Despite preservation push, 2011 state fair ticket sales drop

Monday, September 19, 2011 at 7:44pm

The 2011 Tennessee State Fair came and went –– and fewer people noticed than in the past.

In what state fair organizers acknowledge are “down” attendance figures, 100,445 trips were made to the now-concluded 10-day event, according to information provided to The City Paper. The “un-audited” numbers, tallied through Sunday at 8:30 p.m., did not include advanced ticket sales at area Kroger grocery stores.

Though numbers aren’t official, it is clear fewer people in 2011 walked through the fairgrounds gates than last year, when organizers counted 247,000 total trips. Last year’s figure came from a different fair operator, which likely arrived at the number through a different calculation.

Still, state fair spokeswoman Emily Fletcher estimated ticket sales were down between 10 and 20 percent this year. Approximately 58,000 to 60,000 tickets were sold this year, compared to an estimated 66,000 to 75,000 in 2010.

The drop follows a year when saving the fairgrounds was one of the dominant political themes in Nashville as Mayor Karl Dean unsuccessfully pursued the redevelopment of the 117-acre fairgrounds property. The mantra continued leading up to the passage of a Metro charter amendment through public referendum making it more difficult to redevelop the site.

But the Tennessee State Fair Association –– the group tapped to host this year’s fair –– says it was handicapped because of the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners’ late decision in awarding the state fair contract. Because of uncertainty over the future of the fairgrounds –– and confusion over the bid of a competitor fair operator –– the state fair association did not come on board until this summer.

“Most state fairs have nine months to a year to plan and put on the event,” the state fair association said in a news release. “With only 65 days, we’re proud to have opened our gates for a 2011 State Fair.”

John Rose, who chairs the state fair association, suggested the politics surrounding the fairgrounds added more challenges. 

“Just the ongoing uncertainty of the last two years, I think, has little by little crept up on us,” Rose said.

“What I’ve seen as I’ve looked at the numbers this year is that every time we lose an event or a show –– that takes people away,” Rose said. “So, we lost a number of livestock events that had to go to other fairs because they simply couldn’t wait to see whether or not we were going to come through.”

In the same media release, fair organizers said they delivered a “quality fair” despite the limited time frame, citing that participants in various events came from 18 states, as well as overseas.

28 Comments on this post:

By: producer2 on 9/20/11 at 8:56

Wow, none of those fairgrounds supporters are replying to this fabulous economic news? shocked...

By: oliwo on 9/20/11 at 8:56

Compare this to the Wilson County Fair which had nearly 546,000 in attendance, including over a 100,000 on the last day alone. I think once the Tennessee State Fair comes along, it's too little, too late.

By: girliegirl on 9/20/11 at 9:18

I LOVED the Wilson County Fair this year, as I have every previous year. Open space for as far as the eye can see, thousands of people having a blast, police officers everywhere you turned, and more rides than I thought possible. It's far better than any of the other surrounding country and state fairs, in comparison.

By: localboy on 9/20/11 at 9:38

"“Most state fairs have nine months to a year to plan and put on the event,” the state fair association said in a news release. “With only 65 days, we’re proud to have opened our gates for a 2011 State Fair.”" While the fair may have not drawn additional attendance, this statement makes the strongest point in the story.

By: tardistraveler on 9/20/11 at 9:44

Agree 100% with localboy. By the time a decision was made about the fate of the fairgrounds and that there would BE a fair, there was little time to plan and PUBLICIZE the thing. In past years there were always lots of ads on the air, billboards around town, a large insert in the newspaper detailing the events - stuff like that. I saw very little publicity this year, and I'm quite sure that affected attendance.

And it's fine that many folks prefer going to the Wilson County fair or some such, but you know, LOTS of us do NOT live in the suburbs. Those of us who live IN Nashville really enjoy going to things in town, and not having to drive to the burbs for all our entertainment and shopping. I see a viable fairgrounds as just another venue to host local events that many of us enjoy going to, provided the government stops threatening to CLOSE the thing and allows such events to be publicized!

