Congratulations to the Amusement and Music Operators Association as it celebrates its 60th anniversary this month. AMOA packed so many personalities, issues and events into these six decades that it’s sometimes difficult to see the big picture. Accordingly, this column offers a succinct overview of “The AMOA Story.” The association’s history falls into four distinct periods:
1) The Founding Era (1948 to 1963). Originally known as the Music Operators Association, the organization was led during its birth and early years by George Miller. Initially MOA’s chairman, then its president for over a decade, Miller is the association’s only leader to achieve such a lengthy tenure. Under his guidance, MOA was incorporated, launched its annual conventions and achieved its central mission: keeping jukeboxes free of music copyright fees.
2) The Negotiations Era (1964 to 1976). Now led by annually elected officers, MOA realized it couldn’t escape music copyright fees forever. Wisely, the association proposed low-cost annual licensing, and got its way in 1976 when Congress approved the Jukebox Compulsory License system as part of that year’s revision of the U.S. Copyright Law.
3) The Amusements Era (1977 to 1997). Newly renamed the Amusement and Music Operators Association, the trade group celebrated its jukebox heritage with remarkably successful promotions, while winning a rebate on CD jukebox copyright fees. Who can forget the glowing publicity for the Jukebox Centennial? Or President Reagan signing a bill to establish National Jukebox Week?
Yet the Amusements Era was largely dominated by struggles over videogames. AMOA mounted ambitious attempts to put operators in control of downloading videogame technology and legalized video poker. Both efforts failed. AMOA had better luck with non-networked amusement video. A series of lawsuits and lobbying campaigns legalized parallel imports and defended operators against charges of using counterfeits. The industry finally ended this civil war only after videogames fell from the No. 1 earning spot into second or third place behind pool tables and music.
4) The Right-Sizing Era (1998 to 2008). During the past 11 years, AMOA rediscovered that small is beautiful. First, the association abandoned its downtown Chicago high-rise offices in favor of modest suburban headquarters, forgoing executive-services client status in favor of a streamlined (but highly professional and dedicated) in-house staff. Initially sharing offices with the American Amusement Machine Association, which represents manufacturers and distributors, the operator group has spent much of the Right-Sizing Era exploring possible mergers of the two organizations and their expos.
One fruit of this “search for synergy” was a decade of co-location between AMOA Expo and Fun Expo, majority-owned by the International Association for the Leisure and Amusement Industries. Talks seeking a possible AMOA-AAMA show merger continue as of this writing. Meanwhile, AMOA and the industry continue coping with steady shrinkage in locations, operators, distributors, manufacturers and new products…all reflected in smaller national trade shows.
That’s the story so far. Will AMOA begin a new era in 2009? Nobody knows, but this much is certain: AMOA arrives at this anniversary with plenty to be proud of. The association and its allies, including AAMA, have repeatedly prevailed in Congress, in courtrooms and in state legislatures across the country. The amusements operator – and perhaps the whole industry – might not have survived without AMOA’s spirit, determination, professionalism and endless hard work.
AMOA will need to marshal those strengths in the coming years as operator members cope with new challenges – from gas prices to smoking bans to legalized gambling and to the continuing online entertainment explosion. But there are strong reasons to be optimistic, and those reasons are found in AMOA’s biography.
If there is a central theme to “The AMOA Story,” it’s this. For 60 years, the association’s leadership has proved itself surprisingly bold, frequently ingenious and always tenacious. AMOA never let the size of its membership (or of its PAC fund) dictate the operator’s destiny. As many have noted, “AMOA packs a punch that far exceeds its fighting weight.”
The AMOA Story continues.