Ex attendance rises to an estimated 1.5 million this year, CNE officials say

Organizers of the Canadian National Exhibition say they are “very pleased” with attendance at the annual fair this summer because early estimates indicate the total of number of people who went through the gates was higher than that of last year.

Nearly 1.5 million people are estimated to have attended the CNE this year, while about 1.3 million people attended the fair last year. The fair was behind a picket line in 2018, set up by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 58, after the union local was locked out by Exhibition Place.

John Peco, CNE’s chief officer of business development and innovation, said the CNE believes the increase in attendance this year at the largest fair in Canada is due to a mix of factors.

“It’s great. The community has certainly come in droves. We attribute that to some great programming, great Bandshell lineup, great festival food activation spaces, and they have come out in big numbers,” Peco told CBC Toronto on Monday.

“Of course, last year was a difficult for us on a number of fronts. We had a lot of inclement weather. There was the lockout situation on the property, but the community has certainly responded and come back in full force this year.”

The CNE’s $9 discounted admission after 5 p.m. from Mondays to Thursdays helped to boost attendance, he said.

As well, the Bandshell series, which he described as “exceptionally strong,” included performances by Burton Cummings, April Wine, Jann Arden and Walk off the Earth, and the concerts drew in the crowds, he said.

Peco said it’s too early to say how the higher attendance numbers will translate into revenue and the CNE needs to tally numbers from its tickets, midway and games, and food and beverage sales, but officials will release a statement about revenue likely in October.

“We certainly gauge smiles on faces, and when multi-generational families come to the fair in droves, we feel like we’re really doing a great job,” he said. “We think that the city certainly feels there is value here and they are coming back to support the fair. Absolutely, we are very pleased.”

More than 20,000 people who marched in Toronto’s Labour Day parade flooded the fair on Monday, he said.

Peco said, in addition to the lockout, there were nine days of rain during the fair last year.

Justin Antheunis, president of IATSE Local 58, which has more than 500 members, said the higher attendance number at the CNE is good news. IATSE Local 58 members, who are stagehands, operate live stages at the CNE. They set up the stages, run the shows throughout the fair and do the lighting, video work and the sound.

Antheunis noted that the fair lost money last year.

“I am glad, to be honest, that their attendance is up. We want to see the CNE succeed every year,” he said.

“But it goes to show that the people of the city of Toronto supported us during that pointless lockout of last year and they decided that they weren’t going to cross the picket line and they were going to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere in solidarity with our members who were locked out,” he said.

“It’s a very positive outcome for the CNE.”

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