Rough Start, Went Downhill
Posted by Milton Griepp on March 16, 2020 @ 3:41 am CT
Exhibitor cancellations began the week before the show and totaled 16 as of Friday, March 6, the last business day before the show (see "Cancellations Over Coronavirus Fears to 16"). There were over 20 cancellations by Monday morning and 28 by Tuesday morning, according to the updated cancellation lists distributed at the show. In addition to the cancellations we’ve previously reported, Alliance Game Distributors, IDW Games, Osprey Games, Pandasaurus, PSI, Renegade Game Studios and others dropped out between Friday morning, March 6, and the start of the exhibit hours on Wednesday, March 11.
The final number of exhibitor cancellations was 30, GAMA Executive Director John Stacy told us late Wednesday, partially offset by nine companies added from the waitlist.
The GAMA board of directors did not vote on the decision to hold the show as exhibitor cancellations mounted.
Not all exhibitors stayed for the second day of the exhibit hall hours on Thursday. When we stopped at the Bicycle Games booth early Wednesday afternoon, the word had just gone out from the company’s CEO that employees were no longer to participate in trade shows. The booth materials were still at the booth but it was unstaffed on Thursday.
Stacy also shared attendance numbers; total attendance was down 17%, from 1680 in 2019 to 1395 in 2020. Retailer attendance was down about the same percentage, from 728 in 2019 to 598 in 2020, although the number of stores represented at the show was only down 31, less than the decline in retailer attendees. That may be because larger operators dropped out or brought fewer representatives from the previous year.
"The numbers were stronger than I thought they’d be," Stacy said of the final tally.
Wednesday, March 11, was a particularly bad day on the news front, with the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, the NBA announcing that it was suspending its entire schedule, and a Dow Jones Industrial Average drop of over 1000 points. Attendees started heading for the exits Thursday morning, with early departures leading to long check-out lines on the last day of the show.
Late Wednesday, we asked Stacy about the decision to hold the show: "If you had to make the decision today whether to hold the show based on what you know today vs. what you knew a week ago or ten days ago, would your decision be the same?"
"It would be," he responded.
Stacy did express regret over an incident during the Kick-Off Luncheon on Monday, to which all attendees were invited, saying that he wished he’d had "a little tighter controls" on the speaker’s presentation. Wizards of the Coast sponsored the speaker, Bob Phibbs ("The Retail Doctor"), who as a visual demonstration of a point he was trying to make had balloons handed out to all of the attendees, and asked them to blow them up and release them into the air, effectively spraying the contents of hundreds of attendees’ lungs over their fellow attendees and their food. This doesn’t seem like a good practice under any circumstances, but it’s definitely a failure of judgment by the speaker in the midst of a global pandemic. Stacy called it "tone deaf" and said he’d received an apology from Phibbs.
Exhibitors and retailers both told ICv2 that they were doing good business at the show, but there was a lot of concern about safety, especially as the week went on. The momentum going into the event was strong, as the hobby games business came off a growth year in 2019 and a run of progressively larger GAMA trade shows in recent years. But the fast-moving external events overshadowed everything at the show and raised progressively greater unease through the week, causing some attendees to wonder if it should have been held, and if they should have attended.
NOTE: If you attended GAMA Expo and test positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, please let us know at Tips@ICv2.com so we can publicize the news for the attendees and those they came in contact with.