Quoted from goatdan:
LONG post incoming. Mike, please do read it all. I really want Expo to continue to be a success
Three bits of background that are important:
1) Due to life, I haven't been able to get down to Expo for the past two or three years. I blame my kids and my job changing (I used to work 20 minutes away from Expo). Take this with an appropriate grain of salt.
2) I have been attending Expo more on than off since 2001.
3) I am one of the main organizers of the Midwest Gaming Classic, so while I don't have experience running Expo, I do know some stuff about shows.
With that all said...
First, I would know that no suggestion that you get is going to be perfect. You run an industry show, and you're asking for opinions on a hobby site. That isn't a bad thing, but Expo's uniqueness comes from the fact that it is THE industry show, not just another show. If Mike handed the reins of Expo to me right now, the first thing that I would do is to play up the things that Expo does that other shows simply can't do because of that industry tie. (For the record, he isn't giving me the reins nor do I want them, just speaking hypothetically...). Make it REALLY clear that the main goal of the show is to be an industry show, and that the hobby side of it is accepted and welcomed, but it isn't the main goal.
Let's face it - Expo is where announcements happen. The last two years, we had news of the Medieval Madness remake and huge Big Lebowski stuff come out of Expo. Stern carts in their first ever created LE machines for the first time to let people play them like GOT this year. That stuff is amazing, and *does not* happen at any other show. The "new games" showcase stuff is ridiculously awesome. The MGC can't compete with that stuff at all, nor would I even try.
Along with that, the seminars and stuff like that are amazing. I wish I had a job that would allow me to just go and listen to people for the majority of the days. While some of those aren't overly well attended, the fact is that Expo is THE place to go for seminars. Again, if I had the reins, I would try to increase these even further.
Next, I would talk with the vendors and ask them what they think their best hours are. Take it as a poll, give them some options, and then see what they say. Having a spot on the Expo floor should be a prestigious thing for a vendor - a real "I made it!" sort of moment. Along with that, perhaps allow vendors to use the Pinball Expo name in their own promotional materials - "My Pinball Company - A Pinball Expo Vendor 2015". Do something like that, and they now have the chance to show off their products to the people who are covering the announcements and seminars media-wise for more promotion.
The game hall, I wouldn't change too much. I know there were less games, but I think that with a bit of different promotion (I'll get to that in a moment), what it is isn't the end of the world. If you don't already though, track the hours that people are in there.
Finally, and this is the big one - promotion. Stop promoting Expo as the biggest or the best. Expo is a GREAT show, but depending on what measurement you use, it is no longer the biggest or best in a variety of ways. And I think that a lot of people that go have an expectation because they went to a different show first - be it Texas, the VFW show, Allentown, the MGC or whatever - and because every show is wildly different, and the way that promotion is done is that Pinball Expo is the biggest and best, it leaves a lot of room for disappointment.
Instead, promote Pinball Expo as the Industry Show that allows hobbyists to come in and meet so many people involved in the industry, see the workings of it, and so on. Advertise that you "even include" a game hall, NOT that it is the number one feature, and that it is open basically all the time. Let people who have never been be pleasantly surprised by what it is, and not disappointed by what it isn't.
Continuing with that thought, make sure to change how things are presented on the site. What is left on Sunday is not much, and anyone showing up on the Sunday would be sorely disappointed in the show. Say that it ends on Saturday night. But don't let people think that Sunday is going to be something awesome when it isn't.
If you do this, those who show up next year to see Pat's big JJP announcement (which I'm ultra excited for ALREADY), to meet the people in the industry (which has always been my favorite part of the show) and to see the new stuff won't have preconceived notions that you're going to have 1000 games there or something.
Along with the above, I also urge you to not make too drastic of a change. Some people seem to think that Expo is broken. It's not - it just is now in the weird world of a lot of hobbyist shows that have gone in other directions and grew in different ways. If you start making drastic changes to the show, it will greatly impact what the show is, and alienate the people (and potentially the industry) that already come to the show and make it what it is. You are in a spot where you can't take major steps because something major potentially ends with you spending tons of money and having even less to show for it.
The Midwest Gaming Classic that I run about an hour and a half north of you is why I say this. This past year, we drew 10,000 people. We're in a situation where we have to do a lot of weird stuff to find anywhere that has space for us, and every year I have a lot of people who complain that we're doing it wrong because we have too many people there, or we attached a tent to the building instead of finding a bigger space (for the record, of the two bigger spaces, they want about a quarter of a million to run our electrical, which is impossible), and so on. We grew as a hobbyist trade show, where individuals and small groups involved with the hobby set up a lot of displays in our rooms. In our case, if we fling open our doors on Saturday and no one shows up, we will lose tens of thousands of dollars. We're completely reliant on a huge attendance turn out to be able to keep our show in motion, and we're also to an extent reliant on show organizers and volunteers that are absolutely okay with not making much, if any money. In 15 years of running our show, we've barely turned a profit because we tend to dump all the money we make one year into the following year.
If you take the MGC business plan, just for instance, and say "all right, Expo is becoming this next year", Expo will be dead. It doesn't matter if you have 500 games show up or 15, shows are made and grow in certain ways for a reason. I'd suggest next year focusing on the promotion and getting the vendors to be really happy about the hours, whatever they may be, and then continue to make incremental steps each year to change it. Don't lose your identity and do something crazy like next year, but chart out a plan for a few years and do a step or two each year. It's what we've continued to do with the MGC, and it's worked so far to not *quite* bankrupt us.
Finally (for real), remember that the *industry* side of things, while better than it has been, is VERY well represented at Expo still and probably won't get too much bigger. Perhaps see if you can do something like get Stern to bring out a few more of their more recent games (I don't know what was there, but it would be cool for instance to have one of each model currently in production on the show floor - probably really good for sales too, whether it's an operator there or a collector!), and doing the same with JJP, Spooky, and whomever else has a game in hand to show off. You can only get those groups to do so much, but they are big.
You might, at the end of it, want to do a thing where people vote each day on which company or vendor had the best booth. Hand out "Best New Vendor," "Best Company Display," etc type awards and even send plaques to the companies. Imagine how motivating it might be for Jersey Jack if he finds out Stern won best display this year, etc. Work with PinGame Journal or the new GameRoom Magazine to publish and promote those winners as a special thing. I'd love, even if I can't attend again next year thanks to what will be a 6 and 1 year old at home, to be able to read and see a bunch of pictures about the great Stern booth, or the new booth for Color DMD, or whatever that really looked great. And some of those looked AMAZING.
You have something very special to promote that I can NEVER compete with because of your history. Promote the hell out of it, and keep helping get new pinball stuff out there. You don't have to be the best to every collector (no one is!), so long as you are the best in the industry world, you have a niche that no one else can ever take away from you.
I truly hope to see you at the MGC this year You may not remember this, but my last trip down to Expo three or four years ago you spent like 10 minutes Wednesday night talking to me when you heard I was in charge of MGC and I introduced myself, and you were great. You gave me some great ideas to think about with the MGC in that 10 minutes, and actually helped me figure some stuff out. Because of the nature of our conversation, there really wasn't anything for me to add (we were mostly talking location, my situation and yours are vastly different), and I wished I could return the favor. I hope the above does in some way.