Organizers happy with Ribfest, look toward next year’s bash

Pit Master Boo Harris from Johnsons BBQ pulls slabs of ribs off the grill to serve up at Ribfest on Thursday July 3, 2014, at Knoch Park in Naperville IL.    | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: 01111715A
Pit Master Boo Harris from Johnsons BBQ pulls slabs of ribs off the grill to serve up at Ribfest on Thursday July 3, 2014, at Knoch Park in Naperville IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: 01111715A
July 9 10:25 a.m.
By the numbers

There has been a lot of number crunching following this year’s Ribfest, and while final totals aren’t completely done, here are some preliminary statistics from organizers:

60,125 lbs. of ribs purchased
730 kegs of beer consumed
220 cases of frozen drinks purchased
4,000 volunteers
$1.6 million in sponsorship money, about the same since 2007

The 2014 edition of the Naperville Exchange Club’s annual Ribfest is in the books, but organizers say that thoughts are already turning towards next year’s bash.

Organizers said many things went well this year, including the weather, but that there are always ways to make changes to make things better.

That assessment was the major sentiment expressed by everyone less than a week after the last rib tent was taken down and the crowds, music, food and more all were gone. Those working on the public relations and marketing committee, including Hunter Byington, said that by all accounts, the 27th edition of Ribfest “went really well, especially new offerings like the all-day Hispanic music stage.”

“This was my first year working on this, but several of the rib vendors said that over the weekend they had their biggest days ever,” Byington said. “We were pleasantly surprised by the response we got to the Latin-Hispanic music stage where there were a lot of really good bands. The quality of the music kept the South Park filled all day.”

Don Emery, who served as chairman of public relations and marketing for Ribfest this year, said that he has worked at least 17 years as part of the annual fundraising event and that “this year may have been as good as or better than any Ribfest held during the past five years.”

“We sold 10,000 sponsor tickets, and even though 12,000 to 13,000 is the best total we’ve done, that’s still a very good number,” Emery said. “Any numbers anyone gives you at this point still probably aren’t exactly right.”

Some numbers are in, including the explosion of social media hits and number of “likes” posted on the Exchange Club’s Facebook page. Emery said there were more than 179,000 hits on the Exchange Club’s website since June 1.

“We conducted surveys throughout Ribfest and the number one reason people told us they were here was from word-of-mouth,” he said. “That certainly makes sense. But about 20 percent of the people said they learned about Ribfest from social media, and there’s no question we got a lot of first time visitors because of it.”

Byington said a new iPhone app for Ribfest was offered this year, and that both an Apple and Android format will be available next year.

“We had over 2,000 downloads of the app, which allowed people to order tickets as well as see a complete schedule of events,” he said. “Using geo-positioning, the app also allowed people to see where they were at Ribfest and find where something else was that they wanted to see.”

Ray Kinney, who has served on steering committees for the past six years and has been a part of Ribfest in some way for every one of them, said this year’s event “made great strides on the south end of the park” and that realignment of the area had a lot to do with it.

“The realignment allowed visitors to see everything that was available on the south end, whereas before, things were arranged in a kind of ‘boomerang’ pattern and some parts were hidden,” Kinney said. “There are a lot of moving parts to Ribfest, and the cooperation we got from the Park District and the police was wonderful. I’m not aware of there being a single incident.”

Emery said that in addition to the Hispanic music stage, this year’s inaugural bags championship which featured winners from Chicago area bars who then competed in the “finals” at Ribfest “is likely to grow.”

“We had people from Chicago-area bars compete here in the finals, and we’d like to expand that,” he said. “It’s one of the things we learned some lessons about. We only had about 65 bars participate, and we’d like to see something more in the range of 150 to 200. We also had a lot of requests from people who wanted to play that day or have their kids play, and we weren’t set up to accommodate that.”

Other “tweaks” planned for future Ribfest events include making improvements on the north side of the park, which Emery said included an area “that was under-utilized” and improving traffic flow which he said had to be changed during the event where areas got “pinched.”

“We also need to work on getting bands booked more in advance as some of the people we looked at already had their tours lined up and were traveling with another group,” he said.

Some of the food vendors who sold items such as tacos needed more exposure as well, Emery added. On the plus side, 4,000 volunteers showed up, including a couple that traveled from Ohio to attend Ribfest and wound up signing up as volunteers the next day.

“Those kinds of stories are really heartwarming,” Emery said. “We also got notes from some of the charities we work with telling us about the videos we showed about their organization. And the level of sponsorship we’ve had since 2007 hasn’t changed, despite the downturn for years in the economy. People find out what we do and they want to be a part of it.”

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