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The Demise Of Baselworld – Let’s Tell It Like It Is.

RIP Baselworld

The Watchmakers Club at Baselworld

In case you didn’t know, MCH Group, organisers of Baselworld are surprised. They’re surprised that, despite their very best efforts, their bending over backwards to accommodate watch brands big and small into their humble, almost charitable event, things haven’t gone quite according to plan.

In fact, in the wake of marquee brands Patek Philippe and Rolex abandoning their places in Hall 1, Baselworld is feeling betrayed. It was a mutual decision to postpone the show, one made with all the big players and budget earmarked for the future, just for those same big players to turn around and quit altogether. How dare they.

That’s pretty much what you might have thought if you’d only read MCH Group’s snivelling press release sent out on the 14th. Unfortunately, the only surprise most of us feel is that it didn’t happen sooner. Indeed, the fact that the organisers are ‘surprised’ speaks to the underlying problem there’s always been with Baselworld: arrogance. Pride comes before a fall and all that.

It’s easy to see where that arrogance comes from. It wasn’t that long ago that the show was the be all and end all of the watch world, the single global hub of watchmaking big and small, alpha, omega and everything in-between. Like the invulnerable Titanic, they were too big to sink.

In recent years though it’s just not been the same. Other opportunities around the world and the success of smaller, local activations and single-brand events have led to exhibitors bleeding out year on year like a cut artery. Combined with high prices and little flexibility and it’s hard to see the current appeal of the show. Yet you’d never have known from Baselworld’s attitude.

Prices have remained extortionate and even small concessions like paying CHF 12 instead of CHF 15 for a hotdog are presented akin to martyrdom. While the world has been moving on around MCH Group, they’re like an ex-quarterback clinging onto their glory years and wondering through their beer-soaked douchery why nobody likes them anymore.

It was pretty obvious to everyone else that the show was being held together by Rolex and Patek Philippe; it was just as obvious that they would be leaving at some point in the near future. After all, both have their HQs in Geneva, so why on Earth wouldn’t they do something there?

The Coronavirus undoubtedly sped things along; we’d already predicted that it was the death knell for Baselworld. Nice as it is to be proven right, it wasn’t exactly betting on the horses. But even then, MCH Group seemed to think moving to January would work, that all the exhibitors would be thankful to them that they’re allowed to show. They never expected that if they didn’t meet demand, someone else would.

That someone else is a new show in Geneva, created with the Foundation de Haute Horlogerie, Rolex, Patek Philippe and a handful of other big brands, one that I’m already looking forward to seeing for myself; two helpings of SIHH each year means double my annual quota of Swiss sushi and champagne.

The problem of it all isn’t that there’s nowhere for exhibitors to show their stuff – there are always opportunities, even if you need to make them – but that it was a completely avoidable collapse for Baselworld. All it would have taken is to simply not treat exhibitors like cash cows begging to be milked – and treating the press better wouldn’t have gone amiss either – to actually deserve the loyalty Baselworld felt entitled too.

The refusal to offer refunds and the insistence on charging an admin fee was the final nail in the coffin.

Which brings us back full circle. After all the obvious complaints, all problems brands have had over years and all the exhibitors fleeing the sinking ship, MCH Group was surprised. If Baselworld was the Titanic, that one admission is their metaphorical iceberg.

 

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