Apr 14, 2022 - News

Iowa State Fair shows it's a cash cow despite COVID-19

Illustration of a spot on a cow shaped like a dollar sign.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Despite COVID-19 dampening attendance, the Iowa State Fair's revenues were up by millions of dollars last year.

By the numbers: The 2021 Iowa State Fair made around $36 million — about $2 million higher than 2019's profit, according to preliminary revenue data provided to Axios.

How it happened: Last year, there were 80,000 fewer visits to the fair in comparison to 2019, equating to a loss of around $300,000, Iowa State Fair CEO Gary Slater told Axios.

  • Yes, but: The grandstand sold 20,000 more seats than it did in 2019, thanks to a stronger lineup, Slater said. Big names like Dan + Shay, Chris Stapleton and Blake Shelton drew in more concertgoers.
  • More money was also spent at concessions last year, Slater said. People had a disposable income saved up and "they were anxious to get out of their homes," he said.

The big picture: Other states didn't fair as well — the Minnesota State Fair, Iowa's largest neighboring fair, suffered a $1.3 million operating loss.

Between the lines: The Iowa State Fair was held in early August — right around the time when infection rates were still low leading up to the event, Slater said.

  • Iowa also had fewer COVID-19 restrictions and reopened earlier than Minnesota, where people may have been more hesitant to go out.

What they're saying: Aunt Mary's Italian Great Grinder, a small, long-standing food vendor at the Iowa State Fair, considers 2021 a "successful" year, said owner Bill Slagle.

  • While they had to pay more to operate, the stand also bumped up prices to make up the difference.

What's next: Now that everyone has reopened and the majority of events have returned, Slater expects more competition this summer.


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