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After delays, Ozark Empire Fair ready to roll

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Securing quality acts on a limited budget for the 75th anniversary of the Ozark Empire Fair led to a two-month delay in the search, according to fair organizers, but that seems to have done little to hurt the nonprofit event’s sponsorship dollars.

After pulling in $431,000 in cash and in-kind trades in 2010 – nearly double the sponsorship levels from the year before – a $75,000 commitment from Cotner Productions helped secure roughly $405,000 through July 13. The current budget is 6 percent below 2010 levels.

Angela Smith, owner of ADsmith Communications, which is handling media placement for Ozark Empire Fair, said overall sponsorship revenues are down this year, due in large part to a concerted effort among organizers in 2010 to trade sponsorships for much-needed capital improvements.

“This year is still much better than our totals in 2009,” Smith said.

She said a newly installed sound system has helped her marketing efforts, and she pointed to increased sponsorship participation from Hardee’s and Missouri College of Cosmetology as successes.

“And they are still rolling in,” she added.

Ozark Empire Fair General Manager Elvin Dunn said a lack of attendance due to a heat wave last year led to a marketing budget reduction of 25 percent in 2011.

Dunn said budgetary considerations didn’t just affect marketing. The concert budget also dropped to $115,000 from roughly $150,000 in 2010. That led to a delay in selecting the fair’s concert booking agent, Springfield-based Cotner Productions, Dunn said.

He said Louisville, Ky.-based Triangle Talent had been one possible option, but Cotner’s offer to take on some of the risk of producing the show was what sealed the deal.

“Every artist that comes in gets a guarantee, and it’s not cheap,” Dunn said. “There is a cost factor there.”

He said, for example, bringing in popular stars such as Taylor Swift would cost up to $1 million.
Cotner Productions co-owner Howard Cotner said he was asked to provide bookings for the fair in February, some two months later than when he signed his contract for the 2009 event.

In 2010, Mark Steiner of Steiner Talent Inc. booked Kellie Pickler, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and KC and the Sunshine Band for the fair.

Cotner Productions secured Smash Mouth and Dwight Yoakam as headliners this year, and Cotner said he was pleased with the end result.

“We wanted to try to appease and appeal to the whole audience that goes to the fair, and I think we came up with a good selection of acts,” Cotner said. “I’m pretty happy with what we got and (fair organizers) seem to be happy.”

Ozark Empire Fair board Vice Chairman Craig Dunn, and son of Elvin, could not be reached for comment by press time.

Cotner said the process of finding and negotiating deals with entertainers took about six to eight weeks, ending in April, which he said was not unusual.

Cotner said he had been looking at rock acts Train and Maroon 5, both of which are on tour this summer.

Train chose to perform at the June 17–19 Show-Me Music and Arts Festival in east Springfield, and Maroon 5 decided its routing issues were too much to overcome, he said. Cotner also pursued Sheryl Crow and Chicago, but they, too, had routing issues.

Cotner, who also is under contract with Drury University to book shows for the O’Reilly Family Event Center, ended up bringing Crow and Chicago to town anyway.

Both acts booked summer dates at Drury’s new auditorium – Crow scheduled for July 15 and Chicago on Aug. 9.

“It worked out that (Crow) had a date open Friday to come in and play Springfield, which she has never played, and then she’s up to St. Louis. So, it’s a routing situation,” Cotner said. “A lot of times you’re at the mercy of the artist depending on where they are at.”

In 2009, Cotner said he had secured the acts he was looking for – The Beach Boys and Montgomery Gentry – earlier in the process, but the negotiation process took about the same amount of time. This year, however, Dunn said Cotner “saved the day” when he decided to put up $75,000 of his own money to secure two concerts.

“I was willing to step up to the plate and produce the (Three Dog Night) show and do it with my money,” Cotner said, adding that a St. Louis partner also helped fund the Happy Together Tour, a collection of 1960s headliners. “It’s a way to help the fair, and they’ve helped us out with some of the production expenses.

“It was a little late start because they came to me a little bit later when they asked me to get on board, so we lost a few months there,” Cotner said. “They weren’t sure if they were going to go with (Steiner Talent) or go with another company, so it kind of put us back a little bit.”

Dunn said only one booking contract was extended, and that was to Cotner. He insisted that internal disputes over reducing this year’s concert budget led to the delay in signing Cotner. Dunn said the organization went over budget by roughly $30,000 in 2010.

He credited Cotner’s partnership and Smith’s work to pull in sponsors with making 2011 a solid year.

Smith said Cotner’s contribution counted as a sponsorship, but so did in-kind trades for improvements last year. In 2010, three iron gates were donated by Wheeler Metals Inc., fencing throughout the fairgrounds was supplied by Wood ReNew & Tile Too, and curbing around buildings was installed by Accent Curbz.

This year’s Ozark Empire Fair runs July 29–Aug. 7.[[In-content Ad]]

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