country fair

Episode 4: Why County Fairs Need Free Ice Cream

I was recently told there’s been a resurgence of interest in county fairs.  You know the kind: local vendors, tons of awesomely bad-for-you food, a Ferris wheel, some animals, tasting hot sauces and these days wine sampling.  There really is something for everyone and I can enjoy the heck out of them (urge for funnel cakes rising).  Seems totally reasonable that their popularity is on the rise.

Of course, as a good denizen of the data world, I can’t leave well enough alone and I just have to ask “How do you know there’s a resurgence?  Heck, what does resurgence even mean?”.  Believe it or not, I got some numbers.  As we know, I live in East Kintertownsylvania (home to the world famous smallest ball of yarn!), and there is one fair held every year.  In 2017 the attendance of the 3 day fair was 12,295 people.  In 2000 the attendance was 8,374.  That’s over a 30% increase, not bad at all.

Is it the whole story, though?  I feel like we’re missing something.  What was it?  Yes, that’s right, what were the East Kintertownsylvania populations at these two periods in time?  Just knowing that some number got bigger over time usually isn’t enough to say it’s better.  I headed to the local courthouse, went into the basement and pulled out all the microfiche (the year 2000 was before the internet, right?) and discovered that the population was 54,291.  Which means, in 2000, about 15% of the population attended the fair.

Jumping forward, I googled the population of East Kintertownsylvania in 2017 and found out it was 76,397.  That’s a fair increase (see what I did there!) over 17 years, but everyone knows a yarn processing center opened up there in 2011 bringing in a lot of new people and businesses.  In 2017 then, the fair attracted 16% of the population, which is just one percent more than in 2000.  Hmmm, not as big of a rise as it seems.

Wait, there’s more.  We know the population went from 54,291 up to 76,397 meaning there was a near 29% increase in people over that time frame.  We know that the fair attendance only went up by 1% (15% vs 16%).  That means fair attendance certainly isn’t growing as fast as the population.  Even if we say attendance should have grown at half the population increase, that’s still an additional 8% on top of our 16% (meaning a total of 24%) which means attendance should have been about 18,000.

Unfortunately, then, fair attendance isn’t growing.  It’s actually declining.  By quite a bit too.  The fair organizers might want to look at ways to get more people.  I’m thinking free ice cream would do it.  Would certainly keep me attending.  Especially if its cookie dough flavored.

This article has a bunch of numbers, but there’s no need to fear them or get frazzled.  I did some simple things, basic percentages and the like.  The important take away is not to just trust some number you are given that might (or might not) show some increase or decrease over time.  If someone says they did checks like these and can provide them, that might be all you need to know the number is sound.  If you see no supporting info, and can’t find any other evidence yourself, then perhaps it’s not worth trusting.  Percentages can be easy to “sniff check” too – you don’t need to do major math (even though all us have high powered calculators in our pockets at all times), it’s pretty simple to just half or quarter a number and see if things look correct-ish.  I also made an assumption of half the population increase should have attended fairs – and I stated it.  Some assumptions aren’t stated.

Definitions are important and I know I said we should find out what “resurgence” even means.  In this case, looks like we don’t have to bother though.  I’m sure it’ll come up in another article.  For now, I need a funnel cake with cookie dough ice cream on top!