The SPIEL'20 in Essen is taking a break this year. Officially, the international game days are not canceled, but have been postponed - for visitors, however, this postponement actually means a cancellation of the popular board game fair, which recently attracted more than 200.000 fans from all over the world to the Essen exhibition center. We asked Friedhelm Merz Verlag about the reasons for the rejection.
Over 200.000 visitors, around 1.400 exhibitors - that's how they do it Balance of the SPIEL'19 in the past year - as well as the personnel necessary for the implementation of the trade fair: these would have been the framework conditions that currently appear anything but compatible with the corona pandemic. The organizing Friedhelm Merz Verlag has also rated it that way and postponed the international game days to 2021. The date has already been set: SPIEL'21 will take place from October 14th to 17th at Messe Essen.
"Dynamic national and international situation observed"
The decision to cancel SPIEL'20 is understandable, this is the opinion currently shared by countless fans from all over the world who comment on the post about the cancellation of the trade fair on social media. The organizers at Friedhelm Merz Verlag will be pleased with the broad approval given the difficult decision. Decisive for the decision were the lack of planning security, but also the expected restrictions under which a trade fair could possibly have taken place. Now the organizers are going the safe - and possibly also fair - way for the exhibitors.
“We have observed the very dynamic national and international development in relation to Covid-19 in the last few weeks and months very closely,” explains Dominique Metzler, Managing Director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag. There were also talks with the health department of the city of Essen in order to work out a workable solution. In the end, however, SPIEL'20 was canceled: “Unfortunately, we could not find any signs that large mass events would be practicable again in autumn and would also be economically viable for exhibitors,” said Metzler.
Mass rush at the entrance - anything but corona-compatible in this form. Photo: André Volkmann
The situation with regard to trade fairs and events in Germany is becoming more and more confusing, says Dominique Metzler. It was announced on May 6th that trade fairs would be allowed to take place again with certain conditions, but at the same time it was completely unclear what the details of these conditions will ultimately look like in October of this year. It is also unclear how the state of North Rhine-Westphalia or the city of Essen will proceed with public fairs.
At the moment, efforts nationwide and thus also in North Rhine-Westphalia are gradually moving towards normal operation in many everyday areas. It will be some time before everything can actually go as it did before the Corona crisis. It therefore seems clear that trade fairs and events can only take place subject to strict visitor restrictions, distance concepts and hygiene measures in order to effectively protect visitors and exhibitors. The managing director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag therefore knows: “Even the limited access to be expected carries an enormous risk”.
In addition, there are administrative challenges that are relevant for trade fair organizers: "Health and regulatory authorities not only count visitors in the traditional sense, the entire stand staff of the exhibitors is also included in the calculation of the limited hall access," explains Metzler and then dares a sobering forecast: " If you take the currently recommended visitor density of one visitor per ten square meters as a basis, the result would be that SPIEL would hardly be able to receive any visitors ”. Even an access regulation of one person per five square meters of space would not improve the prospect to such an extent that a “successful trade fair could take place for everyone involved”.
Limitations in the number of visitors would have changed the character of SPIEL significantly. Photo: André Volkmann
In addition, the federal states have announced easing since May 6, but these can be withdrawn regionally at any time. Behind this is the limit set by the federal and state governments in terms of incidence. If a district or an independent city records more than 50 new infections per 100.000 inhabitants within seven days, the state authorities must impose restrictions. “In fact, for SPIEL this means that the event could be canceled up to one day before the opening or in the middle of its running, despite possible approval,” said Dominique Metzler about the risk that Friedhelm Merz Verlag as organizer has to bear.
“We believe that we cannot expose our exhibitors to this currently incalculable risk, and after long deliberations we have come to the result, which will certainly be very painful for everyone, of having to postpone SPIEL for a year”, the publisher's boss said.
Lots of discussions with the exhibitors
The difficult step does not leave Friedhelm Merz Verlag without a trace. “This decision is certainly a painful one for us too,” comments Metzler. Many discussions with exhibitors have shown that they would like to take over their current contracts into the next year. Of course, we too want to fulfill our contract, even if that is impossible this year. Therefore, instead of canceling SPIEL, it was agreed to postpone it - not least in the interests of the exhibitors. Nevertheless: “All exhibitors who now want to cancel will get their full stand fee refunded”, assures Dominique Metzler, underscoring how fair the organizer is to everyone involved.
The exhibitors are moving with them: Many have already changed bookings and will be there next year. Photo: André Volkmann
Simply redesigning the international game days is not very promising. What other trade fair events are currently demonstrating was not a real alternative for Friedhelm Merz Verlag due to the nature of SPIEL: “It is impossible to turn SPIEL into a trade fair,” says Metzler. And: "Under these conditions, exhibitors didn't book either."
Nevertheless, there is a glimmer of hope, even if the head of the publishing house is still vague: “We are already working on alternative formats”. There will be detailed information on this in the next few weeks.
Game prizes will be awarded anyway
There are two awards ceremonies at the International Game Days: The “German Game Award” audience award and the “innoSPIEL”, a comparatively young jury award that honors board games for their particularly innovative ideas. Neither of the two prizes will be dropped, announced Dominique Metzler: “We will definitely award the DSP. Here too the details will follow. The same applies to the innoSPIEL ”.
Thumbs up: Friedhelm Merz Verlag has made a painful but fair decision. Photo: André Volkmann
The first figures indicate that the international game days would have been a complete success this year as well. At the time of the postponement, 20 percent of the SPIEL'80 was already booked, according to Metzler. “So we were in a much better position than last year”.
And that despite the fact that the vast majority of registrations had to be booked at a time when Covid-19 was the all-encompassing media topic. “The decision was all the more painful”. Dominique Metzler are not getting carried away with speculations about the SPIEL next year: "I think it's too early to speculate about a SPIEL'21 at this point in time."
Many exhibitors seem to show solidarity and go along with them: "We are grateful that so many exhibitors have already rebooked their participation for next year."
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