October 26, 2021

Events & Trade Show Operators Seeing Mixed Results

With the pandemic ebbing and flowing (and currently looking to be ebbing here in the United States), operators might be looking at their events business with some uncertainty. One day, it might appear things are looking good and then we get the next Greek letter variant of Covid and we’re back to square one.

But despite all of this, we are seeing events launching and generating revenue again. I went to my first event in September after nearly two years without events and it was an experience. Hosted by my friends at Messari, Mainnet brought together 1,700 people in the Marriott Marquis here in New York City. Additionally, it had 49 sponsors.

Based on my experience working in the crypto space and doing marketing for various events, my suspicion is that the event generated anywhere from $3-4 million, which is a good place to be for a first year event.

I’ve heard from other operators who have started hosting their first in-person events this year and they’ve also hit all their expectations. According to Event MB’s State of the Event Industry Report, in the third quarter, 46.6% of respondents had been able to host live, in-person events in the last six months with over 50% planning to host sometime before the end of the year.

It seems, despite some of the uncertainty pertaining to Covid, a majority of operators feel comfortable hosting live events. However, there’s a large minority—47.5% to be exact—who will not host their first event until 2022, with nearly 16% waiting until the second half.

These are certainly mixed results. On one hand, some of the major expos are returning and international travel is expected to pick up after November 8th. On the other, many are still likely nervous about hosting. I know that I am part of that 47.5% and don’t expect our first small events to start until H1 2022 and our larger ones to come in H2 2022. It’s less that I am currently nervous and more that it takes time to plan, so by the time I felt comfortable, 2021 was shot.

For those that are hosting events, how are they performing?

Colin Morrison at Flashes & Flames wrote about this in September. Quoting data from Events Intelligence, he wrote:

Analysis of 16 exhibitions held in the UK during this month (September) reveals some worryingly weak comparisons with the comparable events in 2019:

– Total exhibitors 43% down: 6,918 v. 3,915. The average performance was -43% but the range was from -81% to +46%.

– An average of 60% of these exhibitor bookings were retained from the previous show, so 40% if ‘new’ money rather than rolled-over deposits.

The recovery will continue to be lumpy (and five of the 16 exhibitions researched were at least 65% of 2019 levels) there is some risk that resumed events whose exhibitors were 50% or more below 2019 (six of the 16) might take even longer to rebound – if they survive.

Morrison tends to cover UK media far better than anyone here in the United States, so these numbers are likely more Europe focused. Morrison had a reader profess frustration at the statistics and offered his own numbers:

This week, Soar told us about five shows operated by his companies at the three largest English venues during September:

– Total revenue across the 5 shows increased 14% compared with the last events in 2019. (The spread is +30% to -2%). Total revenue of the 5 shows was £10.5M.

– Visitor numbers varied from +50% to -25%. The median attendance was -3%.

So, we have a few different narratives that are taking place here. The first is that many operators are waiting until next year to even try to host an event. The second is that trade shows are seeing different levels of success, with some growing from their 2019 numbers while others are shrinking.

Since most people didn’t hold events in 2020 and 47.5% won’t host until 2022, then for this large percentage of survey takers, the next even will be held in 2022. That’s three years between events. Can an events brand survive that many years without hosting their event?

Ultimately, it depends. In the case of Morrison’s reader, some of their brands are clearly standing the test of time. But this is where the rubber meets the road. There were a lot of subpar events products prior to the pandemic that are likely not surviving and missing all of 2021 to host an event could be the death knell for them.

This brings me back to a question I asked earlier in the year: do events companies regret selling media assets?

Prior to the pandemic, when organizers could host their events every year on schedule, the need for lower margin media assets wasn’t as obvious. But when the only way for your attendees to remember you is with the media assets, not having them has to sting.

I remain convinced that we are going to see more surviving events brands acquire small media assets. Take, for example, Tarsus Group. It recently announced that it had acquired Times Aerospace, which covers the aerospace industry across the Middle East and Africa. Its reason?

Commenting on the investment Tarsus Group CEO Douglas Emslie, said: “I have long respected what Mark, Alan and the team at Times Aerospace have built. Times Aerospace has a great reputation amongst our shared customer base making the partnership a natural fit. I’m delighted to be working with them to develop and expand our respective businesses going forward; this partnership perfectly aligns with our strategy of creating deeper connections with our customers and broadening our revenue base beyond events.’’

What better way to do that then having a 365 day communication with them rather than just a few days a year at an event?

Events operators are in a weird position right now. Some are seeing great success and in many conversations I’ve had, operators are pleased with their 2021 live events. But others are struggling and not seeing the success they had prior to the pandemic. These next 12-18 months are going to be crucial for these brands. I don’t think the events industry is over this pandemic just yet.

Benzinga gets acquired

In a press release distributed on Monday, Benzinga announced that Beringer Capital had acquired a majority stake in the business. According to the Detroit Free Press:

The Beringer Capital deal, announced Monday, is expected to keep Benzinga’s operations and key staff in Detroit, according to Benzinga founder and CEO Jason Raznick, 43, who is keeping a “significant” ownership stake in the company.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, although it values the company at about $300 million, Raznick said, and Gilbert remains an investor.

That’s a sizeable acquisition, but it’s also not entirely surprising. There has been a major shift in the investing world over the past couple of years. Crypto has gone to the moon, stocks never go down (sarcasm), and individual investors are getting more active than they’ve been in a very long time.

It’s also not the first finance-related site to be acquired this year. NewsCorp bought Investors Business Daily in May for $275 million. Future then bought Dennis Publishing for a little over $400 million (£300 million to be exact), which came with MoneyWeek and Kiplinger, both personal finance publications.

The reality is, there is an unbelievable amount of competition in the financial markets space right now. With the amount of advertising dollars that exist today coupled with investors hungry for more information to make smart investments, it’s no surprise that private equity is chomping at the bit.

Who is next? There’s Seeking Alpha, which has built a robust business on paid user generated content. The Motley Fool remains privately held by the founders. And then there are a multitude of crypto publications that are gaining speed.

Suffice it to say, it’s an interesting time for financial media. I expect more deals to come.

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