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No Business Like Show Business

Navigating the future of trade shows and conventions in a post-pandemic world.

No Business Like Show Business

Those of us who are in the business of or who once ran trade shows and conferences were thrown for a loop two years ago when the world shut down and events were canceled left and right. For those folks whose livelihood was meetings and conventions, it meant a complete shutdown and re-evaluation of their business strategy.

Most jumped quickly to “virtual” conferences and trade shows. The conferences worked well because they did what they were supposed to do. But the trade show element not so much. Connecting exhibitors to buyers proved to be much more difficult in the virtual world. And they both suffered from the same problem: They didn’t produce nearly as much revenue as a real-life meeting or trade show.

But there were some lessons learned. Since the conference element did what it was designed to do—disseminate information—it became clear that a “hybrid” element could work. “Virtual” attendees could join live attendees in a session that could add hundreds of people that would be able to actually show up—and they might pay for it!

But first we had to get through the hard part.

The Indian Gaming Tradeshow was the first to be impacted in 2020. Most of us were preparing to head off to San Diego for our annual meeting (San Diego in March is always awesome). But when the states began reacting to the Covid disease, restrictions were imposed and then the entire event canceled by the state of California just a week before it was to be held. (N)IGA tried to reschedule it several times that year, but it didn’t reappear until July 2021 in Las Vegas, because California would still not allow gatherings of any kind. And while it was a successful trade show given the circumstances, many of us didn’t attend (Vegas in July is horrible).

Maybe not so ironically, the Indian Gaming show was the first to come back sans restrictions when it held its 2022 show in Anaheim in March (still not such a bad place). Attendance set a record for the show and exhibitors were back in full force. The traditional networking events and golf tournaments went off without a hitch and the show was deemed a huge success.

Other conferences and trade shows have been held since then and attendance was good at most of them.

So now we’ve got G2E coming up in October in Las Vegas (best time of year for Vegas!). The AGA and RX made a valiant effort in 2021, and all things considered did a great job. But the lack of international travelers and exhibitors was quite noticeable. And the mask mandate and vaccination requirement didn’t help.

But G2E is back this year with no restrictions or mandates, and thank the Lord for that. And we know that the other major show for gaming, ICE London, will go on with similar freedoms in February.

But what happens after that? For years, the gaming industry has been complaining that there were too many trade shows and conferences. Marketing directors were getting hit up almost daily from a different event asking for sponsorship and exhibitor dollars. And of course when you agree to exhibit, the costs don’t end there. They soar, with design fees for a booth or stand; construction of said stand; costs for drayage from a third-party exhibit company; travel, food and housing expenses for your booth personnel; and not to mention, the “parties” for your clients that can be as reasonable or astronomical as you decide.

And now that we do have at least a “hybrid” option, what is really feasible for any supplier? How many is too many? I think we can look at the iGaming and sports betting segment to start. Yes, these are relatively new disciplines for the industry. There’s a lot to learn and not a lot of time to learn it as competition ramps up quickly. Just in the past year, there have been at least three brand new conferences that all offered something interesting but not so different.

So far, there has been a divide between trade shows and conferences for iGaming and land-based casinos. But that began to break down years ago at ICE—today the iGaming element is larger than the land-based—and will happen more quickly for G2E and Indian Gaming.

So what show will survive? I think we can all agree that G2E, ICE and Indian Gaming aren’t going anywhere. But what about the rest? Both of the groups representing gaming attorneys are at risk. If your target market is only sports betting, that will shrink as the number of competitors shrinks. If you add iGaming to your market, it gives you a little more time, but really, how many shows are necessary in the long run?

If you have a niche like the lawyers, or you focus on a single region, it might last. But as markets mature and the industry growth slows to a crawl, how necessary will your show be?

So while we welcome back G2E in a big way, we have to wonder as things get back to “normal” how the companies that fund these shows will react when the event is either repetitive or examines topics that are settled for the most part. Good luck to all participants!

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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