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*** UPDATED x1 *** Huh?

Wednesday, Aug 26, 2015

* These numbers just don’t seem to make sense

A total of 411,547 people visited the Illinois State Fair this year.

The fair announced the low turnout for the 11-day event Tuesday despite what it called near perfect weather conditions. Fair officials provided no immediate explanation for the figure that was less than half the 847,000 who attended the fair last year.

Fair organizers said $1,357,000 was collected in gate and parking revenue. Despite fewer people attending the fair this year, the gate and parking revenue was just $55,000 shy of last year’s amount.

Preliminary estimates show that one of the biggest contributors to the fair’s total revenue this year was Grandstand ticket sales, which at $1.9 million was the second-highest in state fair history. This year’s fair also ranks fifth in number of Grandstand ticket sales, with 51,420 being sold.

Gate and parking revenues are down only slightly, Grandstand ticket sales are second-highest in history, yet attendance was off by half?

Um, huh?

Are they counting noses differently than in the past?

The department of agriculture’s spokeswoman notes that parking and admission revenue is audited, while turnout is not.

In a statement, the fair’s new director says a strict methodology was used to tabulate attendance. He says he’s proud of the fair, and its strong grandstand sales.

Illinois’ fair date is set by statute; this year, a late Labor Day meant the fair was held when many students were already back in school.

So, maybe past attendance numbers were grossly inflated?

Either way, something’s not right here.

*** UPDATE *** SJ-R

The total attendance includes estimates to account for people who had free admission and children under 5. For instance, senior citizens had free admission on Senior Day, and veterans (and their families) had free admission on Veterans Day.

“There are several free days on the grounds, and we used US Census information (seniors) and data from the Department of Defense (veterans) to estimate attendance on those days,” [Department of Agriculture spokesperson Rebecca Clark] said in an e-mail.

A press release from the fair included the following comment from Buchen:

“We are very proud of the Illinois State Fair and what we were able to present to fairgoers. We have put together a methodology that is tried and true by event industry professionals nationwide because vendors, sponsors and Illinois taxpayers deserve an accurate depiction of who attended the fair.”

Looks like they drastically changed the head-counting procedure.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

67 Comments
  1. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:23 am:

    Kinda like IDES, where the headline depends on who’s governor?


  2. - COPN - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:26 am:

    On last hurrah for Holland to look into? It certainly wouldn’t be surprising that attendance numbers were inflated in the past, but that’s potentially a massive inflation


  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:26 am:

    When my husband and I were at the fair, several times, it seemed that there were hardly any people there. Never had a line for food even right at noon. Watching the TV stations broadcasting live there seemed to be empty streets. Something’s not right and I don’t think it’s a difference in counting attendance. Be interesting to hear the vendors take on it.


  4. - A guy - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:28 am:

    They missed counting the guys in golf carts. lol


  5. - The Way I See It ... - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:29 am:

    400K in attendance and $1.3M in revenue = about $3 per person. I’ve never been to the State Fair, but that seems like a lot of cash went missing.


  6. - Anotherretiree - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:31 am:

    We were there both Fridays. 1st was so so compared to normal. Last Friday was deserted. Vendors confirmed multiple bad days. Seems like it should’ve started on Aug 7.


  7. - Anonin' - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:32 am:

    The first Saturday attendance was 70K — place was mobbed from 10 a.m. on
    Guessin’ TeamBungle forgot how to count heads.
    Not surprising


  8. - Wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:33 am:

    Wow, that Democrat Day really was a bust.


  9. - Anon221 - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:34 am:

    Even if you worked at the Fair in one of the outreach tents, you still had to have a ticket to get in, and would have been counted. I doubt non-profits and state workers who didn’t man booths and tents this year made that much of a difference in the head count.

    Maybe someone can FOIA the secret formula for attendance numbers:)


  10. - anon - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:34 am:

    Can’t just start on August 7th. State rules dictate it starts the second Friday in August. This year that was on the 14th.


  11. - Louis G. Atsaves - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:34 am:

    I always felt “attendance” figures were inflated by governments. An Example: Two and a half million people attended the Air and Water Show in Chicago by packing the lakefront? Give. Me. A. Break.

    Mathematically if everyone stood shoulder to shoulder and nose to nose, those magical numbers in my opinion would never be reached.

    The State Fair seemed to be as busy this year as compared to last year. That was just my observation. If everyone started counting noses instead of say legs or ears, we would find attendance claims to be more factual.


  12. - Anon2U - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:36 am:

    This makes about as much sense as the Dem’s spending 6 billion more than we are set to take in this year but I digress…
    Illinois math sure doesn’t add up!


