into success

  • by Mary Wade Burnside
  • Published: September 24, 2013

Toby Keith fills the grandstand.

Attendance at the Great Allentown (Pa.) Fair continued a downward slide of 14 percent,  to 355,000 from last year’s 413,000, but the concert series – including a sold-out Luke Bryan show – continued to be a bright spot that drew in fairgoers.

“We had very hot and humid temperatures and a constant threat of storms,” said Bonnie Brosious, marketing director and talent buyer, of the fair that ran from Aug. 27-Sept. 2. “We never spent as much of our time operating the fair looking at the radar as we did in 2013.”

The total attendance at the shows, however, was 53,787, up nearly 10 percent over last year’s 49,029, bolstered by the 14,500 fans who packed the Great Allentown Fair Grandstand to its fullest capacity, with portable chairs off the track to make standing room.

However, even the concerts did not go off without a hitch – the Zac Brown Band was about three-quarters of the way through their Thursday night concert when a torrential downpour dumped 4 inches of rain on the grounds in half an hour.

“There was flooding around the fairgrounds and in the fairgrounds,” Brosious said. “It was crazy. We had to stop the show with probably about six songs in their scheduled set to go. Then we had the tough task of getting people out of the fairgrounds and the fairgrounds area because the streets were flooded.”

The incident showed how social media can play a part in a fair’s publicity, both as fans posted complaints about shutting down the show early and then the response after a photo was posted showing a shirtless man in front of a concession stand swimming in the water on the fairgrounds.

“We just put a simple comment, ‘Surf’s up,’” Brosious said. “We had more response to that photo than anything to date since we opened our Facebook account. It did a few things – it showed how incredibly we had been hit. People were complaining but they realized the right call was made and the tough thing was getting them out of the fairgrounds. 

“We wouldn’t have made light of it if anybody had been hurt but it was pretty dramatic and by doing that, it turned it into a conversation piece.”

In spite of the bad weather, the Zac Brown Band had the second-best attendance at 10,012 and was the only other concert set up for a capacity of 14,500.

Tickets were $59 for Bryan and $69 for the Zac Brown Band. Bryan’s concert grossed $829,835 and the Zac Brown Band grossed $667,023.

Other concerts, attendance (with a potential total capacity of 10,535), ticket prices and concert grosses were: John Mayer with Phillip Phillips, 6,172, $66 and $46, $368,968; Austin Mahone and Bridgit Mendler, 5,522, $39 and $25, $192,009; Toby Keith with Kip Moore, 8,320, $80, $65 and $45, $495,245; and Jeff Dunham, 6,001, $49 and $39, $275,573.

J&J Demolition Derby drew 3,260 with a capacity of 7,000 on $15 and $10 tickets, grossing $43,715. 

Gross ticket sales for the shows was $2,872,368. The cost for the acts was $2.3 million and represents the bulk of the fair’s budget.

“We try to attract the best shows but the cost is staggering,” Brosious said, noting that area residents do not have to drive far to get to cities such as New York, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia, so competition is stiff. 

Along those lines, an arena called the PPL Center is under construction in Allentown and is due to open in 2014. The arena will be the home of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, currently called the Adirondack Phantoms, an American Hockey League team.

“We definitely want it to be successful,” Brosious said. “We have Allentown in our name. We want good things happening in our city. But it gets tougher to compete in an ancillary market.”

Presale tickets were “a saving grace,” Brosious said. “Because of this weather, walkups were not as big as they usually are.”

Pumpkin_Decorating_Contest.jpgKids participate in the pumpkin decorating contest.

Another hit to attendance, Brosious said, was that students went back to school just as the fair was getting under way. 

“I find that for parents, the first week of school is getting your kids back and readjusting them to the times,” Brosious said. “It’s hard. Plus they break them again for Labor Day. It’s crazy. We would prefer they start them after.”

Area amusement parks also take a hit because a lot of their workforce comes from the student population. It’s an issue Brosious hopes amusement lobbyists will address.

“New York and New Jersey don’t go back until after Labor Day,” she said. “I don’t know what’s up with Pennsylvania.”

Corfu, N.Y.-based Powers Great American Midways placed 21 adult rides and 15 kiddie rides on the midway. The carnival will be down, Brosious said.

“It was the same situation as the fair,” she added. “It’s just going to be down when you have less people.”

Pay-one-price wristbands were sold as an upsell to the concerts as well as sold independently. They cost $15 as a concert upsell or $22. Advance sales of those were down, Brosious said, which she attributed to only have one teen concert instead of the two the fair had last year.

Gate admission cost $6 for 12 and over, and free for those under 12. “It’s a very reasonable gate,” Brosious said. “It’s been that way forever.”

The marketing budget was about $300,000. This year, the fair bought digital billboards for the first time.

“We noticed that our digital billboard market is amazing,” Brosious said. “We jumped in and did it. The static billboards were fair billboards and were really cute, with our ‘Rootin’ Tootin’ Fun’ theme, and then the digital was all for the shows.”

The billboards were selected for strategic locations around other amusement and entertainment venues such as a casino and Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom.

“That’s a huge regional attraction,” she said. “We really placed the billboards in great areas where there is a lot of tourism traffic. It makes sense.”

In social media, the fair has a Facebook page but Brosious would like to expand into other forms.

“I would have liked to have launched Twitter during the fair but when you do it, you have to do it right,” she said. “It has to be maintained.”

Next year’s dates will be Aug. 26-Sept. 1. 

Interviewed for this article: Bonnie Brosious, (610) 433-7541

  • by Mary Wade Burnside
  • Published: September 24, 2013