CHICAGO - Both the American Amusement Machine Association and its Amusement Showcase International need new ideas and more promotion, according to both incoming chairman Jon W. Brady, Brady Distributing, and outgoing chairman Frank Cosentino of Namco America. The AAMA board and membership held a spirited discussion during AAMA's annual board and member meetings about possible ways to boost attendance at ASI and to promote the industry generally. The events took place June 21 through 22 at the Allerton Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Windy City.
Parts of the debate focused on public relations, budget restraints (real or perceived), and trade show conditions , including whether distributor open houses help or hurt. "Not only do we need new ideas, we need to act on new ideas," Brady told those in attendance. "The industry promotions committee is one of AAMA's most important."
Cosentino echoed Brady on the need for new ideas. Former board member Rich Babich of Colorado Game Exchange, Denver, CO, suggested that AAMA create PR materials for distributors to give to operators.
AAMA show committee chairman Sal Mirando of Coastal Amusements reminded his colleagues, "The budget committee asked the show committee to reduce show marketing costs. All these things cost money." Noting that "this is a shrinking industry" with a contracting base of potential showgoers, he expounded, "We should address the need to spend more and be willing to spend our reserves, go into the red, take a chance'. Breaking even should not be our goal." Yet at the same time, he cautioned, "I think to draw [more ASI] attendance from both the West Coast and the East Coast requires a great deal more marketing than we can afford."
Auditors informed the board that AAMA's available assets are healthy, stable and responsibly managed, with cash and investments that run well into seven figures. In light of this fact, Babich echoed Mirando's call to consider spending more of AAMA's "rainy day" funds. "If AAMA did better marketing, you'd get better attendance," Babich said. "In case anybody hasn't noticed, it is a rainy day. Our industry is shrinking and it is under attack." He urged AAMA's leaders to adopt short-term and long-term marketing and promotion plans.
Cosentino flatly rejected the notion that tight budgets were to blame for lack of promotion, saying: "No one from the AAMA show committee has come forward with an idea and a budget request in two years. You can't blame the budget cycle. It's easier to make that excuse than to put forward a new idea."
Board member John Margold of Rowe International remarked that distributor open houses work to reduce national show attendance. Distributors, he commented, take the position , "I want to control my market" , and, accordingly, they don't want their operator customers to meet with potentially competing distributors.
Babich disagreed, saying: "I don't see a conflict. My best customers attend national shows." But Brady and ASI show organizer Bill Glasgow Sr. sided with Margold. Brady added, "I agree it's a bit of a conflict in that some distributors don't want operators to attend national shows." Glasgow chimed in: "Yes, many distributors do say they want their customers to remain dependent on them."
Some discussion was held as to whether reducing ASI to a two-day show would strengthen the show (by reducing costs) or hurt it (by creating the perception of weakness). Mirando argued that the last day of a show would always be weak, including a two-day show. Margold agreed, saying reducing ASI to two days could be the first wound in a series that lead to "death by a thousand cuts." Mirando characterized ASI as a "large regional show" in terms of its pattern of drawing operator attendance. Some consideration is apparently being given to holding ASI in other cities beyond Las Vegas and Chicago in 2007 and beyond.
AAMA's location trade show program is generally viewed as the association's most successful and popular marketing effort. For 2006, AAMA will book booth space at the usual venues (national restaurant, bowling shows, etc.) with the addition of the National Indian Gaming Association show. The pizza exposition will be dropped from the AAMA itinerary next year.
AAMA president Mike Rudowicz stated: "We're exploring as many different ways and venues as we can to promote the industry , not the association , the entire industry."