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2022 OC Fair: 20 piglets, 20,000 deep-fried Oreos and a million visitors

The OC Fair may not have made as much money this year as it did in 2021, but it had almost as many visitors – a little more than 1 million.

That’s likely the attendance the month of thrill rides, carnival games, gastro adventures and down-home fun will see in future years now that officials plan to continue capping daily ticket sales.

After canceling the 2020 fair because of the pandemic, fair officials decided last year to limit ticket sales to 45,000 a day to give guests more space. People liked the lack of crowds and lines so much, the fair’s governing board kept the ticket cap for 2022.

“This was an incredibly wonderful fair this year. Our model of controlling the attendance proved to be what was needed – our operations were very smooth this year,” OC Fair & Event Center CEO Michele Richards said.

During the fair’s 23-day run at the Costa Mesa fairgrounds that ended Sunday, 11 days sold out this year, versus 16 sellouts in 2021, according to OC Fair information. Eight shows in the Pacific Amphitheatre were at maximum capacity, and 11 events in the Action Sports Arena – back after its 2021 hiatus – sold out.

While Richards said she doesn’t have all the financial data in yet, at first glance she expects this year’s fair won’t show quite as much net revenue as last year’s – which at $22 million was one of OC’s most profitable fairs ever – but she thinks it will still prove a financial success.

In 2021, guests were returning to the fairgrounds for the first time in two year, and with “pent-up pandemic money” and federal stimulus checks, “people were spending freely,” Richards said.

The reopening of the Action Sports Arena (it hosts demolition derby nights, monster truck shows and similar events) and the full schedule of headline entertainment in the amphitheater were popular with fairgoers, after no arena and only limited concerts last year because fewer acts were touring, Richards said.

“Those are very traditional pieces of the fair that were very much missing last year,” she said.

A few more numbers from this year’s fair include:

  • More than 3,000 exhibitors contributed 10,000 competition entries in categories such as quilting, woodworking, cakes and cookies, photography and home-grown vegetables.
  • Vendor Chicken Charlie’s sold 20,000 deep-fried Oreos and 5,000 bacon-wrapped pickles.
  • Centennial Farm became the birthplace of four peachicks (baby peacocks/peahens), five goats and 20 piglets.
  • Agriculture students auctioned 153 livestock they raised, earning nearly $243,000.

Looking ahead to 2023, Richards said frequent fairgoers were disappointed there was no “super pass” available (in the past it has offered unlimited admission plus discounts on some entertainment and rides), so officials are working on creative ways to offer the same sort of product while still limiting crowds.

They’re also considering bringing back unique featured exhibits – “something that is new and different that has never been anywhere before,” Richards said. In 2009, the OC Fair hosted the first-ever showing of “Al’s Brain,” a 3-D movie starring Weird Al Yankovic, and fair guests in 2010 and 2011 were able to cool off in the “ice museum,” a frozen facility full of ice sculptures that sometimes were carved live by chainsaw artists.

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