Despite the heat, the North Texas Fair and Rodeo seems to have broken this past year’s attendance record.
Glenn Carlton, executive director of the fair, said workers estimated 195,000 people attended the nine-day event. That’s up from the approximately 190,000 who came in 2018.
“I think we were hindered a little bit by some pretty hot weather,” Carlton said.
Conversely, he said this past Saturday might have been a record-breaking day for attendance, and the explanation for that is fairly simple.
“Two words: cool front,” he said Sunday morning. “It was really nice yesterday.”
The fair lives up to its name, Cartlon said, since people truly come from all over.
Despite being situated in Denton, the fair, which just completed its 91st year, draws nearly 40% of its attendees from outside Denton County, according to a survey completed this past year.
While some classic staples remain, this was the second year to use a new payment system. Instead of worrying about which vendors or attractions take cash or cards, all attendees were issued a prepaid card they could load additional funds onto. That’s a departure from 2018’s use of bracelets to serve the same purpose.
All things considered, Carlton said the change made things run smoother than before.
“It takes human error out of the accounting,” he said.
Anybody with access can watch sales from gates, individual vendors, rides and anything else in real time from a computer screen. In practice, that means he can dispatch people to help knock down lines before they get out of hand at entrance gates.
While Carlton’s happy with the turnout in recent years — 2015 still holds the record for most attendance with roughly 215,000 — he’s confident the fair could triple given more space to breathe.
“The event has great momentum, but it’s held back geographically,” he said.
In 2014, the North Texas Fair and Rodeo Association announced the purchase of a 109-acre plot of land on the northwestern portion of Denton, near Interstate 35. The current fairgrounds is less than a third that size, sitting at only 33 acres.
At that time, Carlton estimated it would take five to 10 years to raise the money necessary to move one of the county’s longest-running events. For now, he said it’s a matter of waiting for an economic impact study to come back from the Professional Development Institute at the University of North Texas.
Once that’s in, fundraising can begin in earnest to make the transition. While he doesn’t have an official timeline set at this point, Carlton hopes to have the event moved to the new site in the coming five years.