ICE Hosts a Show and Lots of Show Chatter

The hottest topic among supplier marketing teams at many gaming trade shows is, ironically, gaming trade shows.

At least that was the case at the ICE Totally Gaming show in London last month. The show itself was a monster, the largest gaming trade show ever in terms of exhibitor square meters. The products were dazzling, with slot companies going all out with their latest creations. The vibe was different from other shows because of the influence of the online/mobile/sports betting exhibitors and the 60 countries represented. The venue was ExCeL, which in the third year as host site has been embraced by the Earls Court holdouts despite its long distance from central London.

Yet, despite all of the buzz and business activity, there was no escaping that trade show madness was sweeping both sides of the gigantic ExCeL structure. Certainly buyers were oblivious to all of the chatter. And those among the suppliers focused solely on selling products could probably care less.

But for those whose annual calendar is shaped directly by trade show dates and locations, all of the new developments were fascinating indeed.

The reason for such fascination is simple: The amount of money and time and energy and angst that suppliers put into exhibiting at these shows is staggering. With mergers and acquisitions dominating the supplier space and creating promises of cost savings and synergies, trade shows and their accompanying costs are clearly a focus.

The total hard costs of these shows run in the tens of millions of dollars annually. For the bigger slot companies, shows such as ICE and G2E in particular cost several million in hard dollars for less than 24 hours of exhibit time.

And then there are the so-called soft costs that are anything but cushy and comforting. It was rumored that Novomatic sent 440 people to ICE this year to set up and staff its massive presence. The Scientific Games (Bally, WMS, SHFL) staffing number was pegged at more than 160. Those responsible for show budgets know that these people come with a high price tag for air travel and hotels and such, but perhaps the higher cost comes from all of the development work and planning needed to wow customers at trade shows. And instead of being back at headquarters working on things that create revenue, these people are on the show floor at ExCeL.

Some in our business say they’d be happy with just four shows—one each in the United States, Asia, Europe and South America. Unfortunately, the current number is north of 15, adding fuel to the overall trade show discussion. During my 15 years as part of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), half spent as Bally Technologies’ Board of Directors representative and half now as executive director, the subject of trade shows has always been a dominant topic. In the coming weeks, that topic will only grow in importance as suppliers grapple with the ever-evolving show landscape.

The most surprising trade show news to circulate around the floor at ICE was the unlikely pairing of Clarion Events and Urban Expo on a possible 2016 show in Miami that would target the South American market. AGEM hosted a large meeting of supplier marketing representatives at last year’s ICE show and asked Clarion to come up with ideas on how to consolidate the overkill of current shows in South America into one signature event. SAGSE in Buenos Aires has been on the decline for various reasons, and additional shows in Peru, Columbia, Panama, Mexico and Puerto Rico have added to the glut.

The proposed Clarion solution a year later is Miami, and the partnership with Urban brings together former rivals Julian Graves of Clarion and Courtney Muller of Urban. Several years ago, when Muller headed Reed Exhibitions’ gaming shows in Las Vegas and Macau, Reed floated the idea of G2E Europe to battle Clarion’s position with ICE, to no avail. Now, Muller is trying to grow Urban’s upstart gaming position that now includes only the management of the NIGA show focusing on Indian country.

SAGSE Buenos Aires, meanwhile, has no plans to shut down its flagging November show and is trying to grow the SAGSE Panama show in May of this year by asking exhibitors and operators in attendance to board a cruise ship at the show’s conclusion and sail the Caribbean for seven days in an attempt to visit additional operators in casino markets such as Aruba, Curacao and Columbia.

While perhaps scoring points for creativity, the cruise idea is about as likely to succeed as another proposed ELA show in Mexico City next year. If ever a show hasn’t gotten the message yet, it’s ELA. After a couple of years marked by exhibitor and operator boycotts and then another couple of years of no ELA at all, organizers want to try again. Please don’t.

And then there’s Macau, where the Macao Gaming Show in November has been taking PR spin to ridiculous levels about its first two years of so-called success, and G2E Asia this May is poised for its ninth edition under the leadership of a relatively new team at both Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association (AGA), co-owners of the show (AGEM is a contractual partner with Reed and the AGA on both G2E shows).

It all adds up to a lot of chatter and distraction at a time when suppliers are navigating a challenging business environment. Certainly there is a better use for everyone’s time.

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