By: SouthNashvillian on 9/20/11 at 10:44

So all that free publicity of the fairgrounds being in the news more than it ever had in the past year wasn't enough to get people out there? They couldn't blame it on the weather this year, they had to come up with something else to blame their poor attendance on because they refuse to admit that the glory days of the fairgrounds are OVER.

By: nester on 9/20/11 at 10:45

People who voted for status quo at the Fairgrounds got exactly what they wanted -- status quo: a bad fair that is embarrassing to our State. This Fair lost it's luster decades ago and can't even compete wtih the Dickson Cty Fair -- Wilson Cty Fair is in a completely higher class of Fairs.

People didn't attend the Fair becuase the Fair isn't good, and the rides are not the kind of quality you would expect for a State Fair. When will the State finally wake up and demand more from it's Fair? Late notice or confusion about the Fair being blamed for poor ticket sales? What was to blame the years before that when attendance wasn't good, aside from last year's ticket sales? Frankly, with 40,000 voting to keep the fair, track and other events status quo -- and that being talked about via every news outlet in the city - blaming it on lack of publicity is humorous!

Status quo = status quo. No one should be surprised.

By: karlwithak on 9/20/11 at 11:00

No one wants to admit the truth.

The fair board and mayor Karl Dean got just what they wanted by delaying the decision. Until the last minute and awarding the fair to the worst possible group whose sole purpose is to degrade the fair to support their position of moving it from the fairgrounds property.

And this vendor paid the fair board $300,000 less than the better vendor who sought to hold the fair.

Its the same reason they awarded the speedway contract to an idiot whose first order of business was to steal from the fair board and his business partner and has bounced checks all over town.

The issues at the fairgrounds start and end with the incompetent leadership from Dozier the fair board and the mayors office. The evidence is overwhelming at the number of idiotic decisions they've made over and over.

By: whitetrash on 9/20/11 at 11:17

Where is the loud mouth Jamie Hollin?

By: nester on 9/20/11 at 12:13

Don't blame the current board for something that has been failing for years. HELLO that's what Mayor Dean was trying to make changes -- the Fair hasn't been successful in years and the fund to bail it out annually is now almost completely depleted.

The only idiotic decision the Mayor made, was to abort efforts to redevelop the site, after they determeined the Hickory Hollow option wasn't a good one. It wasn't -- but reveloping the site, (and bulldozing the track regardless of whether the Fair/Flea Market are left there or not) would be a good choice for Nashville. As for the track, regardless of who they bring in to run it, it won't do well -- it has also seen it's glory days. Doesn't matter what board is running it.

By: las04 on 9/20/11 at 12:29

Hats off to Karl Dean and the fair board for their great accomplishment. They sat out to make the fair unsuccessful and they did a wonderful job. I wish they would do us another favor and jump off the Shelby Street bridge. Last year the fair showed great signs of revitalizing what was once one of the best fairs in the country. Karl Dean had to do something to make it go backwards again. His wife's pocket book has got to be getting a little on the light side. Wonder how long she will let him have his way with her money before she kicks him to the curb. Maybe when his term is up he will get a double dose of reality. Thanks again to Karl "Dumb Ass" Dean, Bucky "Sucky" Dozier and the UN-Fair Board. YOU SHOULD ALL BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES....!!!

By: karlwithak on 9/20/11 at 12:30

Nester - revenues decreased and expenses increased sharply in 2007.

How can that not be the responsibility of anyone but the fair board, Dozier and Dean ?
Ironically that is the same year Dean and Dozier took over. The current fair board is the body that depleted those funds!!!!!! Good grief man, if you're gonna make an argument at least make one that makes sense....or is half way logical.

I understand your either in the mayors staff or being paid to be against the fairgrounds because no one in their right mind would make your backward argument otherwise.

The solution is to award a 20 year lease of the entire property and remove every facet of metro involvement and the place will generate twice the economic impact of the mcc within 3 years.

Well funded business leaders are wanting to do just that as we speak.

