From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
July: Balancing the Budget
YOU HAVE to give the Billiard Congress of America credit. It remains one of the most optimistic groups around. Last year, bells and whistles could be heard as the trade group announced that the 2010 International Billiard & Home Recreation Expo in Las Vegas realized a 14 percent increase in exhibitors. Never mind that the one-year increase was 16 exhibitors… from 116 to 132. And never mind that just four years earlier the number of exhibitors was 300.
Heading into the 2011 expo, slated for July 13-15 at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, the BCA office proudly announced that it expects to reach its "projected number of between 390 and 400" total booths. That would be 65-70 fewer booths than were filled in 2010.
"We're satisfied with those numbers," said BCA CEO Rob Johnson.
I feel for Rob. He's far and away the hardest working and most positive executive director the association has ever had, and I've seen them all dating back to the Bob Goodwin days when the BCA was run by the National Sporting Goods Association.
I also know that Rob's hands are tied, as are the hands of the entire BCA board of directors. The industry continues to shrink by consolidation and attrition. And I understand that the expo has become, as BCA chairman Ivan Lee calls it, "a revenue model." You project what you think sales will be and chart your budget accordingly.
But too much emphasis is put on the exhibitor. What's missing in this "budget" is the attendee. Last year booth sales were up, but buyers were down. Did that make it a successful show? By the budget, yes. By substance, I'd say no. The number of buyers is expected to be down in 2011 as well. And the simple fact is that if the attendance number continues to drop, those "projections" that the board puts together will likewise continue to plummet.
Budgets are one thing. Low expectations are another. The latter becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when the former is continually scaled back.
What were the projections for attendees? The BCA has long been a prisoner of booth sales, and the buyer has always been secondary. If that trend continues, booths at future expos will come with carpet, drape and a Barcalounger.
I'm not insinuating that the BCA doesn't put any effort into drumming up attendees. I am saying that I believe that effort to be less than it should. Johnson told me that the BCA is trying to increase the number of employees from each buying entity that come to the show. That's noble and necessary. That needle, however, moves because of education, not because of booth spaces. The BCA's expo model is old and outdated. Successful trade shows today are more conference than exhibit. More education than product. This is the direction that the BCA must move, and it must be willing to invest in that philosophical change.
But even then, increasing the attendee-per-company from 1.5 to 2 is a small fix that won't have significant impact on the floor. Are we missing anyone?
For starters, the BCA continues to leave the poolroom category on the table. Its attempt to reconnect with room owners through BankShot Entertainment has ground to a crawl. That's a shame, because while the 500 or so retail outlets that attend the expo probably represent 40 percent of that market, only a handful of the 2,000 legitimate poolrooms attend. That's a lot of potential. But that, too, will require investment to corral.
The bottom line is that the BCA, and the billiard industry, will continue to meet projections as long as it continues to aim low.