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 very closely over the past few weeks and months," explains Dominique Metzler, Managing Director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag. There were also talks with the health department of the city of Essen to work out a viable 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 the fall and would also be economically viable for exhibitors," says 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 present, efforts are being made nationwide and thus also in NRW step by step towards normal operation in many everyday areas. It will be some time before everything can actually go the way it did before the Corona crisis. It therefore seems clear that trade fairs and events can only take place under strict visitor limits, distance concepts and hygiene measures in order to effectively protect visitors and exhibitors. The managing director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag therefore knows: "Even the expected limited access harbors 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 classic 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: " Based on the currently recommended visitor density of one visitor per ten square meters, the result would be that SPIEL could hardly receive any visitors”. Even an access regulation of one person per five square meters of space would not improve the prospects of a "successful trade fair for everyone involved".
Limitations in the number of visitors would have changed the character of SPIEL significantly. Photo: André Volkmann
In addition, although relaxations have been announced by the federal states in Germany since May 6, these can be withdrawn regionally at any time. Behind this is the limit set by the federal and state governments with regard to incidence. If a district or city has more than 50 new infections per 100.000 inhabitants within seven days, the state authorities must impose restrictions. "For SPIEL, this means that the event could be canceled up to one day before the opening or in the middle of its run, despite possible approval," says Dominique Metzler about the risk that Friedhelm Merz Verlag has to bear as the organizer.
"We believe that we cannot expose our exhibitors to this currently unforeseeable risk and, after a long period of consideration, we have come to the decision, which will certainly be very painful for everyone, that we have to postpone SPIEL by a year," summarizes the publisher's boss.
Lots of discussions with the exhibitors
The difficult step has also left its mark on Friedhelm Merz Verlag. “This decision is certainly painful for us as well,” comments Metzler. Many discussions with exhibitors have shown that they would like to continue their current contracts next year. Of course we also want to fulfill our contract, even if that's impossible this year. Therefore, instead of canceling SPIEL, it was agreed to postpone it - not least in the interest of the exhibitors. Nevertheless: "All exhibitors who now want to cancel will have their stand fee refunded in full," assures Dominique Metzler, underscoring how fairly the organizer treats 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 Match Days is not very promising. What other trade fair events are currently doing was not a real alternative for Friedhelm Merz Verlag due to the nature of SPIEL: "It's just not feasible to turn SPIEL into a trade fair," says Metzler. And: “Exhibitors didn’t book under these conditions either.”
There is still 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 coming weeks.
Game prizes will be awarded anyway
Two award ceremonies take place at the International Game Days: The audience award "German Games Award" and the "innoSPIEL", a comparatively young jury award that honors parlor games for their particularly innovative ideas. Dominique Metzler announced that neither of the two prizes will be omitted: “We will definitely award the DSP. Again, 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 Match Days would have been a complete success again this year. At the time of the postponement, SPIEL'20 was already 80 percent 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 does not allow himself to be carried away by speculation about next year's SPIEL: "I think it's too early to speculate about a SPIEL'21 at this point in time."
Many exhibitors seem to show solidarity and are moving along: "We are grateful that so many exhibitors have already rebooked their participation for next year."
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