The arrival of COVID-19 has become the elephant in the room for organizations worldwide looking to hold large scale public events. Regardless of whether nations have embraced social distancing or outright quarantine, sporting leagues, convention planners, entertainment producers and agricultural societies wanting to put on summer or fall fairs are facing overwhelming uncertainty about how this pandemic will ultimately change how they do business.
The Lindsay Agricultural Society, the host of the Lindsay Exhibition since 1854, has more questions than answers right now about whether their fair and agricultural show will run in September.
In the last six weeks no less than 26 spring, summer and fall fairs across Ontario have been cancelled. While the cancellation of some of the May and June exhibitions is expected because of the provincial State of Emergency currently in place, some in the fair community are surprised by the shutting down of fairs not scheduled to occur until July, August, September and October.
When contacted for comment about other fairs making the decision not to run, Harry Stoddart, general manager of the Lindsay Agricultural Society, was sympathetic to the plight of those organizing committees.
“A poorly attended fair is worse than no fair at all. I expect the last events the government will allow will be events that encourage large groups of people to gather. We are zoom conferencing with the Ontario Association of Agricultural Societies two to three times a week.”
When asked what role the OAAS had in organizing committees deciding to cancel their fairs Stoddart noted the OAAS offers advice.
“They have expertise on public health, insurance and government policy that the individual groups simply don’t have. They can’t tell anyone to cancel but they offer fair-minded support and insight to largely volunteer fair boards.”
Stoddart fears, at least for the short term that, “the province likely won’t allow large events to occur.”
“It might take a year for these events to come back. Hopefully there will be a vaccine (for COVID-19) in place soon.”
Stoddart adds, “Those committees have decided to take a pass on 2020 and have hit the reset button for 2021.”
When asked about the LEX, the general manager was hopeful.
“I am working very hard to figure out how we can run the LEX under a range of potential scenarios in a way that would be safe for guests and reduce the risk for everyone while being sustainable for the Lindsay Agricultural Society.”
Stoddart suggested that options like virtual livestock shows were being considered by the 15 person board ultimately responsible for running the LEX.
When asked what the key challenges are for the LEX in order to have a successful run in September, Stoddart was specific.
“We have 23 separate committees with 150 volunteers that run the LEX. Getting that number of people together is a real challenge even with the technology available.”
Another factor, says Stoddart, is that fairs generally rely on sponsorships from the community.
“In the case of the 2019 LEX, we had 306 sponsors who made varying levels of donations. Many of them are local businesses. We would normally be reaching out to them about now to renew their sponsorships. With the COVID-19 impacts on business and families we have decided to wait until there is a clearer picture of what the future holds before deciding whether to solicit donations this year.”
When asked about contracts already in place with ride and food providers, he noted that all contracts are unique.
“The big contracts have a force majeure (Act of God) clause that protects the LEX from legal action by disgruntled suppliers.”
He is hopeful that companies like the midway provider, which has a long-term contract with the LEX will be professional and respectful about a potential cancellation, realizing what an unusual event the pandemic is.