Iowa State Fair attendance drops despite nice weather

(Radio Iowa) – Attendance at the 2013 Iowa State Fair was down compared to the previous two years, despite nearly ideal temperatures and no rain during the fair’s open hours. Fair CEO Gary Slater notes attendance declined only slightly and he doubts there’s a simple explanation.

“But, I think our school start dates throughout the area and the state really affect us, especially as we go through the latter stages of the fair,” Slater says. For several years now, Slater and other tourism officials in Iowa have been calling for a measure that would prevent schools from starting much early than September 1.

Earlier this month, the Iowa Board of Education voted down rules that would have made it tougher for schools to get a state waiver to start school in mid-August. The state fair had a total of 1,047,246 people pass through the gates during its 11-day run. That’s down from the 1,097,142 visitors in 2012.

Prices for advanced tickets to the fair were raised this year from $7 to $8. Ticket prices at the gate jumped from $10 to $11. Slater doesn’t believe prices are getting too high and cutting into attendance. “When you consider all of the other alternatives for the entertainment or discretionary spending dollar, we are the cheapest and you get the most for your $8 in advance or $11 (at the gate) that I can think of…where you can stay somewhere all day and have hundreds of thousands of dollars in free entertainment that is yours to watch,” Slater says.

“I mean, look at the movie theaters across the metro area, look at the price of the Science Center, look at the price of Adventureland, look at the price of golf courses…we’re cheaper than all of those.” Slater says he does sympathize with fair-goers who are critical of the prices posted by some exhibitors and food vendors.

“I wish I controlled prices of my concessionaires, but I don’t,” Slater says. “Sometimes I think their prices are too high and I encourage and urge them to watch their pricing.” The Iowa State Fair Board this year opted not to offer free or half-price gate admission on the opening day of the fair, which has been offered in the past.

Slater says that was a factor, as attendance dipped by nearly 10,000 visitors on opening day this year compared to 2012.