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Since 2004, more than 709,000 tickets have been sold to acts that have appeared at the Iowa State Fair's Grandstand. The ticket sales generated more than $25 million in gross revenue and $5 million for the fair. The top grossing act? Carrie Underwood, whose 2015 performance generated $628,800 in ticket sales, according to the Iowa State Auditor's office. Kathy Bolten/The Register

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was updated Aug. 8, 2017, to reflect new information from the Iowa State Auditor.

When rap and rock musician Kid Rock closes out this year's Iowa State Fair with a Grandstand concert, he will pocket $600,000 for his performance.

The fee is the most ever paid a Grandstand performer, and concert-goers will bear the expense with higher ticket prices, forking over $62 to $90 to see the rocker.

But those higher prices won't necessarily mean larger profits for the fair, which is paying more for high-priced acts and expenses such as sound and lighting crews, stage hands, security, ticket takers and sellers, and video production.

 

Last year alone, those expenses totaled more than $350,000.

“It would be wonderful if we made money on each show,” said Gary Slater, CEO and manager of the fair that opens Thursday and runs through Aug. 20.

“We just hope to break even when it’s all said and done.”

A Register analysis of Grandstand acts shows that gross revenue from ticket sales has  doubled, climbing from $1.9 million in 2004 to $3.7 million in 2016. 

Yet the State Fair's share of those sales remains about the same, even as its expenses rise.

DATABASE: Grandstand performances, ticket sales and revenues

Last year, the fair's share of ticket-sale revenue was $554,582 before paying Grandstand-related expenses, fair officials said. Subtract the expenses and the fair netted about $204,000.

 

Those expenses can be traced back in part to higher-priced stars.

For example, when Kid Rock last performed at the fair, in 2004, his fee was $255,708, less than half as much as he will be paid this year, state audit records show.

“I wish we were able to pay our ushers and security and others the type of increase Kid Rock got, but we can’t,” Slater said.

Even then, the fair doesn’t always break even from its 11 nights of Grandstand performances, which on average attracts about 7 percent of fair-goers.

MORE: Every Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineup since 1970 ranked from worst to best

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In 2013, the fair’s share of ticket revenue was $167,957, the lowest in a 13-year span beginning in 2004, state audit data shows.

Grandstand operational expenses gobbled up all of the $167,957, plus more.

That year, three Grandstand performances failed to generate enough revenue from ticket sales to pay the fees for singers Victoria Justice and Carly Rae Jepsen; and comedians Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller and Kevin Nealon.

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“We want the fair to at least break even,” said Sara Novak, vice president of  Kentucky-based Triangle Talent Inc., which for decades has booked Grandstand and other events at the Iowa State Fair. “They want to cover their costs but at the same time, they also want to provide a good entertainment experience for the state of Iowa.”

The high cost of some entertainers’ fees prohibits the fair from booking many popular entertainers, Slater said.

For example, country music singer-songwriter Luke Bryan charges about $1 million per show, Slater said.

“I’ve only got 10,000 seats," Slater said. "How high do your ticket prices have to be to cover his fees and my costs?

“That’s why we don’t have a Luke Bryan-type act here. We know we’re never going to be the highest-priced ticket venue in town because we’re the Iowa State Fair and we need to be priced affordably for everyone.”

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Some state fairs across the country only book grandstand performances a few nights of their fairs; others, such as Texas, offer entertainment only on their free stages.

“Ticket-buyers in Des Moines have supported our fair and our shows,” Slater said. “We just try and make sure the Grandstand is not a cost-loser.”

Doing that is becoming increasingly difficult as other Iowa venues compete for well-known performers.

Hoyt Sherman Place just north of downtown Des Moines is booking performers who either have played on the fair’s free stages or whom the fair wants to book, Slater said.

Country music singers that the state fair would like to book — or have booked in past years — are performing at places such as the Jones County Fair in eastern Iowa, Tree Town Music Festival in Forest City and River Ruckus in Guthrie Center.

Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines even competes with the fair’s Grandstand for performers.

A year ago, Slater said he would have liked to have brought the rock band Journey back to the Grandstand for its third appearance in seven years.

However, the band was appearing with the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason at Wells Fargo Arena during the first weekend of the fair.

“They got them booked first,” said Slater of Journey, a top ticket seller for the Grandstand.

“These days you can be a star performer and never play a state fair,” Slater said. A decade or more ago, when performers played at state fairs, “the fair was the top rung of the ladder. Today, state fairs are not even on the ladder.”

Novak, whose firm this year gets $31,000 for booking acts at the Iowa fair’s Grandstand, plus $625 for each free-stage performance it books, said it’s becoming increasingly challenging to book entertainment at the Grandstand “and not have it be 11 nights of country.”

Fair officials want a diverse lineup that is affordable for fair-goers, she said.

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The Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineup for 2017 is complete with the addition of headlining performances from Paramore on Aug. 14 and Flo Rida on Aug. 15. Wochit

This year’s performances include acts by rapper Flo Rida, Christian pop artists For King and Country, and the show “I Love the '90s.”

It’s difficult at times to book performers at the fair because of problems with the venue, Slater said.

“Our stage is antiquated,” he said. “Most of the entertainers pull into our place and are not able to set up all of their equipment because our stage is too small.”

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While ticket-buyers see a good show, it’s not the same as they’d see in other venues, Slater said.

Plans call for a new stage that more than doubles the size of the current one, officials have said. In addition, more seating will be available in front of the stage.

The Grandstand currently seats 10,276. Officials have said there could be up to 13,000 seats, an increase of more than 25 percent.

Cost estimates for the updates are not finalized, fair officials said.

No plans currently exit to make changes to the Grandstand, which was built in 1909. The structure underwent a $9 million renovation in the 1990s.

“There’s a lot more to the Iowa State Fair to a lot of people than just the Grandstand,” Slater said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t attend Grandstand shows but who still want to know who is coming.

“It’s kind of the pulse of the fair.”

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The Iowa State Fair Grandstand lineups are ranked from worst to best … according to Register music reporter Matthew Leimkuehler and Iowa columnist Kyle Munson. Wochit

By the numbers

 

4 highest paid Grandstand performers:

  • $600,000 — Kid Rock, 2017
  • $530,250 — Carrie Underwood, 2015
  • $516,419 — Rascal Flatts with Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge, 2012
  • $510,000 — Dierks Bentley, 2016

Source: Iowa state auditor

 

 

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