By: karlwithak on 9/20/11 at 12:52

Nester- the fairgrounds financials are all public record.

Are you aware that every year since Dean took office the fair board has budgeted to LOSE MONEY !!!

I have never heard of a CFO who would budget for a loss and keep their job yet Dean has allowed the fair board to do just that.

That's all the proof anyone should need.

Don't trust me....look it up.

By: producer2 on 9/20/11 at 2:12

That is what thought. More excuses... no substance.

By: bfra on 9/20/11 at 3:23

producer2 - How can you produce anything when you don't even understand what is printed in simple English? Are you here legally?

By: karlwithak on 9/20/11 at 3:23

No substance ?

You're an idiot that would stand in the pouring rain and declare Dean says the sun Is shining even though you're soaking wet because Dean told you to.

You haven't fooled anyone but yourself over the mcc and fairgrounds issues. Keep lying to yourself. Its your soul and no one else's.

By: macjedi on 9/20/11 at 4:03


Yet more validation for those of us who want rid of that rotting, festering embarrassment. The State Fair should become a touring event held at various county fairs - one each year "blessed" with the title of "state fair"... bringing the fair to the audience who actually cares about it, and freeing up a very valuable piece of land in an urban center.

By: pswindle on 9/20/11 at 4:47

Buck and his friends are trying to shut the fairgrounds down. They rasied prices on booth rentals and in everyway that they could. The fair company did not have the time to get the fair up and running with all of thier rides, etc. Just a little dirty work going on in the backroom.

By: boyer barner on 9/20/11 at 9:01

Dean and his fair board should all be ashamed of themselves.

Why hasn't fair board member, Ned Horton, founder of FM-100 and Dancing In The District (Nashville's best river-front music series EVER) offered his expertise in live music events to help bring music to the fairgrounds and our state fair?

Why haven't the other fair board members been pro-active in finding ways to help the flea-market, state fair and other event held at the fairgrounds?

It's because they have an agenda (to shut her down).

Karl Dean has been searching far and wide to do something to put on his resume.

The fairgrounds and raceway is a perfect opportunity. With a relatively minor investment(compared to a minor league baseball stadium), it could be turned into a park/fairgrounds/raceway that serves our city for decades to come.

Karl Dean refuses to be a real mayor and just get down to business. Which means, RUNNING our city. Instead, he continues to search for ways to use Nashville as a way to pad his resume.

I suppose that's why I've been hitting the same damn pot-hole for the past six months when I turn off of 21st Ave. S. to go to my home every afternoon.

Hey Karl. We aren't here to feed your dreams.

You're here to help OUR dreams.

So get with it.

Or go home.

By: NilsOrion on 9/21/11 at 3:35

I've lived here for a very long time, as I am sure many of you have. We have seen this city move and shift and transform in ways that may have seemed impossible a few decades ago. Perhaps today Nashville has become a place where a State Fair is not longer commercially viable? Perhaps sophistication has taken its toll on the pleasures of bygone days? Maybe it's time to move on and leave the running of fairs to places like Wilson County where such extravaganzas are still greatly appreciated. Just saying.

By: BigPapa on 9/21/11 at 8:06


I dont get that leads to success. Yes, another failed fair, more lackluster "racing" that nobody knows about or cares about. It's time for Dean to lay the hammer down on this issue and move on. The supporters of the FG have proven to be a lot of hot air and no substance.

By: nester on 9/21/11 at 11:27

karlwithak - how intelligent. Accuse me of being on Mayor Dean's staff. Funny actually because I'm so not a political person. You missed my point -- the fair has been on a downstreak for decades. It doesn't matter that Dozer and Dean are at the forefront right now. I'm not going to get into a debate with you because you think you know me. You don't.

The site, the Fair and the track all fall far short of representing even an small portion of the incredible City we live in. It's time to let it go and use that spce for somethig better that will actually benefit Nashville. The numbers available are all am embarrassment.

NilsOrion -- great point.

Macjedi - love the idea! And why not have it held all over the state, not just in TN!!!

