Community Commentary: O.C. Fair attendance increases

I have been asked repeatedly the reason for the 2011 Orange County Fair success thus far.

OK, let's go for a jog — of memory.

The unprecedented run of the 2011 O.C. Fair with the 20% increase in gate attendance, while difficult to explain and define, is not without precursor. The 2002 O.C. Fair, with the theme "Leap into the Fair," caused a quantum "Leap into the Future" and still ranks as one of the most successful fairs in history, even though the gross numbers of the 2010 and other past fairs are higher.

That year, Board President Curt Pringle led casting the die for the next decade of fair activity that I believe has the 2011 O.C. Fair nearing heaven's gate. As you may know, a short time later, Pringle became a two-term mayor of Anaheim, a major entertainment hub of Southern California. You now know his warm-up.

The daily average attendance at the 17-day 2002 fair was 52,800, higher even than the 23-day 2010 average of 50,170, and higher than the next highest per-day average of 51,900 for the 21-day 2007 fair. Pound for pound, you see what fair currently reigns supreme. Time may be running out on that run, though.

The 2011 O.C. Fair is drawing an average of more than 60,000 visitors per day.

In 2002, the headline concerts were in the Arlington Theatre and, of the 17 shows, 10 sold out. Food and beverage sales set a record.

You could now leave the "beer and wine garden" to stroll the fair with libation in hand, and Weird Al was the first headline artist to do multiple nights — five — at the fair coupled with the 1,500-square-foot memorabilia exhibit called the "The Weird Al Experience." Pioneers, all.

"Al's Brain" represented a paradigm shift in terms of what fairs could produce and present in exhibits and attractions. The educational exhibit and 3-D movie on the workings of the human brain worked to deliver on the purpose of educating while entertaining — exactly Walt Disney's vision for Epcot. "The Weird Al Experience" was the warm-up to "Al's Brain."

Also in 2003, the fair expanded its run for the first time since 1992 from 17 to 21 days. Another expansion followed in 2009 to the current 23-day run. The skyride, the No. 1 ride at the fair, opened in 2003, the carnival lot was reconfigured for flow, and we added 600 new parking spaces. The success of the 2002 fair set the stage for all these additions and modifications, and the growth of the fair for the next decade.

There is a phrase that says, "Show me a pioneer and I will show you someone with arrows in their back." Isn't it more like, "Show me a pioneer and I will show one who widens their narrow path?" The 2002 fair was a pioneer and made today's life better for the O.C. Fair.

Nice jog? Feels good to stretch.

So, after the warm-up and a great first half, here we are, starting the second half of the 2011 O.C. Fair pigskin classic 20 points ahead. As the saying goes, "Let's play to win, instead of playing not to lose." OK, game on.

Early next week, in this column, we will call a play that has never been used in a fair game before.

We will make a special announcement regarding the last week of the fair that will bring the fair and the community a major victory as the clock ticks down to Aug. 14. Huddle up around the Daily Pilot, and we'll call the play here.

Go team!

STEVEN BEAZLEY is the president and chief executive of the O.C. Fair. He is writing a Tuesday column for the Daily Pilot on the insights and happenings for the duration of the 2011 O.C. Fair.

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