GJCF experiences loss

Heat, ticket sales add to 2019 profit loss
Kim Brooks
Express Editor


That is the word that is being used to describe the 2019 Great Jones County Fair, and to account for a loss of $367,512. (The net profit loss was $154,646. The -$367,512 accounts for $212,866 in improvements to the fairgrounds and its facilities.) 

Fair Manager John Harms and Concessions Manager Lucas Gobeli presented the 2019 profit/loss statement to the Jones County Supervisors during their Dec. 17 board meeting. They also shared projections for the 2020 GJCF, with an estimated profit of $98,350. 

“Unfortunately it is not a good report,” Harms said. 

July was the hottest month on record, and the three hottest days of the month (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) fell on the three biggest days of the GJCF, with Tim McGraw, Hootie and Blowfish and Chris Stapleton performing. 

Harms told the board that there were good crowds at all of the concerts, “but we fell short of what we spent on production.” 

There was a disappointing crowd the night of the Hootie concert on Friday, July 19. Harms said he can’t understand why the 25th anniversary tour sold well at every revue, even the Iowa State Fair in August, expect the GJCF. 

“We had a nice crowd but expected 40 to 50 percent more,” he said. 

Attractions accounted for $2.8 million, with $2.2 million in grandstand revenue. 

“The heat took its toll,” Harms said. 

He said this was the first time in many years that the fair lost this amount of money. 

“It was a transition year for the fair manager to be a cheerleader,” Harms said. 

The regional media didn’t help matters, Harms said, when it came to attracting people to the fair. 

“They enticed people to stay home versus coming and enjoying what we do,” he said. 

The fair saw many improvements in 2019, with the largest being a 44-by-80-foot extension to the storage dormitory building, with concrete approaches to the overhead doors. 

Other improvements included: larger deck of concrete in the equestrian center, concrete improvements where the old fountain used to sit, additional concrete in front of the amphitheater, and the installation of an underground water supply to serve the food vendors. A new rail fence was also installed around the equestrian center arena. 

In addition, the fair is always working to improve its fiber optics (Internet) service. 

The fair is looking to spend about $30,000 in improvements for 2020. Those include: a small shelter at the entrance to the fair campground, a photo backdrop to serve the livestock campus, additional electric and fiber work, and new metal siding on the end of the swine barn. 

Harms asked the supervisors to consider their annual appropriation of $19,450. He shared the average county aid for fairs in Iowa is $26,000. 

“I’ve never felt the GJCF was an ‘average’ fair,” Harms said. “Think about that as you go through your budget process.” 

There are seven county fairs in Iowa that don’t receive any county funding. The Jones County Supervisors financially support both the GJCF and the Wyoming Fair. 

Supervisor Ned Rohwedder praised the numerous volunteers who help to make the fair a success. 

“I’m amazed at the amount of volunteers who make the fair happen,” he said. 

The fair has 275 people on payroll during the week, with three times the amount of volunteers. 

“It’s a big production,” Harms added. 

Looking into 2020, Harms said they’re looking at increasing security yet again. 

“We check bags now at the main gate during our heaviest times. Fairs are a soft target, there’s no doubt about it.” 

Two of the four concerts have been announced for 2020: Zac Brown Band ( July 25) and Dan + Shay ( July 23). 

“We’re selling a good number of tickets each and every day,” Harms said. 

He anticipates another concert announcement for Friday, July 24 soon. 

The cost of top-notch entertainment is not cheap, and is not predicted to decrease any time soon. With more spent on entertainment, Harms explained it’s all about mathematics when it comes to ticket pricing. 

“We have a little over 12,000 tickets to sell per show to try and pay for the act,” Harms said. “If an act costs $1 million, divide into the seats to get the ticket price.” 

In addition, there’s the cost of production and marketing thrown into the mix. Those expenses are not recovered from ticket sales. 

“We rely on ancillary revenues from the fair to help in the deficit,” added Harms. 

In the end, the cost of a ticket for major acts is still cheaper than most venues. And the GJCF has something many other venues don’t: Free hillside with incredible views of the stage. 

The 2020 GJCF is set for July 22-26. 


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