by Evelyn Pyburn- Originally published in the Yellowstone County News on 8-7-15- This is an advance copy of the YCN issue.
BILLINGS — This is the time of year when things get hectic, not just for MetraPark staff, as MontanaFair approaches, but also for MetraPark Advisory Board members. Since this is MontanaFair’s 100th year, activity is even more intense. Everyone wants to make this year special.
Planning, scheduling and sharing information about the fair dominated much of the conversation of the MetraPark Board during its monthly meeting last week.
Marketing director Ray Massie reported that the pace of ticket sales for MontanaFair is about the same as last year, but it is “much better from a financial perspective.”
MontanaFair is eight days of concerts, carnival rides, livestock exhibits and sales, arts and crafts, commercial vendors and exhibits, rodeo, fair food and a wide range of entertainment, including local acts. It all begins with a “sneak peak” on Friday, Aug. 7 and ends Aug. 15.
Plans for each year’s fair, begin almost as soon as the last one is over, with the intensity of activity steadily increasing as the next draws near. For months now, MetraPark Manager Bill Dutcher has been meeting every Wednesday with staff from each department to share information, ideas and get direction. Dozens of other monthly meetings among the staff have become weekly, and sometimes daily, occurrences as August approaches. The pressure is on.
Dutcher, Massie and other administrators have been out in the public, attending meetings of civic organizations, talking about the fair, or meeting with media, disseminating information and stirring excitement, for what is without doubt the biggest event in Montana – one which draws a quarter of a million people.
Massie explained plans for Media Day to the board, which was held on Wednesday of this week. At a luncheon meeting, all kinds of media representatives gather to hear what’s new, who to go to for information and to get credentials and passes to gain admission when necessary.
Committee chair people on the advisory board reported about their plans, and MetraPark department heads reported about the activities of each. Board members signed up for duties and were given assignments to pursue during fair week. This is when being a member of the MetraPark board gets real, everyone is on the grounds every day. Board members, staff, vendors and many others who have a role to play take a break during set up and staging just before the fair to meet and greet at a barbecue. This year, board member Katie Walsh hosted the event at her home on Tuesday evening.
Wednesday morning began the countdown of hours before the gates open on Friday.
It’s become a tradition during Montana Fair that advisory board members make early morning rounds among exhibitors to deliver doughnuts and coffee. It’s a good-will gesture to people who spend many hours tending exhibits, which make the fair the community event it is. Board members signed up on the schedule to form teams of two, to arrive at 7:30 each morning and, using gators to transport the coffee and doughnuts, meet and greet each exhibitor.
Every day of the fair (except for Monday, which is the Seniors’ Day luncheon) the Advisory Board will meet at noon in the Yellowstone Room with staff members, and sometimes visiting dignitaries, to assess how things are going, recognize outstanding staff members and tweak things that need tweaking.
The meeting on Wednesday will incorporate “Commissioners’ Day at the Fair,” which is a luncheon hosted by Yellowstone County Commissioners to which they invite commissioners from other counties and other dignitaries to whom they want to show off Metra Park and Montana Fair.
The three-day Yellowstone River Roundup PRCA Rodeo, Aug. 13-15, is predicted to be the best ever rodeo in the state, after having been given a focused effort by Metra Park and the “Cowboy Club” to increase purses. Every event will have participants from the top 10 contestants in each category. Shipton’s is the major sponsor for the event. The Cowboy Club was created as an auxiliary organization of the MetraPark Advisory Board, which anyone can join, to work at improving events and extending Metra Park hospitality.
Metra Park advisory board members, staff members, Cowboy Club members and county commissioners will be wearing pink shirts in support of St. Vincent’s “Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night,” on Aug. 13.
The board has no problem getting volunteers to go through the training and perform duties as judges for the Montana State BBQ Championship, which draws contestants from across the nation. To be held on Wed., Aug. 12, fair attendees may also share in the taste testing by purchasing “bone bucks,” to get their share of some 600 pounds of barbecued beef brisket and a beer.
It was noted by board members, that Veteran’s Day at the Fair, Saturday, Aug. 14, happens to land this year on the same day as the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II. On Veteran’s Day, veterans get free admission to the fair.
A thousand seniors have made reservations for the free seniors’ day luncheon that Montana Fair will host on Monday, Aug. 10.
The board did discuss other subjects, mostly a review of some of the most recent events at Metra Park.
Motley Crue and Alice Cooper drew over 8,000 spectators. Lines were long because everyone who entered the arena had to have a pat-down search. While it took some time, said staff, once everyone was admitted the concert started on time and “everyone had the time of their life.”
MetraPark board members were pleased with the egress of traffic following the Motley Crue concert. It was the first time that a plan for exiting traffic for large events at MetraPark was put to the test. Under the leadership of board member Jeff Muri, the Billings Police, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Department, and the state Highway Patrol put together the plan, utilizing off-duty officers to direct traffic. The goal was to clear the lots in 20 minutes, which was a goal reached.
Kelly Campbell, MetraPark’s comptroller, reported that, financially, Motley Crue met or exceeded all projections. Beer sales of $60,985, if not a record, was near a record, she said. They sold 12,197 beers, which netted the co-promote fund $6,098, bringing its total to $68,369. The co-promote fund, along with a contribution from the TBID (Tourism Business Improvement District) helped finance Motley Crue. The co-promote fund was established to help subsidize co-promote events and minimize the risk to MetraPark. It is funded by a portion of beer sales.
The Eagles Concert, which was MetraPark’s highest grossing concert to date, brought in 9,196 people and had ticket sales of $1.3 million. Ticket sales go to the promoter and entertainers, not to MetraPark. A percentage of each ticket sale, however, does go into MetraPark’s capital improvement fund, and for the Eagles the fund got $33,400. Some funding was needed from the co-promote fund — $7,567 – plus a contribution from TBID of $3,783.50, to help finance the event.
The Trace Adkins concert drew 2,573.
Reporting on food concessions, Sam Merrick said that MetraPark’s nine food vendors had $75,000 in sales to the 5,800 people with the BMW MOA Rally. MetraPark got 20 percent of the sales of food vendors – about $15,247. The only problem, said Merrick, was that they could have used twice as many vendors. It was hard to get vendors to participate because there were so many events going on and many had other commitments. MetraPark operated two concession stands, which netted $22,000.