A carnival can be described in many ways, but at its core, it is a commercialized amusement show that usually includes a wide range of games, rides, and sideshows. They are where people go in pursuit of adventure, exploration, mystery, oddities, and of course fun.

So how do carnivals make money, when they are, by nature, such short-term events, either traveling around to different locations or getting opened up and packed down only a couple of times a year?

Let’s find out!

How Do Carnivals Make Money?

The objective of Carnivals is to provide amusement to the masses and people are always willing to part with their cash for a good time. That’s the basis of how carnivals generate revenue and stay afloat.

So how do carnivals make money?

Here are 5 revenue sources that keep the Carnivals running –

  1. Admission tickets
  2. Selling concessions
  3. Utilizing low-cost operations
  4. Pay-per-Play Games
  5. Renting rides in the off-season

Let’s look at each of these income sources for carnivals.

#1. Admission tickets

Just like with theme parks, carnivals make money selling admission tickets. These are tickets purchased to gain entrance into the carnival.

The price of admission may depend on the type of carnival. If a carnival is large and well-known but only puts on a few in-season performances, then it may be able to charge more per guest as the tickets will likely be in high demand. A small, local carnival may just charge enough to offset their expenses to entice more people to attend.

Carnival tickets typically include access to all the general attractions such as sideshows and rides. However, some of the more popular games and rides may require an additional fee to play or ride.

#2. Selling concessions

Have you ever been to a carnival and not bought anything other than the admission ticket? Probably not. Another way carnivals make money is through selling concessions.

Selling concessions is a great way for carnivals to make money while also adding to their guests’ overall experience. To embrace the carnival in full, many guests find themselves spending money on carnival food and souvenirs. Regardless of what a carnival decides to sell, people will spend money to both enhance and remember their time there.

#3. Utilizing low-cost operations

Third on our list of how carnivals make money, is by utilizing low-cost operations. Carnivals, by nature, are short-term events, so it wouldn’t make sense to invest in too many high-cost operations.

Low-cost operations can be set up quickly and cheaply and then easily stored. These operations have a high return on investment for carnivals. For example, take cotton candy. Cotton candy is a staple carnival experience, and the overhead cost is basically zero.

A carnival simply needs the machine, sugar, and bags to package it in. Carnivals can then charge whatever they’d like per bag, making their potential profits endless.

Another example of utilizing low-cost operations is setting up a dunk tank. Dunk tanks are always popular among carnival guests, but they don’t cost much to set up.

All that’s needed is a tank, a seat, and a target. These can all be easily stored when not in use and quickly set up when they are needed.

#4. Pay-Per-Play Games

Pay-per-play games are another way carnivals can make money. Whether it is the alluring prizes or some friendly competition, pay-per-play games are always popular among carnival-goers.

Pay-per-play games charge players actual money, cash or card, to play. Due to the nature of carnival games, they tend to be short, fun, and a little addictive.

This is great for carnivals because it keeps many people playing many rounds. The only profit limit on these games is the number of people who can play at once.

#5. Renting rides in the off-season

Carnivals can also make money in the off-season by renting their rides. As stated earlier, carnivals are short-term events with limited seasons.

Renting out rides is a great way for carnivals to make money in their off-season. Not every carnival has the same season schedule, so this opens a potentially highly profitable income stream where one carnival rents to another.

Depending on the type of ride, a carnival could rent it anywhere from around $100 per day to $5,000 per day.


Carnivals are a great way to make money, especially in the summer. They provide a fun experience for all ages and can be profitable if run correctly.

So how do carnivals make money?

We reviewed 5 revenue sources for carnivals. The most common revenue source is through sales of admission tickets. People pay to get into the carnival, and this is how most carnivals make their money.

Other ways include selling concessions, utilizing low-cost operations, pay-per-play games, and renting rides in the off-season.