To many tradeshow professionals, there are two numbers that can never be big enough: The prices private equity investors pay for show management companies and the sizes of showfloors.
If by “many tradeshow professionals” I mean you, you must be pretty happy today.
For starters, 2013 ended with Emerald Expositions paying $335 million for GLM Shows. That deal, which was announced just the week before Christmas, came five months after Nielsen Expositions was sold to investors for $950 million and renamed Emerald. So Emerald’s new owner, Onex Corp., one way or another, has invested nearly $1.3 billion in the tradeshow industry in the last six months.
The Emerald-GLM deal wasn’t the only tradeshow-related transaction that came to light in the waning days of 2013. Albeit for the proverbial “undisclosed sums,” the National Association of Broadcasters bought two shows from JD Events and association management firm Naylor moved from one set of private equity hands to another.
See Also: Emerald Deal Tops 2013 M&A Activity
I can only imagine how many investors, who have held show management companies much longer than wanted to, are starting to think they may have the finish line in their sights.
To me, the interesting footnote here is NAB’s decision to buy Content & Communications World and the Satellite Communications Conference & Expo. Granted, NAB is not your usual trade association, but its decision to acquire a couple for-profit shows flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that over the next several years associations will begin to move out of the event business, or at least hand those businesses over to for-profit organizers who will do it for them.
I think what we see with this deal is NAB’s foresight, its assessment of how the broadcasting industry will change over the next few years, and its desire to stay a step or two ahead and remain relevant to its members and audience.
Now to that second set of numbers.
International CES opens today in Las Vegas, the tradeshow industry’s version of New Year’s Day or the first day of baseball season. The relevant numbers being reported: 1.9 million net square feet, 152,000 attendees and 3,200 exhibitors.
Then, in late March, CONEXPO-CON/AGG will make its triennial visit. In 2011, the show took up 2.34 million net sq. ft. in and around the Las Vegas Convention Center. This year’s show is not only expected to be bigger, but officials at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers say it is officially on track to be the largest tradeshow ever held in American history.
So, if you like numbers, you’ve got to be happy with the state of the tradeshow industry.
Just one proviso: Attendance is not growing as fast as valuations and net square footage. In fact, in the third quarter of 2013, overall attendance dropped 2.1 percent, according to the CEIR Index. Consider one quarter an aberration if you want, but most show managers I talk to tell me that they aren’t worried about booth sales, it’s getting people to the show that’s got them concerned.
Those record-breaking showfloor stats and the valuations that follow close behind can’t last forever if exhibitors don’t feel they’re getting the leads they want from the showfloor.
Michael Hart is executive editor of Expo. He can be reached at email@example.com.