State fair attendance, revenue expected to decline

The collapse of a concert stage that killed five people Saturday likely will prevent Indiana State Fair organizers from meeting this year's attendance and revenue goals for the annual event.

Officials had hoped attendance for the 17-day event that runs through Sunday would hit 1 million for the first time, up from 952,020 visitors last year, according to the fair’s 2010 annual report.

The fair extended its schedule from 12 to 17 days in 2009 and is committed to the longer schedule through at least 2013.

But hitting the goal of 1 million visitors this year seems out of reach. The fair was closed on Sunday following the deadly accident the night before. That closure likely resulted in a loss of more than 60,000 visitors, based on last year’s attendance numbers for the fair's second Sunday.

Monday’s reopening drew 32,466 people—a 19-percent drop from the second Monday of last year, fair spokesman Andy Klotz said.

Fair attendance was also down on Tuesday—8  percent from the same day last year.

The 12-day attendance total through Tuesday was 636,140—a 7-percent decline from last year.

Saturday night’s accident happened when a wind gust estimated at 60 to 70 mph toppled the roof and the metal scaffolding holding lights and other equipment. The stage collapsed onto a crowd of concertgoers awaiting a show by the country act Sugarland.

The fair has since canceled two of its top-billed concerts scheduled for the same stage—a Janet Jackson performance on Wednesday and a Lady Antebellum show on Friday.

“Without question, this will alter the landscape for us in regard to losing two or three shows, and the fact that we’re not going to make money from the show we did save,” Klotz said.

The concert by Train and Maroon 5 has been salvaged for Thursday, but the two groups now will play at Conseco Fieldhouse. The performers, the state fair and Pacers Sports & Entertainment, which operates the fieldhouse, are donating all proceeds from the concert to a fund to benefit victims of the stage collapse.

Total proceeds from the concert could hit $500,000, Klotz said.

The cancellation of the two concerts undoubtedly will hurt fair financials. Concerts are typically one of fair's largest revenue generators, both directly and indirectly.

Between 10,000 and 13,000 tickets had been sold for Lady Antebellum and almost 10,000 for Janet Jackson, Klotz estimated. Fair officials expected a large walk-up crowd would have driven Jackson’s ticket sales even higher, he said.

Those who bought tickets for Sugarland, Lady Antebellum and Janet Jackson can get a full refund at the point of purchase. Fans of Train and Maroon 5 also can get a refund if they’re dissatisfied with their seats at Conseco, Klotz said.

Concerts last year brought the fair $3.5 million, or nearly 30 percent of the fair’s 2010 revenue of $11.9 million. Gate receipts generated $2.9 million, and concessions and midway ticket sales accounted for $2.2 million, according to last year’s annual report.
Klotz declined to speculate how much concert revenue might be off this year. He said a hugely popular Kiss show made 2010 an exceptional year.

“Last year was an aberration,” he said. “We were awesome with our numbers last year.”
In 2010, the fair exceeded its goal of grandstand ticket sales by 19 percent, setting a record, the annual report said.

The fair has assets of $10.3 million, including nearly $5 million in cash.

“We have significant cash reserves,” Klotz said. “We’ve saved for a rainy day.”

Meanwhile, it remained unclear Tuesday whether anyone had inspected the concert stage that toppled over on Saturday, or if anyone was supposed to do so.

Fair officials said they have hired a New York engineering firm to investigate the accident. The Thornton Tomasetti Inc. firm was involved in a similar investigation of the 2007 collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.


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