The Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson is a family-friendly event that all Kansans should experience, annually if you can. On this we’re in total agreement.
But should the fair be held in 2020?
The State Fair Board recently voted to move forward with the 10-day event, saying, "Not even the Spanish flu or World Wars could halt the annual end-of-summer rite." Staff presented a 21-page document that showcased best practices they would follow to mitigate risk, including more handwashing stations and required face mask wearing inside commercial exhibit space.
The mitigation plan is well prepared and includes precautions you’d expect considering the situation. What’s missing from the conversation is what happens if people don’t come.
The board spent 35 minutes discussing if the fair should proceed in 2020 and how to minimize risk, but there was minimal discussion about the fair’s bottom line. How much money do we risk losing if the board moves forward with the expense of putting on a fair and people don’t attend?
Sponsorship revenue is down more than 40% compared to this time last year. What if that number doesn’t recover? What if that number is an indicator that tickets sales will also decrease by 40%?
Was the board told how many guests have to buy tickets for the fair to break even? How many vendors have to sign up and how much do they need to sell to make it worth their time to set up? Have vendors been surveyed? Are they planning to come and are they comfortable they can hire staff to help them during the 10-day event?
What are fair patrons saying about the 2020 event? Did the staff survey attendees to gauge their comfort level for attending this year? Iowa canceled its fair, in part because the feedback the state received indicated there would be a significant decline in participation.
Do we know if families are willing to gather at the fairgrounds in 2020 for the Kansas State Fair and how many families are needed to get in the door to ensure the fair’s viability?
This is the kind of detail the State Fair Board should have discussed before holding a vote to determine the fair’s fate in 2020. One board member indicated there would likely be another meeting before the fair and the board could vote to cancel it then if the situation warranted more concern. How much money will have been spent between the board’s approval to move forward and a future meeting where it might reconsider?
The Kansas State Fair is one of our state’s best annual events, without question. Moving forward with it, however, deserved more scrutiny and understanding than what was presented to the public. The board voted with an eye toward preserving this long-held tradition but in the absence of meaningful data about its viability.
More should be known about the financial practicalities of hosting the fair, what the minimum benchmarks are to break even, and if the event’s vendors and attendees are indeed planning to participate.