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County fair finishes in black.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

The 2009 Lane County Fair appears to have produced a solid profit, fair manager Rick Reno said Thursday - regardless of the story told by attendance numbers.

Reno will release final figures from last month's six-day event in a presentation to the fair board next Thursday. But initial reports suggest, Reno said, that "we will be in a very positive net financial position" for this year's fair.

Fair profits are vital to the operation of the Lane Events Center, the 55-acre complex near downtown Eugene that includes the fairgrounds. Fair revenue has dipped in recent years, sparking interest in any figures that hint at the health of the event.

One of the most obvious numbers to consider is total attendance. But Reno and other fair officials have said that number is not an ironclad indicator of performance.

Total attendance for last year's fair was reported to be 151,763.

County fair documents suggest that this year's total attendance was just over 103,000 - but Reno stressed that the number is "substantially incomplete" and will be higher once other numbers are counted. Total attendance generally means how many people have come in the fair gates, regardless of whether that is the same person coming in several times in the same day, for example. That contrasts with paid attendance, which generally means how many tickets have been sold.

Total attendance can also be misleading, fair officials say, because the number might be counted differently over the years: Are vendors, exhibitors and others who don't buy tickets counted? Are attendees counted every time they enter the fair, even if they do so twice or more on the same day?

Total attendance for the 2009 fair will include people such as exhibitors who didn't buy a ticket, but won't include people re-entering for the second time, or more, on a given day, Reno said.

Former Lane County fair managers Warren Wong and Mike Gleason said they tracked total attendance numbers as well, while acknowledging that the number is imprecise as a measure of success.

Gleason said the industry has a standard that paid attendance is the important number. "It's the test to decide whether you're succeeding or should be changing the program," he said.

Reno said total attendance is best used to "demonstrate to your community how many people are involved with this enterprise. It gives you an idea of just what impact this particular event has on your community relative to economic impact."

Regardless of what the final head count proves to be, it appears fewer people are going to the Lane County Fair - an assertion made by vendors, fairgoers and observers this year.

Total attendance years ago was reported as high as 180,000, and above 160,000 more recently.

Nevertheless, the fair can still come out ahead if it maintains revenue while cutting costs.

Reno has said he worked hard to cut costs at this year's fair, and he has reason to be hopeful about revenue: The number of people who paid to attend this year - 49,259 - was just below last year's tally of 49,397.

Revenue from paid attendance provides about 30 percent of all fair revenue. This year the revenue number topped $360,000, Reno said.

In years past, fair officials have reported net fair profits of between $200,000 and $300,000, Reno said.

LANE COUNTY FAIR

Paid attendance 2009: 49,259

Paid attendance 2008: 49,397

Total attendance 2009: To be determined

Total attendance 2008: 151,763

Paid attendance revenue 2009: $360,887
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Title Annotation:Government Local; Total numbers appear to be down, but paid attendance holds steady
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 25, 2009
Words:591
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