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Orange County Fair, After Adding Days and Reopening Stage, Sees Admission Dip

August 06, 2003|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

Orange County Fair officials gambled this year that they could boost crowds with two changes: reopening the biggest stage on the fairgrounds and extending the fair's run by four days.

Figures released after Sunday, closing day, suggest that they miscalculated on both counts: the reopened Pacific Amphitheatre lost more than $1 million and total fair attendance dropped from last year. Though final calculations are not in, officials say the fair, which made a profit of $3 million in 2002, will be lucky to break even this year.

To find good news in the fair's numbers, you have to look at revenue from rides (up 9%), parking revenue (up 20%), or the number of turkey legs sold (up 9,000).

Was a super-sized version of the fair worth the added effort and expense?

Fair officials, calling this an "investment year," said it was. They plan to keep the longer schedule but may book only free concerts in the amphitheater next year, said Chief Executive Becky Bailey-Findley. Fair officials will study the question and decide by October whether to stage big-name acts and charge admission next year.

Industry experts say successful fairs take chances with scheduling and programming but that this may be the year Orange County overreached.

Attendance was down 2%, to 881,596, after increasing for the last four years. Admission revenue was down even more: 11%, or $3.3 million.

Experts say adding four days all at once may have been too ambitious. Successful fair expansions are generally slow, adding one day per year to make sure costs don't get too far ahead of revenue. In Orange County, Bailey-Findley said, it costs about $350,000 for each extra day.

The San Diego County Fair added one day, to 21, and this year set an attendance record, said Chief Executive Tim Fennell.

Times staff writer Jeff Gottlieb contributed to this report.

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