Those of you who get email updates from the MCH Group (the people who run the Baselworld shows) will have likely seen one from them in your inbox this morning. The message seemed to hint that relations were being patched up between the MCH Group and the dissident group of companies that announced last month they were leaving the show altogether. It appeared that all hope was lost and the new direction Baselworld would have to take could be too much for us to bear. However, as the Cigarette Smoking Man returned to The X-Files, so did Baselworld’s Managing Director, Michel Loris-Melikoff, who has announced that there will not be a Baselworld in 2021 at all.
Back in April, four of the key brands of the show, Rolex, Patek Philippe, Chopard & Chanel announced their joint departure after a dispute over refunds could not be settled. That departure prompted a panicky email from the Baselworld team, who announced their “surprise” at the action taken by the brands. When covering this news initially, I mentioned in my article that the Baselworld staff were being too rigid with their approach to their contracts with the exhibitors, which I suspect don’t have the words “viral pandemic” mentioned in any clauses.
The initial options given by Baselworld to the exhibitors were to either move 85% of the 2020 show’s costs to 2021, with the MCH Group keeping the remainder to cover losses, or transfer 40% to 2021 and receive a refund with MCH keeping the rest. This did not settle well for the power players, who felt that it left the smaller brands more exposed to financial damage. The 2021 Baselworld show, which has since been canned altogether, was announced to be held in January of 2021, instead of its traditional March. This could have had a catastrophic effect on smaller brands that weren’t prepared for the sudden shift in the corporate cycle.
However, reading the corporate email that came through this morning, it’s unclear exactly what has been settled. It seems apparent that the big brands have decided to stay after all (they were going to set up their own show in Geneva around the time of Watches & Wonders).
Indeed, the quote “I welcome the constructive attitude of the representatives of the MCH Group, which has enabled us to find a balanced solution”from this email almost sounds like a parent finally getting through to their unruly child as if the MCH Group had done nothing wrong from the start. Legally, they hadn’t, they made it quite clear that they didn’t have to offer any of the funds from 2020’s show back to the exhibitors, which I imagine went down like a lead balloon.
I don’t think this is over quite yet, while this morning’s email seems like it’s written in a manner that suggests the storm has passed, I feel that the MCH Group will need to tread a lot more carefully after this and that it’s not merely ‘ruffling of feathers’.
Trade shows depend on exhibitors, and while Baselworld could probably have operated without any large brands there, its tsunami of financial losses over the past few years indicate that it wouldn’t hang on for long. Let this be a lesson to them, in both customer service and the importance of the key players, and I hope that they don’t for a moment think we can’t read between the lines.