MontanaFair saw record crowds over the weekend, and a handful of Billings college students helped make it happen.
Gabriel Iglesias, the comedian known as Fluffy, attracted just over 8,100 people to Rimrock Auto Arena on Saturday night, setting a new high mark for attendance at a MontanaFair concert. Iglesias beat the previous record held by Train’s 2014 appearance by about 700 people.
The stand-up comic is the first in eight years and was booked following the free guidance of a senior-level marketing class at Montana State University Billings.
“Not all clients take our recommendations but the ones that do have been very happy with the results,” said A.J. Otjen, MSU-B marketing professor.
Otjen’s strategic marketing class works with organizations in the community to develop ways to attract more business. Ray Massie, MetraPark’s marketing and sales director, reached out to MSU-B in the spring of 2015 in hopes of growing MontanaFair in 2016.
The class of about 30 is divided into four- or five-person groups. Each group focuses on one “client” throughout the semester, gathering market data from original research and secondary sources like recent census results before developing a strategy.
Otjen said the MontanaFair team found an underrepresented demographic at fair events and decided to focus on that part of the population while researching strategies.
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“There are a lot more young men in the community than were attending the fair and that provides an opportunity to increase attendance,” she said.
The team looked at a number of different events popular with men between the ages of 18 and 30. In the end, the comedy option edged out a microbrewery competition.
Iglesias isn’t the first comedian to perform at MontanaFair. Bill Engvall appeared in 2008, drawing an audience of more than 5,800 people.
Massie said comedians are easier to book than musicians because they don’t travel with large crews and equipment. Iglesias came to Billings with two other comedians and several managers. But there are other difficulties with stand-up comedians.
“Many comedians work in environments that are not family friendly,” Massie said. “So, a fair is the ultimate family friendly atmosphere that we try to put forward. A comedian like Gabriel, who is very family friendly, was wonderful, but there aren’t like hundreds of those guys to choose from.”
Iglesias was by far the biggest draw of the weekend. Jason Derulo attracted about 6,100 people in his Montana debut and Three Doors Down brought in more than 6,900 people on Sunday night.