PNE tweaks programming to rebound from worst attended year in over a decade [with infographic]

Strong early attendance has given Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) executives the confidence to predict that their 104-year-old annual fair will improve on last year’s attendance, which was the worst in more than a decade.

PNE CEO Mike McDaniel believes programming tweaks will boost attendance compared with last year

Strong early attendance has given Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) executives the confidence to predict that their 104-year-old annual fair will improve on last year’s attendance, which was the worst in more than a decade.

Last year’s running of B.C.’s oldest and largest ticketed event attracted 712,049 people, or 6.8% fewer attendees than the 763,689 fair-goers in 2012 and 25.7% lower than the decade high of 958,781 in 2006.

“Things are going well but we don’t talk about our daily attendance externally,” PNE CEO Mike McDaniel told Business in Vancouver August 20. “Our average over the past decade has been about 750,000 and 760,000 so that’s my expectation for this year.”

#acacac; padding-top: 3px; font-family: Arial; font-size: 10px; text-align: center;">#acacac; text-decoration: none;" href="http://infogr.am/pne-attendance-roller-coaster" target="_blank">PNE Attendance roller-coaster | #acacac; text-decoration: none;" href="http://infogr.am" target="_blank">Create Infographics

Longtime fairgoer Ken Grant told BIV that he believes that the PNE’s gradual removal of attractions meant that last year it took him a fraction of the time it took to cover the fair as it did years ago.

Exhibits such as a smash-up derby were axed long ago because of liability reasons while other attractions, such as a food pavilion aimed at manufacturers, who provided low-cost samples, have also been phased out through the years.

Grant, who has been going to the fair for about 50 years, also lamented that there was diminished value at the fair last year because fairgoers were encouraged to pay to reserve good seats for otherwise free concerts and pay extra for entrance to exhibits such as a Genghis Khan exhibit.

New screens were installed to limit sightlines to those free concerts unless a premium was paid for a reserved seat, he said.

McDaniel stressed that his focus is making the fair as good a value as possible for the $16 entrance ticket, which can be purchased for $13 in advance online.

The screen that blocked sightlines at one concert venue was added because people stood in places that clogged walkways, McDaniel said.

“It became a safety issue,” he said. “When people have feedback, we listen to it.”

He added that an additional set of concerts have been added to the fair.

This year’s animation exhibit Get Animated takes up 20,000 square feet of space, replaces the Genghis Khan exhibit and it is free with admission, McDaniel said.

Another free exhibit is Game of Thrones, which includes props used in the popular HBO TV drama series.

“It’s higher-priced entertainment and it’s free with admission,” McDaniel said.

Shuffling has also taken place at the Pacific Coliseum, where the long-running Superdogs show still will take place.

Instead of having the Peking acrobats, however, there will be a new show named Jigu Thunder Drums of China in the first week of the fair, which opened August 16.  Later in the PNE’s run that show will be replaced with the Bollywood dance production Mystic India.

All of the Pacific Coliseum shows are free, McDaniel said.

“I challenge anybody to compare eight hours of programming for $13 to anybody else in Vancouver be it Grouse Mountain, Science World, Capilano Suspension Bridge or the Vancouver Aquarium,” he said.

The PNE runs until September 1.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom