I recently attended the Texas Association of Fairs and Events convention in San Antonio earlier this month. During the event I attended an ed session about grounds entertainment.

There was a good discussion between the moderators and the attendees. One question stood out more so than others to me. A woman who worked for an event in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metro area asked what the typical price range was for various types of grounds attractions?

As you can imagine, there can be quite the variance in pricing. A small grounds act such as a magician or juggler has a considerably different price point from a larger grounds act such as a BMX stunt show, or large illusion or escape show.

After some discussion on the subject a follow up was asked about how to stretch a budget to afford that quality of entertainment.

That’s when I chimed in.

What exactly does it take to book quality entertainment at a more affordable rate? (Photo by Capio Tempus Photography)

There are a number of ways a fair can save money on grounds entertainment. I may not be very popular among other entertainers for revealing this. However, I’m willing to do so because I believe better communication and understanding between buyers and artists will ultimately lead to a better environment for everyone involved.

Key #1 – Save The Artist Money, They Save You Money
The key to saving money on grounds entertainment starts with saving the artist money. The good news is that savings can be achieved with little or no cost to the buyer. If you approach the act from the stand point of a partnership, one in which you have the means to reduce the artist’s cost, that savings can very often be passed on to you, the buyer.

For me, as a national touring act, I have substantial costs invested in my attraction. I’ve already taken steps to reduce my costs including storing Conjurer units around the United States. This has benefited fairs in the Florida market by saving them between $750 – $1,000 per fair.

Key #2 – Multi-Year Agreements
There’s a way, however, that fair buyers can potentially save money on an attraction and it will cost them nothing: the multi-year agreement.

If a fair is willing to sign a 2 or 3-year-agreement many performers are willing to offer a discounted rate for all years of the agreement. From the performers I’ve spoken to, a discount of 10% is fairly standard. Depending on the attraction you’re dealing with that could be anything from $75 – $200 per day or more.

This method is particularly valuable for acts that have to move their attraction across the country by driving.

Why is this so valuable for an act? Targeted marketing.

For me, I drive Conjurer from fair-to-fair. So if I have a multi-year agreement, I know where to target my marketing for subsequent years. If I know I’m going to be in New York in September for the next few years, then I’ll target marketing in the north east. That way I’m reducing my costs by keeping a tighter route. This makes more sense than zig zagging the country from New York to Arizona to Georgia.

Key #3 – Location! Location! Location!
Real estate professionals will tell you the most important thing in their industry is location. As it turns out, the same is true for fairs and artists. Only in our industry, it’s, “Routing! Routing! Routing!”

In the campus activities market, there’s an entire section of their convention for what’s called co-operative buying. This is where multiple universities get together and book an act cooperatively. By doing so, they increase their buying power and the act reduces their fee.

Here’s a typical example:

A hypnotist who charges $2,500.00 for an isolated date, is approached by three universities. They request what’s called “3 in 5″ pricing, or 3 shows in 5 days.
The hypnotist’s fee for this scenario is only $2,200.00.

So each university saves $300.00. This may not seem like much. But when a school does this 10-15 times over the course of a school year, the savings is significant.

The exact same thing is possible in the fair industry but it is sorely underutilized. Imagine a 10-day fair books 7 different grounds attractions of varying size and does a cooperative buy with another fair. Assuming the average savings is $100 per act, per day, that translates to $700/day in savings or a total of $7,000.00.

Could your fair use savings like that?

Helping an attraction route is the fastest way to get a more competitive fee. Ideally, you would contact other fairs in your region ahead of a convention & trade show to coordinate your buying efforts. When you find an attraction your fairs are interested in, ask the attraction if they offer a routing discount.

If you don’t have time to coordinate buying ahead of a convention, don’t be afraid to make some phone calls to other fairs in your region before or after your fair and coordinate that way.

Even John Sykes, the head of the East Texas State Fair mentioned the potential value for fairs in helping acts route.

For most of us who travel by ground, moving our shows is one of our single biggest expenditures. Fairs can help greatly reduce that cost by helping the act with their route. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure most acts would agree with me that traveling 3-5 hours to the next location is always preferred over traveling 2 days across the entire country.

So as you ramp up booking for your 2016 fairs and beyond, take a minute to think about how you can coordinate with other fairs to book great entertainment and save money in the process.

Robert Smith is the creative entertainment designer for Robert Smith Presents, LLC. His original attraction, “Conjurer Fortune Box,” has been seen at some of the biggest fairs in America including the LA County Fair, Ohio State Fair and Arizona State Fair. Stay in touch with Robert by following him on Twitter, @meetrobertsmith.