Aug 6, 2021 - News
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.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

More Des Moines stories

No stories could be found

Des Moinespostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Des Moines.