The Indiana State Fair drew 853,941 visitors during its 17-day run that ended Sunday, falling short of its goal by about 20,000, fair officials announced Monday morning.
The fair had aimed for overall attendance of 875,000, a figure based on the average number of visitors the past five years.
Officials blamed several hot days and some thunderstorms for keeping attendance at this year's fair from hitting the mark. A concert by rocker Ted Nugent expected to draw thousands of fans on the free stage at the fairgrounds was canceled due to storms.
“Every year we go through this, and every year it’s the same thing,” fair spokesman Andy Klotz said. “On the beautiful days, attendance spikes on that particular day. On the rainy and extremely hot days, you will have a drop in attendance. There’s a definite correlation there.”
Still, officials said the fair attracted more than 70,000 visitors on each of three different days for the second time since the fair extended its run from 12 days to 17 days in 2009. Special discounts and promotions helped to draw visitors and offset price increases. The fair for the first time charged $5 for parking and increased admission from $8 to $10 to make up for losses from last year’s fair.
The fair attempted to rebound from last year’s tragic concert-stage collapse, which killed seven people and injured dozens more as high winds knocked down stage rigging Aug. 13 before a Sugarland concert.
Fair officials canceled several big concerts in the wake of the disaster and closed for a day, leading to an attendance drop of 8 percent from the previous year. State Fair revenue fell from $11.9 million in 2010 to $8.4 million in 2011.
Headline concerts this year were moved downtown to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Barry Manilow, Train, Journey and Blake Shelton performed.
Ticket sales for the downtown concerts were included in fair attendance. Along with their tickets, concertgoers received free admission to any day of the 17-day event. Klotz said Monday morning that the fair was still compiling official attendance figures for the concerts and how many people may have visited the fairgrounds in addition to the downtown concerts.
To replace the big concerts at the fairgrounds, the grandstand offered more thrill-based entertainment, like motorcycle races, tractor pulls and monster truck rallies.
REO Speedwagon, Easton Corbin and MC Hammer played on the free stage in an effort to maintain some live music at the fair.
Fairgoers next year should expect even more nationally known acts on the free stage, Klotz said. It has not yet been determined whether bigger concerts will return to the Fieldhouse next year. Headline acts will return to the fairgrounds in 2014 but will take place in the former Pepsi Coliseum once a renovation of the facility is finished.
Not having the coliseum available for any event next year will present challenges, Klotz said.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said, “but we’ve got some plans developing and we’ll be ready for it.”
The $63 million renovation of the complex will include adding a 20,000-square-foot arena.