The Corona crisis has affected many industries. This undoubtedly includes major events such as music festivals or trade fairs. But in every crisis there is also an opportunity. That’s why some traditional institutions are taking advantage of the new start in the post-Corona era to reinvent themselves. This seems to be the case for IFA as well. After all, the consortium responsible wants to reposition the popular electronics trade show. This even includes a departure from Berlin and a possible new start in another city. The capital’s politicians don’t like that at all.
Excitement just before 100th birthday
When you think of IFA, you quickly picture gigantic flat-screen TVs, the latest video game consoles and smart kitchen appliances with Internet connections. Yet it’s easy to forget that IFA has decades of tradition. The first “Great German Consumer Electronics Exhibition” was held in Berlin back in 1924. Since the futuristic-looking exhibition grounds at the Radio Tower did not yet exist, the event took place in the somewhat more tranquil Haus der Funkindustrie in Berlin’s Westend district. Although the world-famous trade fair was held in other German cities in the middle of the 20th century, it has had its permanent home in the German capital since 1971.
Accordingly, one can also understand that the Berlin Senate wants to hold on to this important event. This is not just a simple question of prestige, but of course also has a lot to do with the money involved. After all, over the years, the IFA has emerged as a significant economic factor for Berlin as a trade show location. Now, however, everything could change and IFA could turn its back on the capital. This could turn out to be a major problem for the city, which could eat not inconsiderable holes in the already struggling finances of Berlin’s budget.
Event of global importance
The International Tourism Exchange (ITB), the Green Week and the IFA are firmly linked to the Berlin exhibition grounds. And the city also benefits from this financially. After all, the so-called Berliner Messegesellschaft has always acted as co-organizer of the three trade fairs. Year after year, this has meant good extra income for the capital. However, Berlin’s role could now change from co-organizer to “only” lessor of the corresponding premises – at least for the IFA: After all, the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Unterhaltungselektronik (Gfu) (Society for the Promotion of Consumer Electronics) has announced that it would like to remodel the consumer electronics exhibition a little. Behind the society, by the way, are well-known companies from the entertainment, but also household electronics industry. For example Sony and Miele belong to it.
After the Gfu together with the Berlin fair company managed to put Europe’s most important electronics fair on the legs, now something crucial seems to change. For example, the former co-organizer from Berlin is now possibly only to become a simple lessor of the required premises. The contractual agreement between the two parties binds the Berlin trade fair company to Gfu only until 2023. After that, the association of electronics manufacturers could act as the sole organizer. The possible change in the role of the Berlin trade fair company has now been the subject of an article in the Tagesspiegel. From this it emerges that Gfu may already have looked around for other partners.
From organizer to lessor
If one takes a look at the money that Gfu and Berliner Messegesellschaft have earned with IFA in the past, the frustration of the Berlin Senate becomes understandable. In good years, both organizers were able to earn 10 million euros in pure profit. If the capital’s trade fair company slips into a role as a simple landlord, the financial benefits are likely to be considerably reduced. And Gfu already seems to be on the lookout for new partners. The report in the Tagesspiegel reveals that the company has already held talks with “Aquila” and “Clarion Events.” The latter is considered a well-known event company from Great Britain. The whole story gets once again a very special flavor, if one goes into detail.
On the one hand, the supervisory board of the Berlin trade fair company describes the draft contract submitted by Gfu as a “gagging contract”. In view of the potentially gigantic loss of profit, this is quite understandable. Moreover, the so-called “Aquila” is known as an investment company headed by none other than the former CEO of the Berlin trade fair company, Christian Göke. Consequently, the former leadership of the Berlin Messegesellschaft would unceremoniously become part of Gfu. Whether there was not something colluded behind closed doors is more than questionable.
Economy senator is snubbed
In any case, Berlin’s politicians are appalled by the IFA affair. In particular on the part of the senator for economics Stephan Schwarz there are large doubts. A spokesman for Schwarz, for example, expressed his disappointment in no uncertain terms to the experts at heise online:
“The fact that a former managing director of Messe Berlin is part of the new Gfu consortium is indeed something we consider very difficult”
While Berlin’s city politicians are obviously ready to make statements, Gfu is still showing restraint. Thus, it did not want to comment on the report of the Tagesspiegel. However, it already seems as if the planned cooperation is as good as in dry cloths. The important thing is that they are at least still talking to each other internally. At least this is what a spokesman for the Berlin trade fair company makes clear. He said that they are still in
“constant joint exchange with the Gfu”
would be. Given contractual obligations until 2023, however, anything else would be surprising.
Heavy reproaches of the daily mirror
In relation to the Gfu, the Tagesspiegel finds then but clear words. Thus, the newspaper clarifies that the company probably uses highly questionable means. This undoubtedly includes poaching top executives such as Christian Göke. Since this gave up in 2020 the guidance of the national fair organizer, in order to co-operate now more or less again with the Gfu, the suspicion is quite obvious. But the merger of Sony, Miele and Co. does not seem to leave it at that. On top of that, the Tagesspiegel reports that Gfu has even issued threats against the trade fair company. If the city does not want to accept the contract offer, the Gfu also holds out the prospect of moving to another city if necessary.
Of course, the latter would be a real nightmare for the capital. After all, the loss of the IFA would leave a big hole in the annual budget. The fact that Berlin’s city politicians are so committed is not surprising when you take a closer look. After all, the Berlin trade fair company is not only partly state-owned. It belongs entirely to the capital, which of course makes it clear how serious a departure would be. This makes also the senator of economy clear, by letting announce by a speaker
“Of course we want to keep the IFA in Berlin, because the IFA simply belongs to Berlin”,
IFA should not remain in Berlin at any price
Despite the great importance of IFA, it nevertheless seems that the Berlin Senate does not want to be impressed by the alleged threats of Gfu. After all, the exhibition center has other aces up its sleeve with other significant events such as the Green Week or ITB. Nevertheless, the timing of the Gfu could not be more unfair. For example, the Corona pandemic has already ensured that the Berlin trade fair company has been under a great deal of financial pressure. If it weren’t for the budget of the Berlin Senate behind it, the company might no longer even exist. However, although the circumstances are adverse, the Senate is showing itself to be almost combative. Thus this makes clear by the speaker of the senator for economics that the acceptance of the contract offer is
“not at any price”
will happen. Finally, one wants to make clear:
“neither the fair nor the state of Berlin can be blackmailed.”
Games Convention sends its regards
Not only the contractual obligation to change the role of the Berlin trade fair company pisses off the capital. On top of that, the new contract is supposed to result in the fact that the profits of the exhibition company, which were previously generated by the IFA, will also be transferred to the assets of Gfu. Even if all this seems to be gloomy dreams of the future, an example from the past makes it clear that it is not impossible – the Games Convention. At that time, the organizer moved its games fair from Leipzig to Cologne without further ado and renamed it Gamescom. Since Berlin is firmly linked to the local trade fair, we hope that the consumer electronics exhibition will also remain in the capital.