Well, that didn’t end well: For the last dozen days, I’ve received nightly updates from Sarah Ray, a public information officer with the North Carolina State Fair, citing the number of tickets sold for each night’s headlining concert in the Dorton Arena. I’ve published the data here.
Why, you might wonder? For the last few years, I’ve argued that the N.C. State Fair was spending a lot of money and assuming a lot of risk for concerts that just didn’t cut it—shows that didn’t reflect the diversity of the state, that didn’t showcase the esteemed musical history of the state and didn’t exactly flood the coffers of the state, either. So this year, I wanted to see just how drastically this roster, one of the more generic and less state-specific in recent memory, underperformed, in terms of the number of tickets sold versus the amount guaranteed to the artist by the state.
In spite of increased Fair attendance from last year, the losses were significant. This year, the state spent $420,000 to recruit 11 artists to Dorton Arena. But only three shows broke even, with only one sell-out. Four of the 10 shows lost more than $15,000 each. In total, the N.C. State Fair lost, according to this preliminary tally, $98,375 booking Dorton Arena this year.
These numbers do not reflect production expenses (which will set the state back more) or sponsorship fees and the percentage of the fair’s entrance fee that goes toward helping to cover the Dorton Arena acts (these numbers will move the figure closer to break-even). Public record requests have been filed for that data since last week, and I am told it will arrive “after the fair.”
Some readers have asked if concessions sold inside Dorton Arena help offset the cost of the talent, just as beer sales do in rock clubs. They do not. “Our concession vendors lease space on a rate per square foot, both inside and outside,” Ray told me last week. “We don’t receive a percentage of sales.”
After I receive the final reports from the state, I’ll publish a full rundown of the numbers, including a conversation with the fair’s talent buyer about the state’s procedures and plans and with other talent buyers about their assessment of the state’s spending on Vanilla Ice, Trace Adkins and the like.