By: nester on 9/21/11 at 11:29

Meant held all over the state -- not just in "nashville".....

By: karlwithak on 9/21/11 at 12:59

Nester....glad to not know you but know your "type" all too well. You think you're the smartest Guy in the room even though your comments show you actually have no clue about the fairgrounds.

Seems to be the case of every poster here who wants the property used for anything other than its current uses.

71% of voters think y'all are clueless too.

Bog pappa - define substance

By: SouthNashvillian on 9/21/11 at 1:17

Actually....only about 15% of Davidson County voters cast their vote in favor of keeping status quo at the fairgrounds. Over 78% of voters didn't give a crap one way or the other, that's how much Nashvillians "LOVE" the fairgrounds and want it to remain! Nashvillians (as well as non-Davidson County residents) spoke loud and clear with their lack of attendance at the fair this year. It's not a conspiracy in the Dean administration, it's not the fair board dooming it to fail, the simple fact is that the glory days of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds have past. It's over. Let's move on and do something with that property that we can ALL be proud of!

By: las04 on 9/21/11 at 4:36

Dear SouthNashvillian, I agree with you. We should do something with the 117 acres that WE ALL can and will be proud of. That's why the fairgrounds needs to be re-vitalized and bring it back to what it once was, which was somewhere for all of us to go and do various things, not just a soccer park or a bike trail or for goodness sake another empty office building or condos for the criminals to do their dirty deeds. You naysayers in favor of removing the fairgrounds talk the talk but WE all know it's not because you care about ALL of us in this city, it's only YOU that you care about.

By: MAmom on 9/21/11 at 10:04

1) In prior years the Fairgrounds employees ran the fair. And it was profitable. Now the contract to run the Fair is "leased" - and real profits accrue to the organization running the Fair. Not the way to run a profitable venture.
2) The Fairboard had offers from 3 organizations to run the Fair. They ultimately accepted the LOWEST BID. Not the way to run a profitable venture.
3) At least 2 members of the Fairboard are in the Advertising/PR business (Varney and Horton). If they genuinely care about the Fairgrounds - why wasn't there better promotion of the State Fair?
4) Last year's Fair was badly run. Poor prizes, etc. A lot of people didn't come back.

Bottom line:
The Fairboard keeps doing things to hurt the Fairgrounds. They work for Karl Dean & his mission (and their mission) is to cash out the Fairgrounds.

Put some people on the Fairboard - who have history with the Fairgrounds and who genuinely care about the Fairgrounds - and run it properly - and it will prosper.

By: Dancer2010 on 9/23/11 at 5:25

The great theme of the State Fair 2011---Tradition lives on--was great for the
Fair of this year and for the future venues ahead on the State Fair.
Time was short and the promotion short. Was amazed that so many had come
across to me that they were not aware of the State Fair in place. Promotion and
communication across the county and others were left behind. Next time, a real
need for promoting and marketing will be a real priority for 2012.
Also, the time for planning needs to move forward now with the start of the
bookings on all the ag shows ---goat, sheep, alcpas, and others----before
Wilson county takes away from Davidson County. The Davidson Countians
need to support by attending its own State Fair and bring the large crowds in
2012 to show that it will make it successful and support such one that lives in
its own Davidson County for it to be strong and positively directed.
Be a volunteer and make the State Fair 2012 successful with your own
participation. Don't forget all the creative arts that offer and submit your own
submission in the categories for us and the visitors to see what you have
offered such as photography, quilts, sewing, baking, and other maker
Also, please do not forget the special Senior Day that was always done
in the program that had been done in the past histories of time and
memories. Our seniors still are the people with all wisdom and heart for the
Tennesseans---Remember, put your heart, memories, and places in time
and return to the State Fair 2012 for all of us to be successful, and keep the
midway back to the whole fairgrounds gate to gate from the Nolensville
side to see with excitement and enjoyment to draw for the promotion.
We want our TN State Fair as it was in 2009---no exceptions!!!!