The Ohio State Fair was the largest state fair outside the state of California to cancel last year – technically, the fair cancelled in 2020 during the lockdown but was held in 2021, just not open to the public. This remote fair mainly featured agricultural programming.
But in 2022, the full celebration of everything Buckeye State was back in force, except for one very noticeable new addition: a Magic Money cashless midway.
Talley Amusements won the Ohio contract in 2018, previously held by Amusements of America, who operated the Ohio midway for 26 years. But it was not until a global pandemic that the opportunity emerged to actually implement this cutting edge event transaction technology on the scale required by one of the most iconic Midwestern fairs.
The successful transition from cash to cashless is now the most significant marker separating the pre-from-post-pandemic Ohio State Fair. “One key difference in the infrastructure was the introduction of Magic Money , which was not used during the 2019 Ohio State Fair,” said Alicia Shoults, Assistant General Manager, Ohio State Fair “In 2022, this RFID-based system was used by Talley Amusements on the Midway and Kiddieland area. I could purchase either RFID-enabled ride-all-day wristbands or cards with credits, which could be used on rides, food in the Midway, or games. The kiosks accepted cash or credit card, and the Magic Money mobile app could also be used for purchasing credits.”
According to Mary Talley, the fair board and other stakeholders were initially apprehensive about implementing a cashless system, but the tight labor market forced the issue. In 2019, the midway had 33 manned ticket booths, the vast majority of the ticket-sellers made up of local labor, one of the shallowest of labor pools this summer. “If there wasn’t COVID, I think we would have had Magic Money up by 2020,” said Talley. “But they knew the labor market and that I wasn’t going to be able to find the 29 live bodies to man the booths this year. The fair was having their own staffing problems, so they understood.”
Instead, Talley put in 33 Automated Kiosks – the midway had approximately 100 points-of-sales total – and shifted personnel to be roaming ambassadors – between eight and a dozen – who helped fairgoers adapt to the new system and trouble shoot any glitches that are bound to occur when inaugurating a new technology of this size and scope. Turned out, customer resistance or technical snafus were barely non-existent, perhaps a testament to both Talley Amusements’ adeptness with the system after consecutive years of operating an RIFD midway and the general public’s high comfort level with transaction technology.
“We trained the staff to help people put on wristbands, we had no problems at all,” said Talley. “The customers love it. They have less to worry about when they’re here and they’re all already used to the technology. It’s very intuitive. The people really picked up quick here.”
And, the ambivalence expressed by some fair stakeholders about such a sweeping change? That faded into enthusiasm once they saw the facts – actually, the data – Magic Money makes appear. “They really liked see the figures in real time, what the spending was where, and make sure of it by the minute and the hour. I’m glad they were apprehensive because we were able to prove the value of the system.
That value is compiling and assessing data for subsequent midways, what 2022 did was create a baseline of data. “I’ll really be able to tell how a good year we had this year in ’23 and ’24 when we start applying the analytics,” she said.
This year, Talley felt the weather hampered attendance and revenue. In addition, it was the first time for the new “Tyler” law to be in effect at the state fair. Named after Tyler Jarrell, an 18-year-old from Columbus who died in a fatal accident at the 2017 Ohio State Fair, the new law contains new ASTM standards, increased inspections, and reviews by professional engineers. The inspection process took longer than anticipated. “It was a little different than before so I think it was new to some of the inspectors. We hired a private engineer, which was part of the inspection.”
The Talley Midway featured 68 rides total between Kiddieland and the Mountain Dew Midway. According to Shoults, “the ride layout was revised significantly from the 2019 Ohio State Fair, which allowed for a circular navigation and improved flow of traffic through the Midway and to other Fair activities.”
The three most popular rides on the Midway this year were the Giant Wheel, Big Kahuna and the Century Wheel. “Talley Amusements has a dedication to the safety of fairgoers, which is instrumental to our fair’s success.” said Virgil Strickler, General Manager, Ohio State Fair.
Rain vs Rain Threat
Mother Nature proved a reluctant matron to this year’s fair, with three days of heavy rain, including a nearly washed out Opening Day. On other days, rain was forecasted, but never fell and of course many would-be-fairgoers were dissuaded to attend an outdoor event. “Fairs are very weather dependent, and with a few days of rain, it is not surprising that we saw smaller crowds those days. On days with good weather, we saw higher attendance than 2019,” said Strickler. “In full, 886,473 visitors walked through the gates at the 2022 Ohio State Fair, and combined revenue was up across the board, with record-setting concession revenue, sponsorships, and the highest-ever Sale of Champions. This year’s attendance is a slight decrease of approximately 5 percent compared to the 934,925 people who attended the 2019 Ohio State Fair.
Attendance may have dipped, but spending exceeded pre-pandemic levels. “There were days in which we saw other record revenue, including record-breaking Midway and concessionaire gross (Saturday, July 30 for Midway gross; Sunday, July 31 for concessionaire gross),” said Shoults. “Per capita spending increased over the 2019 Ohio State Fair by approximately 20 percent. The 2022 Ohio State Fair had overall record-breaking concessionaire grosses as well as a near-record breaking year on the Midway, just falling slightly behind our previous Midway record in 2015.”
The fair’s marketing/advertising budget was approximately $425,000, a 15 percent increase over 2019. After a two-year absence, the messaging underlying return of this beloved tradition emphasized roots, community and nostalgia. For team Ohio State Fair, this meant creating content that echoed these essential fair themes.
“When working on our creative campaign and advertising assets this year, our goal was to focus on real Ohioans and their favorite Ohio State Fair activities, bringing recognition and familiarity to the fair and its traditions with a man on the street style,” she explained. “It was important to renew a sense of tradition and fondness by interviewing Ohioans in typical settings, such as the grocery store parking lot, parks, and neighborhoods, for our television and digital commercials talking about their favorite aspects of the Ohio State Fair. In a sense, we went back to the basics and highlighted common must-see and must-do things at the Ohio State Fair: animals, food, rides, entertainment, the butter cow and calf, etc.”
The 2022 advertising/marketing budget was Digital – 35 percent; Television – 22 percent; Radio – 20 percent; Outdoor – 11 percent; Social media – 6 percent; Print – 5 percent; Movie theater – 3 percent; “Significant changes over the 2019 media mix are a continued shift of dollars toward digital and away from more traditional terrestrial media, including television, radio, and print,” she said. “As a whole, digital made up 25 percent of the media mix in 2019, and 35 percent in 2022.”
Social Media received the most noticeable boost via platform expansion. “We expanded our use of social media this year by creating a TikTok account, and by incorporating more video use with TikTok, as well as Instagram/Facebook reels, in addition to native feed videos on various social platforms,” she said. “Social media was used both organically and with paid dollars as a marketing tool.
An estimated 150 different food locations served the Ohio State Fair attendees, resulting in a gross concession revenue of more than $6.9 million. New cuisine additions to the fair’s menu included Mini Pretzel Dogs; Alfredo Stuffed Turkey; Cajun Waffle Dogs; Cold Edible Cookie Dough; Deep-Fried Devil Dogs; Deep-Fried Piggy in a Pancake and Veggie Bowl.
“The 2022 Ohio State Fair was a great event,” said Shoults. “We were incredibly thankful to implement new programs and entertainment on-grounds, enhance comfort seating and beautification, and provide a quality event for Ohioans.”