When the Budget Doesn’t Budge

The Struggle of Fair Budgets

When the Budget Doesn’t Budge

The struggle to keep time-honored traditions alive is real. Fairs across the nation find themselves straining as they attempt to manage budgetary cuts, maintain fairgrounds and attract more fairgoers while competing with other heavily-promoted (and highly lucrative) events and attractions.

Local city and state governments simply can’t support public agencies, like fairs or parks departments as they once could. When expenses outweigh revenues (as is often true of fairs), it’s easy to be convinced by the numbers that the money would be better spent elsewhere. What municipalities fail to include in that calculation is the true impact that a fair can have on the community. Community support and educational opportunities aren’t typically quantifiable but the experience creates a large network of active and engaged residents that persists over time.

Where fairs fall short, the events industry as a whole does not. Each year in the U.S. over 18 million events and meetings are organized, contributing to about $280 billion in spending. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that professions within the events space will increase by 10% within the next 7 years (that’s more than any other market). So, if there’s still so much value in bringing people together for live, face-to-face experiences, why are fairs struggling?

An Un-Fair Disadvantage

It all comes back to the bottom line. The biggest disadvantage for fairs is the budget. After all, it’s hard to expect more, year over year, when budgets don’t budge – much less, shrink. 

It is easy to assume that the ultimate solution for fairs to increase their budget is by attracting more attendees. “Fairs that are losing money should reconfigure the mix of attractions to offer the young generation since their interests can be very different from their parents’ interests,” said Raymond Sfeir, director of Chapman University’s A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research. “A formula that worked before may no longer be viable today.”

But, of course, that’s easier said than done. New attractions cost money. But if budget restrictions are keeping you from putting your best fair forward, what is there to do?


Across the globe, the people who bring people together are joining forces to create resources that emphasize the impact that events and meetings have on economies and communities. There are agencies that exist for the sole purpose of industry advocacy. Just last year UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, organized the first Global Exhibitions Day. The event activated event professionals around the world to build awareness and dialogue around the importance of meetings and events. Meetings Mean Business does the same thing with Global Meetings Industry Day.

As it relates specifically to fairs, the IAFE is actively involved in advocacy as well. According to the 2017-2018 Strategic Plan presented in Jan./Feb. edition of Fairs & Expos, there is a discernable want and need to promote “advocacy to governing bodies about the economic, social and cultural impact of members.”

The first step to advocacy: actively engaging with associations that support your purpose and mission.

The next step? Although we all wish that budgeting issues and funding problems could be solved overnight, I think we’re quite aware that is not a likely scenario. So, we press on.

Fairs Budgeting


When the budget doesn’t budge, fair directors are forced to find new and creative approaches to self-sufficiency. Their ultimate success or failure at this depends on how efficiently resources are being utilized. The two largest contributors in terms of utilization are typically staff and space. 

Regardless of the size of your staff, it’s likely that their workload far exceeds 40 hours a week. The planning, processes and logistical realities of running a fairground require organization and communication from each department, at all levels. Promote synergy and increase efficiency with tools that are created with your operational needs in mind. Increase sales and overall communication by using a single CRM database for vendors, commercial exhibitors and stakeholders. Integrate programming calendars with space and booking availability to more quickly identify “dark days” and actively push to fill them. Increase your staff’s ability to better manage their time by giving them the tools they need to succeed. We spoke previously on the impact that technology can have on your fair and the necessity in embracing technology and using it to your advantage. The system and software that manages all of your processes is a prime example of how you can make technology work for you. 

Check back soon for an incredibly insightful, visual look at how you can more effectively use your fairgrounds to create additional revenue.

Curious to hear more about self-sufficiency or advocacy associations? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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