What 2017 Grandstand act became the Iowa State Fair's biggest money-loser?
The American rock band Paramore has a new entry for its resume: The Iowa State Fair’s worst revenue-generating Grandstand act.
The State Fair in 2017 lost $181,600 on the rock band, the highest loss amount in a 13-year span, a review of state audit reports shows. The Grandstand’s previous worst revenue generator was American Idols Live 2007, on which the fair lost $154,410.
“It wasn’t like it was a bad show,” Gary Slater, CEO and fair manager, said of Paramore. “It just wasn’t as popular as we would have liked.”
The fair’s share of ticket-sale revenue in 2017 from 10 Grandstand shows and tractor and truck pull was $253,170, the third-lowest amount generated in a span beginning in 2004, state audits show.
In addition to Paramore, three other Grandstand performances lost the fair money in 2017, a new state audit shows. They were: Nickelback ($81,568); Flo Rida ($54,031); and John Mellencamp ($25,620).
More: Iowa State Fair Grandstand performances: Biggest hits, biggest flops (with gifs!)
But Slater isn’t disappointed by the 2017 Grandstand’s overall performance.
“I certainly don’t want to lose money but it needs to be a balance and an experience for those fair-goers of seeing an act they truly want to see,” he said.
Overall, the fair saw a 5.2 percent increase in operating revenue for the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, 2017, an audit shows. A majority of the increase in revenue, which totaled nearly $26.9 million, came from concessions and the fair’s new Thrill Parks, the audit said.
Grandstand renovations include
bigger stage, updated restrooms
Concert-goers this year will see acts perform on a new stage and will have access to seats or a standing-only area between the stage and Grandstand. In addition, restrooms are being renovated and a new concession area is under construction.
Slater said the work at the Grandstand will mostly be completed by Aug. 9, the first day of this year’s fair.
“There’s still a lot of work to do but at this point, if it’s not completely done — it will be functional and useable,” Slater said.
The new stage will provide concert-goers the “look and feel of how a show looks every night," he said. "That’s what the entertainers want and our fans want.”
Previously, artists couldn't put up all their show equipment because of the small size of the Grandstand’s previous stage. That meant the fair was unable to book some acts either because of the stage’s size or the number of tickets that could be sold, Slater said.
The additional seats increase the number of tickets that can be sold for Grandstand acts to 14,500, Slater said. Having more tickets to sell will also help keep ticket prices at “reasonable levels” while also attracting more expensive acts, he said.
“You have 4,000 more seats to spread the price over,” Slater said. “That way, you’re not turning people off by having a million-dollar act but your ticket prices are so high, nobody wants to buy them.”
In 2017, Kid Rock received $625,000 to perform the last night of the fair. At the time, it was the most ever paid to a Grandstand performer, audit records show. Ticket prices for the show ranged from $62 to $90. The fair sold 10,019 to the performance, making $65,130.
This year, the fair will pay country duo Florida Georgia Line at least $750,000 for its Aug. 19 Grandstand performance, Slater said. The group, which closes out this year’s fair, has set a Billboard record with the most cumulative weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs list.
“We’re willing to pay the higher price because we have more seats to sell,” Slater said. Ticket prices for the range from $70 to $80.
Some acts say 'no' to Grandstand performance
This past year, fair officials had a difficult time booking performers, Slater said.
“I went through more turn-downs this year than I’d had for the last five years combined,” he said. Some performers the fair pursued ended tours in July; others weren’t going to be in the Midwest during August.
The fair tried to book Grammy Award-winning entertainer Kelly Clarkson, who performs in Cedar Rapids this month. However, Slater said a clause in the performer’s contract prohibited her from appearing in a nearby venue for a specific period before or after the Cedar Rapids concert.
“We came up to the wire before we settled on those last three shows we announced,” Slater said of Papa Roach, Daughtry and Peter Cetera.
“They’re good shows and people will enjoy them,” Slater said of the last three performances signed to appear at this year’s fair. “Maybe we won’t have enough fans to sell out the Grandstand, but they’ll be good shows.”
Last year, three groups generated more than 10,000 in ticket sales, a state audit shows. More than 10,500 tickets were sold to Pentatonix, popular a cappella group that generated $106,745 for the fair, the highest amount in 2017. Also selling more than 10,000 tickets were “I Love the 90s” and Kid Rock.
Slater expects three of this year’s shows to sell 10,000 or more tickets: Reba McEntire, Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line. Only obstructed view seats are available for McEntire, who appears on Aug. 10. Rhett was nearly sold out in late July and only upper level seats were available for Florida Georgia Line.
The following are highlights from a newly-released state audit of the Iowa State Fair Authority for the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, 2017:
- Paid admissions of 895,601 to the 2017 fair generated revenue of $7.6 million. In 2016, the fair had 883,332 in paid admissions that generated $7.5 million in revenue.
- The fair made $943,511 in commissions from beer sales. That’s the most the fair has received from vendors who sell beer.
- Vendors generated $11.8 million in food sales, up 5 percent from 2016’s $11.3 million in food sales.
- The State Fair Board gave each full-time employee a $350 bonus and two additional vacation days in 2016. The bonuses for the 68 workers totaled $23,800 and the additional vacation time was valued at $32,471. The board failed to explain how the public benefited from the expenditures, something it should do in the future, the audit said.