With the Nebraska State Fair two weeks away from its 2016 opening on Aug. 26, plans are already underway to find the most popular acts for the 2017 fair.

In May, the Nebraska State Fair board voted to approve a $1.4 million entertainment budget for 2017. The move to approve the entertainment budget early will allow the State Fair to be more competitive in booking big name entertainment acts, according to Joseph McDermott, executive director of the Nebraska State Fair.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to book acts,” McDermott said.

On Saturday, Shaun Schleif, the fair’s marketing and sponsorship director, told State Fair board members at their August meeting in Grand Island how management has hired Gupta Media to help them mine data from social media users to determine what entertainment acts fans of the Nebraska State Fair would like to see next year.

Schleif said the Romeo Entertainment Group, which the Nebraska State Fair works with in booking entertainment acts for the fair, has given them a list of more than 20 entertainers that could be booked for the 2017 fair.

“The thing we are trying to do is to better educate ourselves about what Nebraska concertgoers want to see — in particular, the artists they are most impressed with — which obviously allows us to put on a better show,” he said.

Schleif said they want to match the success last year of the Keith Urban outdoor concert at the fair, drawing nearly 12,000 concertgoers. They’re looking for the same success this year with the opening three concerts that will feature Thomas Rhett with special guest Jordan Rager on Aug. 26, Lady Antebellum on Aug. 27 and Train on Aug. 28.

He said what they have been hearing from State Fair fans for years is that they want bigger name entertainers.

“But with bigger names come bigger costs for the Nebraska State Fair,” Schleif said. “With bigger names come bigger risks for the Nebraska State Fair. So, working with Gupta Media and having them actually look out across Nebraska to see the likes and dislikes of Nebraskans who are interested in any one particular artist, it is going to help us hedge our bets about getting a new one.”

Gupta Media uses a program on Facebook that allows it to examine the likes and dislikes of fans regarding any particular artists.

“They look at those individuals who are fans of the Nebraska State Fair website, and with that, they go out and find out where their interests lie within the music they prefer,” Schleif said.

Gupta Media will be especially targeting fans of those bands that are on the entertainment list Romeo provided to the State Fair.

“The interesting thing is the notion that what Nebraskans want may not be the same as is wanted nationally,” he said. “What they do then is to find the popularity of particular artists and then they compare that to national averages and they are actually able, through that process, to tell us whether or not it is a firm investment.”

While the State Fair has already worked with Gupta Media in marketing the fair on social media, this is the first time it has used this type of targeting service that connects directly with fans of a particular musical act.

“They have had great success and they represent some of the biggest clients in the world, as well as some fall festivals,” Schleif said. “It has worked well for them and we are going to utilize it this year.”

This is a form of risk management for the fair, especially as some of these national acts cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring to Grand Island.

What makes Gupta Media unique, he said, is that they don’t target any particular demographic, but look directly at the fans of specific entertainment acts, whether that person is 7 years old or 77 years old.

“They can actually pinpoint those individuals and market to those individuals that are interested in that particular artist,” Schleif said.

With the widespread use of social media by millions of Americans, he said, using technology to target and market to Nebraska State Fair fans can better tailor and efficiently use their resources to reach Nebraskans, determine their likes and dislikes.

They can then schedule those events and acts that will appeal to people throughout the state.

“It is one of the most difficult challenges is staying abreast of what is new,” Schleif said. “To do that we must associate ourselves and partner with people smarter than we are, and that is certainly what we have done with Gupta Media. It would be foolhardy for us not to pay attention to the newest technology out there.”

To learn more about Gupta Media, visit its website at http://www.guptamedia.com.

For information about the Nebraska State Fair, visit its website at http://www.statefair.org/

The fair board also voted Saturday to approve a new motorized vehicle safety policy.

Each year, hundreds of motorized vehicles travel about the fairgrounds for delivery of items or transportation. After an accident on the fairgrounds in 2014, the fair staff began working on a safety policy with its insurance carrier.

The new policy will state that all drivers must be 18 years or older and have a valid Nebraska driver’s license and they are required to watch a safety video that they must sign off on. Drivers must also wear a wristband that will identify them as being cleared to drive on the fairgrounds.

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