Eyeing a reconfigured 2021 county fair, board cancels previously scheduled entertainment

The Del Mar Fairgrounds
The Del Mar Fairgrounds
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Aiming for a pandemic-proof 2021 San Diego County Fair, the board of directors at the Del Mar Fairgrounds voted Dec. 8 to terminate all entertainment contracts that were held over from the canceled 2020 fair.

Thirty-three contracts worth a combined $2.6 million were nullified by the board’s vote. Board members and fairgrounds staff said during their monthly meeting that opting out of the contracts will give them more flexibility to mold a 2021 fair around whatever public health restrictions are still in place.

“We don’t know what it’s going to look like,” said board member Frederick Schenk, who chairs the Fair Operations Committee.

When the 2020 fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, entertainment contracts were deferred to 2021 in anticipation of the world returning to normal by next summer.

“Here we are in December 2020, uncertain as ever about what the future holds,” said Katie Mueller, chief business services officer of the fairgrounds.

Terminating the contracts, Mueller added, gives the performers a chance to pursue other opportunities. A news release also said that canceling the contracts will give fairgrounds staff more freedom to plan layouts, activities and other aspects of the fair that make it as safe as possible.

“In this day of uncertainty, we need to be creative and reimagine our approach to the 2021 fair,” fairgrounds interim CEO Carlene Moore said in a statement.

Recent news of impending vaccine distribution, which will be handled in California by state and local health officials, has generated optimism that the beginning of the end of the pandemic is approaching.

The state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds has been financially strapped since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, when all the large events it counts on for most of its revenue were canceled. The Crossroads of the West gun show scheduled for this weekend was one of the latest cancellations announced by board members.

The Del Mar Fairgrounds received $4.7 million from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, but other avenues for financial aid have been harder to come by. After requesting $20 million in emergency funding from the state, the fairgrounds received a share of $40.3 million that Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated for all fairgrounds throughout the state.