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Red River Valley Fair attendance in 2016 lowest since 2008

Workers put the finishing touches on the rubber duck attraction on the Murphy Brothers midway as they gear up for the Red River Valley Fair that runs through July 17 in West Fargo. Gates will open at 10 a.m. daily with daily grandstand shows at 8 p.m. For more information visit David Samson / The Pioneer1 / 3
Thrill seekers take a scream-inducing trip in every direction at the Red River Valley Fair Tuesday, July12 2016, in West Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 3
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WEST FARGO -- The Red River Valley Fair brought just over 90,000 people in 2016, the lowest it has been since 2008.

Red River Valley Fair general manager Bryan Schulz said this year’s dismally wet weather was likely the biggest factor in the lower attendance.

The fair was held July 12-17, but thunderstorms periodically poured down the first few days, causing fair officials to contain seating to the grandstands for some of the planned acts and slowing the midway opening until 2 p.m. on Thursday, July 14.

Not since 2008, when 90,000 attended, has the fair drew in less than 100,000. While the numbers fluctuated since then between about 105,000 and 115,000, in 2009 the fair had a record year with 125,000 in attendance.

Schulz said the fair had been partnering with Thomas Carnival for midway rides and entertainment before 2009, but changed back to Murphy Brothers that year in order to provide the bigger, more thrilling rides and attractions.  

“We have a very good working relationship with Thomas Carnivals but they couldn't provide those bigger rides like the XXL, drop towers and things like that,” Schulz said.

In 2009, RRVF also started selling the ride megapasses, spent money on extra advertising and  moved fair week from June to July, Schulz said.

While an estimated 34,600 people attended grandstand acts over the fair’s six nights this year, it was clear to officials that weather was likely a factor in smaller attendance when the popular 80s remake band Hairball drew only 3,000 on Wednesday, July 13.

“Between 6,000 and 8,000 usually come for Hairball,” Schulz said.

Preliminary numbers show Big & Rich was the biggest draw for grandstand entertainment, which is free with the cost of gate admission.

  • Chris Janson and Tigirlily brought in 1,800 people on Tuesday, July 12

  • Hairball drew 3,000 people on Wednesday, July 13

  • Scotty McCreery and Blind Joe had an audience of about 5,000 on Thursday, July 14

  • Big & Rich and 32 Below drew 12,000 people on Friday, July 15

  • About 8,000 people attended Three Days Grace and Starset on Saturday, July 16

  • The Red River Valley Speedway races brought in 4,800 people on Sunday, July 17

While Big & Rich, a veteran country music act, drew in a large crowd, they failed to reach the record making 2013 level when country acts Hunter Hayes and The Band Perry drew in 21,000 and 18,500 respectively.

The RRVF got a lucky break then, offering both acts at the height of their popularity.The Band Perry had to cancel its 2012 concert at the RRVF but promised to return in 2013 for the same price to the fair.

“In the meantime The Band Perry really bloomed, it was right when they were taking off,” Schulz said.

Grandstand attendance is counted by hand clickers watching those pass the gate or by the fair’s longtime booking agent who has honed the skill of gauging crowds, Schulz said

When booking grandstand acts, the RRVF works with a budget of $300,000 to $340,000 that will determine the star power it can draw in. Tickets are not provided since grandstand concerts are free to fairgoers who have paid the $10 fair admission fee.

“We’re very happy with the entertainment we’re able to pull in,” Schulz said. “We feel the acts we bring in for that $10 gate admission is pretty good.”

Schulz said fair attendance numbers can impact vendors’ decisions to join the Red River Valley Fair in the future, but they take many factors into consideration.

“It can be a bit of a crap shoot, you just never know,” Schulz said.

Next year’s Red River Valley Fair is scheduled for July 11-16.

West Fargo Pioneer reporter Colton Pool contributed to this report.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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