  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:37 am:

    It doesn’t make sense, but fair attendance did seem very light. Fair organizers said $1,357,000 was collected in gate and parking revenue. Not knowing how much was just gate, I’d think you could swag attendance by dividing 1.3M by some admission fee amount.


  14. - Mama - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:42 am:

    The numbers don’t pass the smell test.

    Hope they made enough money to pay the harness race winners this year. Some horse racer are still waiting for their winnings from last year’s races at the fair.


  15. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:46 am:

    ==I’d think you could swag attendance by dividing 1.3M by some admission fee amount.==

    The problem with that is admission fees vary depending on age, day, etc.


  16. - Bogey Golfer - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:47 am:

    =400K in attendance and $1.3M in revenue = about $3 per person. I’ve never been to the State Fair, but that seems like a lot of cash went missing.=
    So in 2014, the number is $1.67 per person. Just math. As to the start date, the GA may need to begin process of revising this statute. Schools used to begin after Labor Day; now its mid-August. First week of HS football is this weekend.


  17. - HeavyB - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:48 am:

    I’m not sure how they count kids, but I know that several schools started the same time the fair did so a lot of kids did not get to use their mega-passes as much.


  18. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:50 am:

    ==This makes about as much sense as the Dem’s spending 6 billion more than we are set to take in this year…==

    Which Dems are spending? The Governor is a Republican, and only the Governor spends, or chooses not to spend. The legislature does not have spending authority.


  19. - HistoryRepeats - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:51 am:

    If I remember correctly, there was a similar large drop in state fair attendance during Blago’s first year in office. Many schools have been starting the school year earlier.


  20. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:53 am:

    From the article:
    ==Going strictly by the number of tickets purchased, there was only a slight decline in attendance this year, according to numbers the department provided. The number of adult, child and senior tickets purchased in 2015 was about 208,000, compared to about 222,000 in 2014, Clark said.

    That would indicate that about half of the people got in free this year, while in 2014, nearly three-quarters did.==

    So actual paid admissions were almost equal….they just let a lot more people in for free before? Sounds like they may have just puffed up the numbers a wee bit previously to make it seem like a bigger success


  21. - Reformed Optimist - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:54 am:

    There is only so much parking on the fairgrounds, hence the overflow lots surrounding the perimeter on private property. I suspect the private parking market was way down while the number of those parking on the fairgrounds was fairly stable. That would account for similar parking revenue with lower attendance, at least in part.


  22. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 10:56 am:

    Gov Rauner’s personal corndog purchases kept revenues on pace. That’s why you elect a billionaire.


  23. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:03 am:

    Perhaps the pols counting attendance were counting ears instead of noses…..

    By the way, you’re way off on the attendance estimates for the Air and Water show. The numbers from reliable sources counted slightly over 7 BILLION!LOL


  24. - Joe Schmoe - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:05 am:

    Attendance figures have been grossly overestimated for years. a million people at the Fair? There haven’t been that many on the fairgrounds since it was used as a discharge station after World War II.

    The Fair dates have always been locked in - it’s the schools that are opening a week earlier than in the past. That destroys the incentive for the junior livestock shows and families attending during the week. The only thing that’s going to save the Fair is if it is moved back one week - sure it goes up against Iowa and Indiana, but how many people (besides a few vendors) come to Springfield for the fair anyway? Zilch.

    When the ag folks disappear from the Fair by Tuesday, then you have a problem.


  25. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:06 am:

    Historically many Governors going back for the past 30 years wanted attendance to reach 1 million. When there was no admission to pay, attendance was “estimated”. Maybe this is a more accurate account of attendance than ever before. But the money still does not add up very well.


  26. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:12 am:

    ==sure it goes up against Iowa and Indiana, but how many people (besides a few vendors) come to Springfield for the fair anyway?==

    The biggest thing that may hurt is who we’re able to get for Grandstand acts. Look at and compare concert lineups, and it’s a pretty good guess that acts get a better deal in Iowa and Indiana than they do here.


  27. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:14 am:

    === how many people (besides a few vendors) come to Springfield for the fair anyway? Zilch.===

    I beg to differ.

    I live on Lake Springfield. The lake’s level usually drops about three feet during the fair.


  28. - Give Me A Break - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:15 am:

    One of the private lots across from the Illinois Bldg. owners told a local media outlet his numbers were really down this year. He said he was hoping to break even after paying the kids who parked the cars.

    I really think the fact a lot of area schools being in session impacted the weekday numbers. The only school district not in session last week was Springfield’s Public 186. Given the high number of kids who attend private schools in Springfield and the area schools being in session, it has to be a factor.

    I know on Thursday, I walked down Grandstand Avenue around 2:00 PM, the place was really empty. Saw about 10 people in a beer tent and no one in line at Vose Corn Dogs and carnival area was devoid of kids.

