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SPIEL Acquired by Spielwarenmesse eG

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game Designer
From gallery of W Eric Martin
As of January 1, 2022, the annual SPIEL game fair in Essen, Germany is under the control of Spielwarenmesse eG, the organization that runs the Spielwarenmesse toy fair in Nürnberg, Germany.

Spielwarenmesse eG is a cooperative that was founded by 46 toy manufacturers in 1950 and currently has about 150 members. In addition to Spielwarenmesse, the cooperative organizes Kids India in Mumbai and Insights-X in Nuremberg. To quote from its profile:
The range of services provided by the cooperative also includes industry campaigns and the international fair programme, World of Toys by Spielwarenmesse eG, which enables manufacturers to exhibit at pavilions featured at trade fairs in Asia, Russia, and the USA. Spielwarenmesse eG operates a worldwide network of representatives in over 90 countries. It also has several subsidiaries, including Spielwarenmesse Shanghai Co., Ltd., responsible for the People's Republic of China and Spielwarenmesse India Pvt. Ltd., covering the Indian market. The cooperative holds a majority stake in the Russian exhibition company Grand Expo, which organizes Kids Russia in Moscow. Die roten Reiter GmbH subsidiary with headquarters in Nuremberg works as communication agency for the consumer and capital goods industry.
For decades, SPIEL has been run by Friedhelm Merz Verlag, located in Bonn, and the leadership of that company will remain place. Here's an excerpt from the press release announcing the deal:
Spielwarenmesse eG takes over the Internationale Spieltage SPIEL event in Essen on 1 January 2022. The Nuremberg trade fair and marketing services provider thus becomes the new owner of the biggest public fair for board games in the world. SPIEL will continue to be held at the Essen exhibition centre and organised from Bonn by Dominique Metzler, its director of many years' standing, and her highly experienced team. Florian Hess, Chair of Spielwarenmesse eG, serves as an additional director.

SPIEL has a history stretching back nearly 40 years. The event has developed from a small gathering of players in 1983 to what is today the largest consumer fair in the world for board, card and role-playing games. Traditionally, new national and international games products are introduced to a broad audience at the Essen exhibition centre in the autumn. Every year the event has some 200,000 visitors — and the numbers have been growing.

"It was important to me to retain the unique profile of SPIEL for the future," says Dominique Metzler, who with Rosemarie Geu successfully established and built up her family business over recent decades. "I am very pleased to have found in Spielwarenmesse eG, with its experience in worldbeating fairs, a partner that can continue and further develop the success of this fair on my model for the coming decades as well. My team and I are delighted to be working alongside them."

The pandemic has given an additional boost to the popularity of board games. In 2020, the German games market alone grew by 21%. This is a trend that is also apparent in the B2B sector at the Spielwarenmesse. The Internationale Spieleerfindermesse — Game Inventors Convention is being integrated into the Spielwarenmesse, further strengthening the games business area. The Nuremberg organisers are promising a similarly cautious approach where the SPIEL games fair is concerned, but in this case as a separate event that will be maintained in its original form.

As a cooperative, Spielwarenmesse eG already functions "from the industry, for the industry". Its member businesses include numerous games publishers. As Christian Ulrich, Spokesperson for the Executive Board, is keen to stress, "In the Spielwarenmesse and the SPIEL games fair we have two entirely different concepts, but those concepts intersect powerfully in terms of subject matter, creating plenty of synergies. With SPIEL, we are expanding our responsibilities in the business area for games, without changing the typical character of the fair." Its survival has been ensured and visitors to Essen can continue to try games out and play to their hearts' content.
Update, January 13, 2022: On German game site Reich der Spiele, Michael Weber interviewed Christian Ulrich, spokesman for the board of Spielwarenmesse eG, to clarify that Spielwarenmesse eG has taken over Friedhelm Merz Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, with that company continuing to run SPIEL and with Florian Hess becoming the managing director of Friedhelm Merz Verlag. As for the why behind this deal:

Q: One last question: Both sides speak of synergy effects. Do you already see specific advantages apart from economic indicators for one of the two sides? Will there be a combined offer for exhibitors? Will there be new exhibition areas at SPIEL?

A: We can already see the advantages of the synergy effects on both sides. Of course, we would like to bring SPIEL forward together, which is why we will continue to develop the concept over the next few months and announce the details as soon as they are ready. It is important to us that the unique charm of SPIEL is retained.
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