New fairgrounds advertising bill designed to bring in revenue

Early in the last legislative session, Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith asked Sen. Joey Fillingane to file a bill that would allow for private advertising to appear on buildings at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds.

Fillingane, a Sumrall Republican, did just that, the bill cleared the Capitol and became law July 1. Supporters now are hopeful the measure provides a means to generate new revenue for the Fairgrounds and the Fair Commission without the taxpayers picking up the tab.

Advertising for private companies is now allowed on every building at the Fairgrounds, with the exception of the Kirk Fordice Equine Center. The bill also limits the type of companies who can advertise on the Mississippi Coliseum, the Trade Mart and other structures at the Fairgrounds. It disallows the advertising of activities that are not allowed for those 18 years of age and younger. For example, ads touting alcohol would be precluded because the legal drinking age is 21.

Fillingane said in an interview last week that several states in the Southeast had enacted similar laws, and had been successful in propping up budgets thinned out by the recession and resulting slow recovery.

It’s not often that legislation in its first year at the Capitol even makes it out of committee. It’s rarer still for it to make it through the process entirely and become law. Fillingane said there were a few things that separated this bill from others.

“No. 1, it was a good idea, and it was based on models that other states had used. So there was a proven method of increasing revenue without having to increase taxes or ask for an increased appropriation in a year where we were cutting budgets, not growing them. It fit with the overall budget plan. And, (Hyde-Smith, a former senator) wasn’t a stranger to the process, which obviously helped.”

Whether this is the start of a trend is still to be determined, Fillingane said. Being mostly rural, Mississippi can’t depend much on advertising on public transit systems. If other public entities want to emulate the Fairgrounds, it at least deserves a look, he said. “It makes too much sense not to.”

Revenue generated by the ads will go to the Fair Commission, of which Hyde-Smith is the chairperson, said Andy Prosser, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Commerce. It would be used specifically for the Fairgrounds, he said. The bill mandates that at least 15 percent of the revenue would go toward to the Fair Commission’s Livestock Shows Fund.

The rest would fund maintenance and repairs to the Fairgrounds’ buildings, all of which are decades old and are in constant need of some type of attention, Prosser said. “It’s like owning a house. There’s always something that needs fixing or otherwise is going to cost you money. It’s just on a much larger and more expensive scale.”

Like the revenue generated by advertisers during the annual Dixie National Livestock Show and Rodeo — the Fairgrounds’ largest event, along with the Mississippi State Fair – all but $100,000 may be used for capital improvements. The other $100,000 is earmarked for the promotion of the Dixie National.

Like all other revenue the Fair Commission receives, the new ad revenue will be a part of the annual financial statement the entity is required to provide every January to legislative leadership.

“We’re always looking at ways to increase revenue, and we think this is a good way to do that,” Prosser said.

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