California State Fair attendance drops 14 percent

California State Fair officials said Monday that Sacramento’s weekend heat wave and recent national tragedies took a toll on attendance despite efforts to advertise more on social media.

The number of fair attendees dropped 14 percent this year, totaling 673,237 visitors. The decline comes after last year’s total of 787,833, a number that fair officials consider a record since they began electronically tracking tickets in 2009.

Paid attendance fell by 11 percent from 577,646 last year to 511,224 this year.

State Fair spokeswoman Sabrina Rodriguez said the 17-day event usually has some of its heaviest turnout in the closing weekend. Sacramento was hit Saturday and Sunday with triple-digit heat.

She also said fair organizers speculate that recent shootings and attacks may have also deterred people from attending a heavily populated event, despite actions they took this year to prevent fairgoers from bringing weapons, such as metal detectors at entrances.

“Despite how safe the fair is, we have had a lot of recent tragedies around the country when it comes to large groups of people…some people may be more likely to stay home,” Rodriguez said.

The fair also faced late cancellations from Chaka Khan and Salt n Pepa, which had been advertised extensively, and their replacement acts did not have as much time to promote themselves, Rodriguez said.

The State Fair shifted in 2010 to a July start after school districts in the region increasingly moved the first day of school into early and mid-August. The fair recorded a paid attendance high of 847,099 in 2001, according to documents reviewed in the past by The Bee, nearly two-thirds higher than this year’s total. But Rodriguez said the fair does not recognize figures recorded prior to electronic tracking in 2009.

Despite the decrease in overall attendance, special and promotional events did see increases in attendance, including a 31 percent increase at the Best of California Brewfest.

“Craft beer in California has a really strong presence, and we want to recognize that, highlighting the best of California,” Rodriguez said. “It gives them that platform where they can compete in a competition, and then if you win it makes it a lot easier to attach your brand to something and say ‘We are an award-winning beer.’”

Rodriguez said she noticed more turnout from families and young adults this year. Promotional days like $2 Rides and Kids Free Tuesdays drew in families during the busy workweek, and PokéMonday played off of the far-reaching craze of Pokémon Go to attract more middle school and high school-aged kids.

Officials said that through a partnership with Save Mart Supermarket and Kaiser Permanente, the fair donated 3,400 pounds of produce from the on-site 3.5-acre farm to local food banks.

“We are such an agriculturally minded state, so to be able to use our farm and return produce to local food banks is very powerful,” Rodriguez said. “I know from speaking to some food banks, a lot of the donations they get are canned or boxes of goods, and fresh fruits and vegetables are something that they crave. It’s really nice to give to people who need it.”

Editor’s note (July 26): This story has been updated with an explanation of why fair officials consider 2015 a record attendance year.

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