SD State Fair attendance falls off by 47% during pandemic

In this file photo, the carnival is pictured at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron. Matt Gade / Forum News Service

HURON — The South Dakota State Fair experienced a precipitous drop in attendance in September, falling by 47.4 percent as the annual five-day event was held through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attendance was reported this week at 107,992 for the 2020 fair, a steep departure from the 205,172 that attended in 2019. Spending at the fair was about half of 2019's pace, as well, with South Dakota State Fairgrounds manager Peggy Besch reporting $1.3 million in spending on goods, beverages, concessions and carnival rides. In 2019, spending was reported at more than $2.6 million.

“It was great to see family and friends coming together to celebrate their achievements and enjoy the fair safely, and responsibly,” Besch said in a press release. “This year presented many challenges, but we embraced them and worked hard to host a safe and successful event. ... We knew the pandemic would impact attendance, but we’re very pleased with these numbers.”

A number of the grandstand acts previously scheduled for the fair either canceled or postponed their performances due to the pandemic.

Both 2019 and 2020 fairs had about 1,600 competitive exhibitors, with the number of total exhibits judged for open-class livestock and non-livestock competitions numbering about 8,300 in 2020, down from 9,400 in 2019. The fair also had 290 commercial exhibitors, down from 435 in 2019.


For most of the decade of the 2010s, the fair averaged about 210,000 attendees, with a recent high of 217,231 in 2018.

The fair was one of about 20 state fairs in the United States that was scheduled to take place this year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 South Dakota State Fair will be held Sept. 2-6, 2021 in Huron.

Recent South Dakota State Fair attendance

2020: 107,992

2019: 205,172

2018: 217,231

2017: 211,843

2016: 211,371


2015: 210,893

2014: 210,465

Source: South Dakota Department of Agriculture records

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