We have just seen our sixth straight successful co-location of AMOA Expo and Fun Expo. The question on the minds of association leaders is: if combining two shows is good, wouldn't combining three shows be better still? AMOA's new president Marion Paul, like the late Rich Holley and other predecessors, wants to see AMOA/Fun Expo merged with the Amusement Showcase International.
We've all heard this song before, but this time, the "one show" melody may have found the crucial back-up singer it really needs: AMOA past president Don Hesch. At AMOA's Oct. 1 membership meeting, Hesch hinted that "AMOA has some things coming up that will be very important" in regard to the "one-show concept." For years, widespread rumors claimed that the single greatest barrier to show unification was the objection by this widely accomplished man. If so, his support could finally open the door to a merger. Revered by many as the man who "saved" AMOA during his 1997-98 term, Hesch is the only person I know to serve on the (highly influential) AMOA past president's council for six straight years.
Last year, momentum in favor of a show merger collapsed over a disagreement about whether the combined event should take place in the spring (as many exhibitors want) or in the fall (as many operators prefer). Today, however, AMOA-Fun Expo has just completed its second year in a row where booth sales fell. According to VT's figures, the co-located shows sold 899 booths in 2001; 867 in 2002; 783 in 2003; and 745 booths this year. The trend is clear, and the case for merging the industry's two big national events into one is more compelling than ever.
It's also clear why AMOA-Fun Expo is getting steadily smaller. The industry is now arguably in its 10th straight year of consolidation, as measured by estimated annual revenues; number of exhibitors; number of surviving manufacturers, distributors and operators; and number of new product launches. Simultaneously, competition is arguably larger and more successful than ever with IAAPA, the Nightclub and Bar Show and ATEI breaking records every year.
Yet before a decision is reached on merger logistics it might be wise to consider why the '04 AMOA-Fun Expo succeeded in attracting more visitors since at least Sept. 11, 2001. Asked about this, leaders of AMOA and IALEI offered several possibilities, but no definitive theory. I agree with them that product quality is better than before, and operators are doing well in the national cashbox. Coin-op trade shows do tend to be a barometer of the previous six months' earnings more than anything else.
However, several interesting factors were not publicly discussed as possible contributors to AMOA-Fun Expo success. One, the number and popularity of distributor open houses are finally shrinking. Two, the city of Las Vegas itself has enjoyed a huge comeback this year, breaking all previous tourist records this summer. Three, the home video game industry is having a relatively bad year. Four, the U.S.'s economy is finally recovering from the dot-com bust and 9-11 attacks. And five, the crowd of wannabes circling the FEC industry is growing again.
What does all this mean for a potential AMOA-Fun Expo-ASI merger? To me it means the logical move could be to merge as quickly as possible (before the home video industry recovers and begins grabbing a bigger share of players' budgets). Hold the show in the spring (the best position to counter IAAPA and ATEI, serve the summer buying season and capitalize on home video's annual launch window). And finally, keep the combined show in Vegas, at least until Chicago achieves a similar tourism renaissance. And I'm not just saying this because I now live in Sin City! If part of the AMOA-Fun Expo visitor surge was due to "the return of the wannabes," then at least some of this year's visitors are likely to have been part of that wave of tourism.
Several key questions about a possible show merger remain unanswered. Most important among them is: How would a merger impact the structure and funding of AMOA, AAMA and IALEI? That will have to be worked out, but - as new president Marion Paul told AMOA in her inaugural address , with honesty and goodwill, "Nothing is impossible."