Utah’s annual state fair might be another victim of COVID-19

The state fair attended by hundreds of thousands of Utahns each summer may be canceled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Larry Mullenax, executive director for Utah State Fair Corporation, said the nonprofit will decide the fair’s fate by the end of the week.

“We’ve been closely monitoring the number of confirmed cases throughout the state and the trajectory of those cases,” he told lawmakers Monday in a Retirement and Independent Entities Interim Committee.

If the state fair stays open this year, it will likely be a different experience than most Utahns are familiar with.

“We think it would be irresponsible for us to host the fair as we know it,” Mullenax said. “2019′s fair on Saturday night had 55,000 people here so we want to avoid that.”

Last year, 574,027 people attended the fair and other events at the Utah State FairPark in total. This year, the nonprofit is considering selling fair tickets in time slots for the morning and evening in an effort to stay within Gov. Gary Herbert’s requirements that outdoor events host no more than 6,000 people.

Another option is for the state fair to be limited to a livestock show. Most livestock shows in the state have been canceled due to the pandemic, taking away the opportunity for youth in the agriculture industry to sell animals they’ve raised.

“Quite frankly, they sell that animal and they put that towards their college fund,” Mullenax told legislators. “So it’s very important for them.”

The State Fair Corp. is also considering hosting a livestock show with virtual sales and arena events including two live music shows, a comedy show and motor sports.

A final option is to have a virtual fair and virtual livestock show with no in-person attendance. “Even if the fair breaks even, it’s still worth doing because we’re losing about $145,000 a month in expenses,” Mullenax said.

He told the committee the fair is the nonprofit’s biggest event and if it is forced to cancel, the nonprofit will need financial support from the Legislature.

Before the pandemic hit, the fair’s revenue was set to hit historic levels in 2020. The Fair Park Corp. had contracted with several well known tours to bring in music and arts activities.

Now, most events have been canceled through the end of July, although the Fairpark will still host two large events this summer. Good Guys Car Show is coming to Utah for the first time from July 17 to July 19.

Mullenax said there should be no difficulties with social distancing and sanitizing the facility and restrooms.

Vans Park Series — an international skateboarding competition and the only event Vans is hosting worldwide this year — will also take place in Salt Lake City in August.

Mullenax said the competition will go on whether or not there’s an in-person audience, and it might become a made-for-television event.

The Fair Park Corp. is now focused on 2021 events including an international market on the west side of Salt Lake City that was approved after a study last year.

This market would run in the evenings and showcase arts, crafts, local produce and meat.