The sign for the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds, as pictured on Dec. 12, 2022, in Sioux Falls. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
SIOUX FALLS — Insurance coverage allowed South Dakota’s most well-attended fair to avoid the sting of financial loss in 2023.
Sioux Empire Fair Director Scott Wick told Minnehaha County commissioners on Tuesday that a severe weather shutdown on two separate days could have tanked the fair’s profitability, but a $313,000 insurance payout and strong attendance on days with good weather added up to a net profit of about $274,400.
That’s the fourth-best tally for the fair in the past 13 years, Wick said.
“Being insured was the thing to do, so we ended well,” he said.
The severe weather on Aug. 5 closed the gates and quashed a planned performance from the Grammy-winning act Brothers Osborne. Five days later, another round of storms once again shuttered the gates and shut down a grandstand gig for Whiskey Myers.
Refunds were issued to ticket holders for both shows.
The weather is a more significant factor in the grandstand’s ticket tallies today than it has been in years past, Wick said. Years ago, about 15% of ticket sales took place on the day of a concert. Over the past few years, that figure has spiked to around 45%.
“There are a lot of people sitting at home and watching the news to see what the weather’s going to do,” Wick said.
The annual update comes amid a long-simmering discussion adjacent to the fair’s operations.
County Commissioners have spent more than a year studying the future of the W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds. A company called Knife River had asked to purchase the land to expand its operations, but the land was willed to the county for the express purpose of hosting the fair. The county voted earlier this month to engage in “appropriate legal action” to determine if it can unshackle the land from its deeded purpose. If sold, the fair would need a new location.
Amid the ongoing exploration of options, the fairgrounds and the fair itself remain a moneymaker for the area. Between the fair and the dozens of events that take place year-round, the fairgrounds generate $1.1 million in annual sales tax revenue, according to a consultant report on the land’s economic impact. The fair alone regularly draws more than a quarter-million visitors a year.
The financial news was welcomed by county commissioners, given the weather.
“Having a fourth-best Sioux Empire Fair under the conditions you went through, frankly, is surprising,” said Minnehaha County Commissioner Dean Karsky.
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