Aug 6, 2021 - Things to Do

Pinching pennies for the Iowa State Fair's future

Illustration of a penny being pinched by a vise made out of stripes and dots.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The pandemic kicked the Iowa State Fair in the financial pants.

  • Last year's canceled event led to a more than $12 million loss, according to an unaudited financial report obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The future of the fair — Iowa's largest annual event — hinges on what happens this year, ISF CEO Gary Slater told Axios.

Catch up quick: 2020 marked the first time the state fair was cancelled since 1945.

  • Public health concerns drove the decision, but finances were also a factor. A socially distanced fair would've lost about the same amount of money, fair officials determined prior to last year's announcement.

By the numbers: Expenses dropped 54%, from around $33M to $15M, last year as compared to 2019. But that couldn't offset the steep loss in revenue, $24M to $3M, according to fair officials.

🔽 The biggest hits:

  • Concessions: -$10.4M ($11.2M to $752K)
  • Admissions: -$8.2M ($8.4M to $192.9K)
  • Grandstand: -$7.5M ($7.5M to $0)

What else: Layoffs were avoided last year through penny pinching acts, including voluntary furloughs, but that could change if this year's event falls flat, Slater told Axios.

  • And it's not just coronavirus that's a threat. Attendance is greatly influenced by weather, Slater noted.

Of note: Under Iowa law, no tax money is used to pay for fair operations.

The bottom line: Typically about 90% of the fair's annual income comes in August. If this year's event doesn't go well, we could see changes in its future.


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