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Shifting Landscape

Posted On: 11/2/2009

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Amusement and Music Operators Association, AMOA, American Amusement Machine Association, AAMA, jukebox, videogame, pinball machine, vending machine, coin machine operator, vendor, mergers, amusement industry, amusement trade, family entertainment centers, arcade industry, arcade games, amusement parks, theme parks, coin-op, coin-op games, coin-op news, International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry, IALEI, International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, IAAPA, trade associations, Fun Expo, Vending Times

It was hardly a shock when the Amusement and Music Operators Association announced that it would merge its International Expo with the American Amusement Machine Association's Amusement Showcase International. For one thing, it's nearly impossible to keep a secret in this small industry, and insiders had known since at least August that this move was coming.

More to the point, the logic of the AMOA-ASI show merger was overwhelming, just as the need for it was inescapable. Considering the levels of attendance and exhibitor support that both shows have seen over the past two years, AMOA and AAMA really no longer had any choice. They had to combine forces in order to preserve a viable, standalone show for music and amusements. As opposed to, say, letting the IAAPA Attractions Expo swallow up both AMOA Expo and ASI by default.

This is no knock against the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It's a fine organization with a very impressive show. Who would not be impressed by 1,100 exhibitors and 28,000 visitors from around the world? Clearly, exhibitors of all stripes are increasingly impressed -- especially since IAAPA has managed to keep up its size and momentum in the face of a global recession.

Sheer size is the major reason why more and more amusement manufacturers and suppliers have taken larger and larger booths at the IAAPA show. Manufacturers live on sales; sales are driven by customer exposure; and exposure to the vast crowds walking "nine miles of aisles" at each year's IAAPA is simply an irresistible temptation. That temptation is especially powerful in an economic downturn, when consolidation and cost-cutting rule the day. As the old adage has it, "When times get tough, the big get bigger ... the small find a niche ... and everyone in the middle gets squeezed."

Nevertheless, it is entirely understandable why AMOA and AAMA would desire to maintain a show and conference that are dedicated exclusively to the coin-op music and games services sector. Operating a tavern-based route, or even a mixed business that combines gamerooms and street locations, is simply not the same as running Disney World, and never will be.

When psychologists or politicians talk about a giant issue or force that has not been explicitly acknowledged, they often refer to "the elephant in the living room." Well, IAAPA is "the elephant in the exhibit booth." Its impact on the coin-op trade has been discussed at length in association boardrooms, but has not been publicly acknowledged by many industry leaders. The simple fact is that IAAPA competes with the amusements industry shows for exhibitors -- and by extension, it also competes with amusement industry associations for members.

IAAPA may not intend to compete for these resources, but current economic pressures make this competition a reality whether any association wants it or not. Exhibitors cannot afford to book big, lavish, costly exhibit space at every show on the circuit -- particularly in a shrinking industry and a down economy. When revenues keep dropping, hard choices must eventually be made. As a result, exhibitors and visitors have been choosing to support IAAPA.

When IAAPA announced in November 2007 that it would begin holding its fall show in Las Vegas every other year, starting next month, it set in motion a chain of events whose end is still not in sight.

First, exhibitors at Fun Expo, the FEC show sponsored by International Association for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry, became concerned that many visitors were unlikely to visit Vegas in September 2009 for that show, and then return two months later for IAAPA's. Many Fun Expo exhibitors feared that large numbers of FEC owners would make a choice, and that many would probably choose IAAPA.

This concern is largely what triggered the end of Fun Expo's decade-long collocation with AMOA Expo in the fall, and its new policy, starting last March, of collocating with ASI in the spring. But that was just the beginning. AMOA, left without Fun Expo as a collocated show, faced almost the exact same conditions that had prompted Fun Expo to jump to the spring.

Sheer numbers told the tale, as the volume of booth space booked at AMOA Expo 2009 fell to levels not seen in decades, while scores of amusement exhibitors booked space at IAAPA 2009. The announced merger of IALEI with IAAPA, and IAAPA's ownership of Fun Expo, when finalized, will simply be another chapter in this still-unfolding story.

As a result of all these events, the music and games industry faces a drastically changed landscape, and geological shifts are still happening. Word is in that IAAPA and IALEI have formally completed their merger. It's still unclear exactly what will happen with Fun Expo after it completes its contractually obligated collocation with ASI next spring.

But this much is clear: A combined AMOA-ASI next spring will be a stronger show, offering stronger support for the amusements trade. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to see more than 200 amusement industry-related suppliers at a fall trade show in the coming years won't have to look very hard. They're at IAAPA.