After three years of dwindling operating revenues and a sharp decline in ticket sales last year, the San Fernando Valley Fair is getting new management in an effort to boost attendance and perhaps make the event profitable. The California Department of Fairs and Expositions, which provides financial support and oversight to the state’s 80 fairs, has offered an $18,000 contract to the management team of the Antelope Valley Fair to take over all of the Valley Fair’s operations. Representatives from the 62-year-old AV Fair say the Valley Fair’s previous management team essentially overextended its operating budgets, mostly because of high payroll costs, and didn’t do much to promote the event. Paid attendance in 2000 was 10,447, down from 14,065 in 1999 and 14,476 in 1998. Ticket sales were $52,395 in 2000, $84,921 in 1999 and $86,825 in 1998. Although total revenue in 2000 was $341,895, the fair has had an average net loss of about $62,000 each of the last three years. Dale Coons, former manager of the 55-year-old Valley Fair, unexpectedly retired in January, just six months before fair time, about the time most fair boards and management teams are busy securing corporate sponsorships, lining up volunteers and signing entertainment contracts for stage and carnival acts. Jonathan Pike, funding programs manager for the fairs and exposition department, said Coon’s departure left a “gaping hole” in the management team, and action had to be taken quickly. This year’s fair will be held June 7-10 at the Hansen Dam Recreational Park in Lake View Terrace. Pike said the AV Fair management team was an obvious choice to take over because it is close by and has a sense of what the community here would be interested in. “We think this arrangement makes perfect sense,” said Pike. “We’ve worked this way with several other fairs in the state and essentially we see positive turnarounds across the board.” Randy Jacqua, assistant manager of the AV Fair, will serve as interim general manager of the Valley Fair, Pike said. Its board of directors will decide later this year whether to extend that arrangement or pick a new permanent management team down the road. “This is just for the interim,” Pike said. Same old story Although the AV Fair management team was chosen for the job because of its proximity to the San Fernando Valley, there is more to the story. Just five years ago the AV Fair was in a similar boat: operating expenses were escalating while revenues remained flat. In 1995 Dan Jacobs took over as general manager and quickly implemented an aggressive campaign to turn the fair around, attracting a broader core of volunteers to help offset staff expenses, cutting expensive concerts from the entertainment lineup and making it more of a community event. “We were in the position where we were going to have to borrow money to put the fair on,” said Jacobs. He said the fair had lost nearly $700,000 in revenue in a few years prior to his taking over, and had been operating in the red for several years. The AV Fair’s financial resources, including the $30,000 it receives in annual state funding from the division, were about $150,000 before Jacobs took over. Today that figure is close to $1.3 million. One of the first things Jacobs said he did was reach out for volunteers to take over tasks that the fair would have otherwise had to contract out for, such as fairground cleaning. He managed to get Palmdale High School students to do the cleanup for the fair for $12,000 back in 1996. That proved so successful, said Jacobs, that the fair now pays close to $80,000 to six different high school volunteer groups each year for the cleaning and other fairground services. By using established services already in place for the Antelope Valley Fair everything from bookkeeping to trash and restroom cleanup Jacobs said he has already been able to cut projected Valley Fair expenses from $524,000 to $475,000. “A lot of our own equipment will be used to put on the San Fernando Fair,” Jacobs said. The traditional rodeo has been cut from the entertainment lineup because “traditionally, they aren’t big moneymakers,” said Jacobs. Instead, acts like Freddy Fender, Starship and Mark Chestnut will perform twice nightly on the fair’s Cultural Heritage Stage. Tickets to those concerts will be included with the price of admission, which remains unchanged at $6 for adults and $4 for seniors and children ages 6 to 11. There is no charge for children under 6. Although the Valley Fair did manage to secure roughly $20,000 in corporate sponsorships in 2000, Jacobs isn’t holding out much hope for this year since typically those relationships require more time to establish. Jacqua said he will focus on improving previous marketing efforts for the fair and has secured co-branding agreements with The Daily News, Galpin Ford and Adelphia Communications.
FAIR—Management Change Gives Valley Fair Another Chance