    Last year while at the family summer place on the UP of Michigan, a local resort owner said Michigan passed a law a couple of years ago mandating no public school can start before Labor Day. Seems the law was driven by tourism and employers who saw early school start dates impacting their customers and their ability to retain summer help.


  29. - He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:18 am:

    Attendance during the day was weak, however many nights it picked up….especially when a good act was in the grandstand. When they raised the entry fee to $7 people that would come out most nights for the Beer Tents or to ride rides cut down the number of times they come. Also schools started during the fair which hurt too.


  30. - D.P.Gumby - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:21 am:

    Springfield Schools and others outside Chicago had started. Also, some college move-ins also started The fair was late and the school starts were earlier than usual. All of those calendar coincidences collided. IMHO


  31. - Dudeman - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:24 am:

    There is no way they had a 50% decrease in attendance and only a 5% decrease in gate and parking revenue compared to last year.
    Obviously they are using a different way to count attendance than last year.
    All these other conversations on why it may be less is moot. There is no way those numbers are comparable to last year. There methodology on counting must have changed.


  32. - Nick Danger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:32 am:

    Just one more great reason to back legislation to make the day after labor the official start of the school year. It would help not just the fair but do wonder’s for our state’s other tourism industry.


  33. - ToughGuy - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:32 am:

    Always loved the head count under the Thompson administration. Seems the more ABC club “lemonade” they drank the higher the attendance.


  34. - Give Me A Break - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:34 am:

    Those ABC Club Members were the Thompson, Edgar and Ryan administrations. Hard to tell ABC members from the local GOP.


  35. - GA Watcher - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:35 am:

    Worked for a company for three years in the mid 1980s that was brought in by the Thompson administration to handle gate admissions and ticket sales auditing at the State Fair following years of alleged fraud by a fair director and his staff.

    We reported exact attendance numbers to the powers that be at the end of each day. The best day we ever had back then was just over 47,000. Most days, attendance was in the 38,000 - 42,000 range.

    I know the mid-1980s was thirty years ago, but I’m unaware of any steps taken over the years that resulted in noticeably larger crowds. They never seemed larger to me anyway. I’ve got to think that the 411,000+ reported this year is closer to reality than the 847,000 last year.


  36. - Austin Blvd - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:36 am:

    The one tried and true measure of the fair’s economic impact is the sales tax revenue that vendors generate every year.
    That information will be available and FOIAable to those interested.


  37. - Nick Name - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:39 am:

    “Springfield Schools and others outside Chicago had started.”

    The first day of school for Springfield public schools was Monday, Aug. 24 — the day after the fair ended. Springfield Catholic schools, both elementary and high school, started the previous week, however.


  38. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:42 am:

    ==Springfield Catholic schools, both elementary and high school, started the previous week, however.==

    And pretty much all surrounding school districts


  39. - Dr X - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:49 am:

    Definitely down. Went on Wed with perfect weather and hit the midway. Spent 5 hours and barely had a wait.


  40. - SAP - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:50 am:

    == Nick Danger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:32 am: Just one more great reason to back legislation to make the day after labor the official start of the school year. It would help not just the fair but do wonder’s [sic] for our state’s other tourism industry.== Disagree. Many schools start in mid August so final exams can be given before Christmas break. That way the students don’t have a chance to forget everything they learned right before exams.


  41. - Wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:51 am:

    Did anyone see any promotion, at all, of the fair in the Chicago market?

    Wisconsin and Michigan are all over radio and tv, year round.


  42. - Sir Reel - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 11:57 am:

    I’m with those who think previous years figures were inflated. There’s an incentive for fair management to overestimate. Sounds like the new crew is trying to do the right thing.

    I bet the annual attendance figures DNR reports are similarly inflated. 45 million a year? If you visit a State Park mid week or in the off season they’re mostly empty. But again there’s an incentive to overestimate. Park superintendents salary is partly based on annual attendance. Guess who estimates annual park attendance?


  43. - Mattman - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:09 pm:

    we attended on the final day of the Fair — Family Day, plus the big auto races out on the track; other than around the Grandstand, it seemed eerily quiet around the fairgrounds; Governor Rauner was in the Ag Tent, and the line to shake hands with him was only 3-5 peeps deep


  44. - Bogey Golfer - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:11 pm:

    Agree SAP. Plus fall sports begin official practices around August 12 this year. @Wordslinger, the Wisconsin State Fair is a shorter drive than Springfield, for those doing a day trip.


