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California State Fair sees 5 percent attendance drop on 50th anniversary at Cal Expo

Gov. Jerry Brown visits the State Fair

Gov. Jerry Brown, along with his wife, Anne Gust Brown, drop by the United Farm Workers exhibit at the California State Fair on July 30, 2017.
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Gov. Jerry Brown, along with his wife, Anne Gust Brown, drop by the United Farm Workers exhibit at the California State Fair on July 30, 2017.

Triple-digit weather dampened attendance at this year’s California State Fair, officials said Monday.

The 17-day event at Cal Expo drew 636,628 visitors, 5 percent fewer than its 673,237 visitors last year. Last year’s total was down 14 percent from the 787,833 visitors in 2015. In 2010, the fair was moved to July to accommodate the early start of school in August. Prior to the change, the fair had a record attendance of 1.04 million in 2001.

Eight days of heat reaching 100 degrees or higher – occurring almost exclusively on Fridays and weekends, when attendance is typically highest – were the biggest contributor to this year’s lower numbers, said spokeswoman Sabrina Rodriguez.

“Somehow we got on this seven-day cycle,” Rodriguez said. “It’s like, ‘Come on, weather god.’ 

Fair officials have not yet calculated the number of paid attendees at this year’s fair, said Rodriguez. Last year, about 511,000 people paid to enter the fair.

The first night of the fair was mired in controversy, after several fights broke out, dozens were ejected from the fair, and several teens accused officers of racial profiling. But Rodriguez said she didn’t think the outbursts discouraged people from coming to the fair, since they “still saw really good numbers” until the first day of over 100-degree weather.

The 2017 fair made more than $12.7 million in sales revenue – roughly $8.5 million in food and beverage sales and $4.2 million from carnival rides, Rodriguez said. Last year, the fair brought in about $14.1 million, $9.4 million from food and beverage sales, and $4.7 million from carnival ride sales. Rodriguez said more night-time attendance may have lowered food sales.

“If they’re here throughout the day, normally people are buying multiple things,” Rodriguez said. “After 6 or 7, then maybe they’re only buying one meal instead of two or three.”

While fair ticket prices stayed the same, parking costs increased by $5 to $15 per vehicle this year. Rodriguez didn’t know whether the number of cars parked had dramatically changed, but said that parking revenue did increase this year.

Peak attendance was the second Saturday of the fair, July 22, drawing in 62,583 visitors, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the special anniversary, the return of the wiener dog races and the introduction of new fair activities such as a dinosaur exhibit and a scavenger hunt on the event’s mobile app helped mitigate some of the effects of the high temperatures. In addition, organizers added 10,000 square feet of shade throughout the fairgrounds.

“The 50th anniversary (at Cal Expo) brought a lot of people out and made people want to be a part (of something), like Disneyland’s anniversaries,” Rodriguez said, alluding to the fair’s Disney influence. “There’s something about those round numbers that they always say, ‘Gotta go this year.’ ”

Sixty-four Dachshunds competed in the 2017 Wienerschnitzel Wiener Nationals at the California State Fair on Saturday July 15, 2017, in Sacramento.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks: 916-321-1418, @ayoonhendricks

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