Rodeo or carnival?

When my wife and I first talked about going to the Lyon County fair this year, I gave her a slight warning not to expect too much.

Anecdotally, I had been told the fair had been declining in terms of attendance and attractions, with last year being one of the most disappointing. And after observing from a distance some internal issues with the board regarding whether they would have a carnival or not, I became even more pessimistic.

But to our very pleasant surprise, the fair was … in a word … fantastic.

The carnival was top notch with rides that not only appeared reasonably safe but appealed to young and older children. The carnival workers, always a wildcard, were capable and pleasant as could be realistically expected and the little circus, complete with a handful of performers, was entertaining.

There was lots of free entertainment to be enjoyed and coupled with ideal weather and the expected assortment of fair foods, my family and I genuinely enjoyed the event to its fullest.

Kudos to the fair board and everyone who put in a ton of work to pull off that great community event.

Now do it again.

Please.

Unfortunately, that task just became a lot more difficult with last week’s news that the carnival company won’t be able to return next year as they are already booked elsewhere.

And no, the dates can’t be changed to accommodate the carnival because that’s when the rodeo is booked and their schedule is also restricted.

Which leads to an interesting question: which is more important to the fair, the rodeo or the carnival?

Having a fair without a rodeo seems like the equivalent of a football game without a halftime show. The crowd is already there for one event so you take advantage of that by entertaining them with a second.

And again … it’s the fair. Of course, you have to have a rodeo.

Or do you?

A rodeo is going to attract a crowd regardless of when it is held. There is a large group of people who will attend a rodeo in Marshall any day of the week in any month during any event. It won’t matter to them if the fair is going on or not. If they are going to pay $15 to attend the rodeo during fair week, they will pay $15 to attend the rodeo during another week.

That’s not to say there isn’t a segment of the rodeo crowd attending simply because they are already there because of the fair, whether participating or as an attendee. So the question then becomes, does the rodeo bring more people to the fairgrounds over the two days it runs or the five-day carnival?

In the past, county fairs pulled in farm families from throughout the region for a week of competing, socializing and general fun. As a result, 50 years ago, the percentage of fair attendees who lived or worked on a farm was extremely high compared to today when the number of family farms is vastly smaller.

As a result, without that agriculture association, those attending the fair today are more likely attracted to the carnival than they would a rodeo.

Let me state unequivocally: in no way am I suggesting the fair board take this kind of drastic and sudden direction next year. Good faith commitments have been made to the rodeo and should be fulfilled.

However, whenever the contract with the rodeo expires, it’s important for the fair board to leave its options open in relation to scheduling. With a declining number of viable, safe and affordable carnival companies, the time may soon be approaching to where we need to be more accommodating to their schedules in order to ensure high attendance numbers for the fair.

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