The industry’s ongoing argument over “how many shows is the right number” has intensified lately. The whole debate reminds me of a key exchange from a classic war film. “The Battle of Britain” takes place in the summer of 1940. Nazi bombers are flying across the English Channel every day, bombing London to hell as part of the softening-up process before a planned German invasion.
In one scene, the top generals in the Royal Air Force argue heatedly over strategy. How should they deploy their fighter planes? One general insists, “We must send up a ‘Big Wing’ in massed formation to overwhelm the enemy with superior numbers.” The second general scoffs, “That takes too long. We should send up individual squadrons as soon as they can get airborne, relying on speed and surprise to win.”
The RAF’s supreme commander pulls the rug out from under his subordinates. He quietly replies: “Gentlemen, you are missing the essential point. We don’t need a big wing or a small wing. We need pilots. Our young men are shooting down their young men faster than they are. The Luftwaffe is suffering great losses. But then, they can afford to, can’t they? The enemy outnumbers us four to one. We must find more pilots – or lose.”
The parallel to the industry’s “one show” debate is simple. We don’t need one show, or three or four. We need buyers.
The reason this debate has recently grown more heated, and more public, is that some leading exhibitors were unhappy with attendance levels at the Amusement Showcase International in March. Some of these exhibitors are talking openly about dropping out of the traditional coin-op expos (including the AMOA Expo this fall) – or at least drastically reducing their booth presence.
These exhibitors say that it may make more economic sense to concentrate on the IAAPA Attractions Expo, which pulls in 30,000 or more visitors from around the world. And, IAAPA’s visitors are not just tire-kickers. They are park operators and venue owners who have deep pockets. Many are foreigners, taking advantage of the weak dollar to pick up bargains from American factories. Large numbers of these visitors display a notable willingness – even eagerness – to spend money.
AAMA and AMOA are both pondering how they can boost their shows’ appeal – and keep their exhibitors. They’re also wondering how to keep bringing in the revenues that fund their associations. This is a perfectly honorable and legitimate motive. After all, both associations make valuable contributions to the industry. Annual trade shows are their best funding source. They are also invaluable industry teaching and networking opportunities.
But arguing over how many shows is the right number misses the point. If a show has lots of buyers with lots of money, manufacturers don’t care if it’s the third expo on the annual schedule or the 14th expo. They’ll happily book space and support it, because exhibiting at such an event helps generate leads and sales, period.
Proof of this fact is easy to find. Exhibitors that once focused mainly on coin-op trade shows are not only adding the IAAPA show to their annual schedules; they are also supporting more and more location shows. Have you heard of anyone suggest that AAMA cut back on its Location Trade Show program? Of course not. In fact, AAMA says the LTS program may be its most popular member benefit.
The real question is not how many shows is the right number, but how can AMOA Expo, ASI and Fun Expo get more buyers? There’s only a finite number of possible sources: wanna-be’s; locations; vending and bulk operators; overseas operators; and other types of entertainment businesses (from water parks to roller skating rinks). Understandably, none of these ideas is popular with street operators. But if coin-op expos are going to get healthy again, they need more buyers. That means hard choices – and uncomfortable compromises – must be made.