Visitors say State Fair was Better in 2014 but Attendance Slips


Visitors to the Nebraska State Fair say it was better than ever, but attendance slipped from last year and fair officials say the threat of severe weather on the final Sunday was a factor.

Attendance was down five percent from a year ago. The biggest drop was the final Sunday, which traditionally is the biggest day of the fair.

Officials think the forecast that called for severe weather, even possible tornadoes kept many fairgoers at home that day.

Executive Director Joseph McDermott said, "That was the smallest attended Sunday, Labor Day Sunday since we've been in Grand Island. I don't think that just happens. There has to be a reason. I do think that had to do with the potential for severe weather."

The National Weather Service said tornadoes were possible. Fortunately, there was no damage, except the lower attendance.

"I do believe it played a significant role," McDermott said of that forecast, noting he had been in contact with the Weather Service, State Patrol, Emergency Management and Grand Island Police.

Weather was also a factor as rains that left one parking lot a muddy mess.

McDermott said, "We probably will look at doing some grading out there, as much as possible, there's a natural drain to that lot."

Despite the rainy weather, only three events had to be ccanceled They were all tractor pulls scheduled for the final weekend.

Customer satisfaction surveys show strong marks for the fair. On a scale of one to five, visitors rated the fair a 4.55 in terms of being family friendly and 4.4 overall. The fair also rated well for safety, security, and cleanliness. And most fairgoers surveyed said the fair was better than last year.

Board Chair Jana Kruger said, "We've really worked hard to make this affordable, something you can bring the whole family to and we feel really good about our two new wow factors we added this year."

As vendors like Green Line Equipment tear down, they're pleased to be part of an event reaching 318,000 folks.

"We're proud to be part of the fair," said Greg Rerucha of Green Line, a John Deere dealer. "With us being in the state fair's backyard, Green Line's back yard, we have quite a commitment with gators and people mover tractors and our indoor display as well."

The final Sunday may have been down, but six of eleven days showed steady or higher attendance, including one weekday with a 30 percent jump.

? Kruger said, "$2 Tuesday came from the carnival and they were the ones willing to make the commitment to let everybody ride for $2 and it was huge."

McDermott said not only will they bring $2 Tuesday back, they'll consider expanding the special deal to another night.

The fair board is already planning for future years, with a five to ten year master plan.

They say they'll look into options to improve the drainage problems with the parking lot. And don't expect a new building next year, but they will consider upgrades like better roads and other projects.

Attendance comparison in Grand Island:

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Friday 11021 21875 15073 16179 15021 Saturday 42785 45127 42742 43145 45572 Sunday 32464 27654 36961 30125 25081 Monday 11479 16172 13260 14583 14427 Tuesday 22335 18195 19736 19456 25206 Wednesday 14602 24985 23064 22163 19518 Thursday 23269 14524 19389 17058 20201 Friday 26419 23869 26433 24315 24562 Saturday 37513 38201 52195 42712 46951 Sunday 53795 67929 58770 71355 45588 Monday 33718 34512 29364 33840 36658 Totals 309,400 333,043 336,987 334,931 317,785