  45. - Anyone Remember - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:13 pm:

    Didn’t Blago’s people (Filan?) make an issue of the inflated attendance figures put out by Ryan’s people? Like this:
    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:yVpfy2NmRu4J:www.agr.state.il.us/newsrels/r0822011.html+&cd=8&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

    Or this:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/16/us/16fair.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


  46. - Wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:43 pm:

    Bogey, I understand. My point is that there’s a lot of competition for the summer fun buck.

    If you’re goal is to bring in numbers, you have to promote. Others are.


  47. - Wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:44 pm:

    Does this mean the fair won’t cover it’s expenses this year, like the governor told reporters last week that it always does?


  48. - Mason born - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 12:51 pm:

    I usually go on veterans day or the first Sunday. (I have some service buddies who meet us there keeps the kids from whining about listening to adults talk) It seemed quite busy of course vets and family got in free but had to pay to park.


  49. - rick - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:03 pm:

    Beers at the Coor’s tent were $4.50. Extremely excessive for a State fair in downstate Illinois. After paying for parking and entrance fees, the two corn dogs and a lemon shakeup and a few beers were way too expensive. Probably the last time I will go.


  50. - WETHEPEOPLE - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:13 pm:

    I’ve always been susceptible of fair numbers, kind of like the budget numbers from the various sources. The forthrightness of this administration doesn’t help.


  51. - Ghost - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:15 pm:

    Antecdotally we went 4 times last year and 1 this year. Most of the little activites and shows we like to attend in sleepy hollow, conservation world and just arpund the main grounds were all missing. They have been droppng off for years and this year was the worst. Basically nothing we used to do was left.


  52. - Arsenal - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:43 pm:

    If this is all down to changing the way attendance is counted, they better disclose that soon. ‘Cause right now, they just look abysmal.


  53. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:46 pm:

    So does that revenue number include Rauner’s cow?


  54. - ryan - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:48 pm:

    A couple friends went during the week. They said they followed the directions of the troopers to park. They were not charged for parking or to enter the fair. I found that interesting. Not implying anything.


  55. - Skunk Races - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:54 pm:

    Rich,
    Your comment about the lake dropping because of the Fair just isn’t accurate. If you don’t believe me, ask CWLP. They have debunked that myth many times. But I admit that many people still believe it.


  56. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:56 pm:

    ===Your comment about the lake dropping because of the Fair just isn’t accurate===

    Whatever you say.

    But I watch it happen every year.


  57. - Secret Square - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 1:58 pm:

    The fact that SMTD dropped its dedicated State Fair bus route probably didn’t help either:

    http://www.sj-r.com/article/20150825/OPINION/150829693/-1/json

    I always preferred riding the bus to the fairgrounds to save the cost and hassle of parking; the cancellation of the bus route was one reason I didn’t bother going this year, and I can’t be the only one.


  58. - Secret Square - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 2:04 pm:

    I’m sure schools opening also had a lot to do with the lower attendance — but the solution to that is to change the dates of the Fair, NOT to change the start of the school year.


  59. - Skeptic - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 2:07 pm:

    “But I watch it happen every year” Yeah, but it’s usually 100 in the shade during Fair week…


  60. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 2:11 pm:

    ===Yeah, but it’s usually 100 in the shade during Fair week===

    Not always.


  61. - Juice - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 2:30 pm:

    Rich, did the water levels drop a similar amount this year?


  62. - cow farmer - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 2:43 pm:

    We show cattle at he fair. Have for years. We arrive Tuesday before fair starts stay until the 1st Sunday. Crowd was comparable with last several years when we were there. Was told by others except for Ag day crowds real light 2nd week. No horse racing to speak of kept us home the 2nd week. Biggest crowd I can remember was 1st Saturday of George Ryan deal. Been thinking since about 2009 some funny math has been used on attendance.


  63. - Give Me A Break - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 3:11 pm:

    CWLP simply does not want to alarm the public their water supply could be compromised by the volume of Shake Ups being produced.


  64. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 3:44 pm:

    Don’t we know how many tickets are sold, the types of tickets sold, and how many parking passes are sold? I get that isn’t an all inclusive number but it would be closer than an estimate I would think.


  65. - RNUG - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 5:59 pm:

    == did the water levels drop a similar amount this year? ==

    CWLP has been doing a pretty good job of keeping the lake at full pool this year … and they were pumping water into the lake, so it must have dropped some.


  66. - RNUG - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 6:02 pm:

    As I reported last week, attendance seemed super light during the day on Thursday. I was out of town but MRS RNUG said Parade night seemed normal but the first Sunday seemed light … and she’s a big fair goer every year.


  67. - illini - Wednesday, Aug 26, 15 @ 7:51 pm:

    Lets see what the numbers are at DuQuoin in early September - I doubt that I will be there either. Yet we can not forego these events - they are a part of our culture.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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