New Show Venue in London Brings Highs and Lows

LONDON—With less than 15 hours before the doors were to open at the largest gaming trade show in the world, what was billed as a modern, new venue looked like a war zone. And yet when the crowds streamed into ExCeL in east London at 10 a.m. the next day, attendees had no idea of the chaos that had previously ensued.

If you’ve been involved in the gaming industry for very long, especially on the supplier side, you’ve seen trade shows magically come together as if someone sprinkled magic pixie dust at the last minute and suddenly all of that trash and scrap in the aisles disappears and seemingly invisible vacuums miraculously take care of the rest.

This was different, however. Different because for the first time in more than 20 years, the annual ICE trade show in London was not held at Earls Court in central London. Different because all of the exhibitors covering more than 31,000 square meters were trying to set up in a new venue for the first time. Different because instead of at least five days of set-up time, exhibitors generally had only three. Different because teams were working 24 hours straight to get done in time. And so when the show opened, the sales teams and the attendees had a spring in their step and show organizers and the build-up teams looked like they hadn’t slept in three days—which they hadn’t.

That’s the general takeaway from ICE Totally Gaming 2013, a tale of two views. For the suppliers setting up, it was a nightmare. For the attendees, it was a bustling event, showcasing all sectors of our ever-growing industry.

Show organizer Clarion Events, led by the dynamic duo of Kate Chambers and Julian Graves, was kept busy putting out fires throughout the build-up and the show itself. To their credit, they were very open to listening and helping and pushing to make things right. Within a few days of the show closing, they had already compiled a top 10 list of sorts that centered on issues they were aware of and the potential fixes for next year. They have even volunteered to come to Las Vegas in March to meet with the Nevada-based suppliers and hear other ideas on how they can improve the whole show experience.

As for how the sales teams and attendees generally felt about the show and the new venue, well, that feedback will take a little longer to assess, simply because they want to know how much business ICE generates, and that will take some time to determine. What they do know is this gigantic building was packed with people and products, none bigger than global powerhouse Novomatic, a gold member of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). It’s safe to say that Novomatic and its other Austrian Gaming Industries companies combined to cover the largest piece of gaming trade show real estate ever, some 4,440 square meters or the size of a small village (for comparative purposes, the size of an American football field is 5,348 square meters).

All of the suppliers and AGEM members were in fine form, with products on display for the traditional casino markets and the expanding online, interactive and mobile sectors. This show has always been the leader in non-traditional technologies, simply because of Europe’s leadership position in online gambling, in betting shops and on smartphones. What’s especially interesting is to see the continued convergence of all of the sectors and all the different individuals roaming the expansive ExCeL who never previously came to this show.

Gaming executives who have been coming to the London show for years faced a new environment because of ExCeL’s location far from central London. Those who had their hotel, dining and entertainment habits from past years were forced to explore new options. The Canary Wharf area, a couple of train stops away from ExCeL, turned out to be a pleasant surprise for those who had a chance to tour the area.

The Canary Wharf area is known as London’s finance and banking center, and it seems centuries removed from the old buildings in central London. With its sleek skyscrapers and upscale shops and restaurants, this area will prove to be a unique gathering place in future years.

As for next year’s show, it will not be laid out in a long horizontal band that requires close to a 10-minute walk from end to end. It will instead be switched to both sides of the full ExCeL building with what organizers call “the boulevard” separating the two sides. It will ultimately cluster everything closer together and also help solve the move-in problems because the load-in will take place on both the north and south sides of the building.

Clarion Events is also committed to enhancing the overall social experience of the show and hosted its award event on the Monday night of the show, an executive reception near St. Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday night and the official show party on Wednesday night at the nearby O2 Arena.

All in all, it was a busy week and a good start toward transitioning all of us from the nostalgia of Earls Court and central London to the modern venue of ExCeL and the promise of a bigger and better show.

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