VEGAS 09: Lights, camera, reaction

Bulldog's Rob Corney offers his view on this year's Licensing International.
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Tattoo parlours are a mark of hotel quality uniquely absent from the best the UK has to offer – perhaps they’re missing a trick?

As the licensing industry descended on the city of a billion lights, where enough plastic circles the pool to make Barclaycard blush, all usual measures of sophistication were laid to rest… it’s not possible to judge Vegas through the filter applied to any other place on earth. It’s unique – vibrant, sultry, sleazy and sassy all wrapped into one – pretty much perfect for licensing really.

The European stereotypes of casinos are immediately dismissed in Vegas. Although I was lucky enough to witness a man winning $400,000 playing Blackjack, the suave sophistication of a Monte Carlo visitor arriving in his DB9, Cartier watch glimpsed under the cuff of an Armani suit at the Roulette table simply doesn’t exist in this desert outpost.

The VX-800 mobility scooters are the wheels of choice and the watches are more likely to be character rather than fashion-branded. It’s a sad inevitability that the majority of the people prospecting at the slot machines and gaming tables were those who could least afford to lose and there are many astonishing sights. I’ll never forget the chap on the latest VX model, hooked up to oxygen tanks on the back with his nurse helping him fuel the object of his disability cheque -call me harsh, but if your luck’s running that badly, surely a casino is the last place on earth you should be? The fact that the Jewelry Liquidation Center is right next door to Poker Battle really should be an indicator about the likely winners in this town.

Vegas is a genuine paradox. Las Vegas is Spanish for The Meadows but it’s in a desert and is largely concrete. The locals are termed Las Vegans, though after four days there surrounded by these self-styled ‘vegans’ I nearly mounted an assault on the Lazytown stand to liberate some of their fruit having seen neither apple nor carrot since leaving the UK.

The ingenuity of the people who created a city in a vast desert is only capped by the insanity that pretty much every house has a swimming pool in a place that has a water shortage. The golf courses are green, the gondoliers are punted as frequently as the guests and the Bellagio fountains are entertaining (though they’re not Rugby League) yet nobody seemed to know if there’d be enough water to drink in another ten years.

Flying over Lake Mead alongside half the UK licensing industry, you could see the massive drop in water level… when your eye wasn’t distracted by the 12” gash along the seat of the trousers of a senior member of the greetings card business – apparently there’s a licensing metaphor in there somewhere...

Sartorial malfunctions were thankfully few and far between as the Lowe boys descended on the Strip with more sequins than a series of Strictly and news on the grapevine has it that one ‘classic’ member of the licensing community got carried away with the branding side of things, ending up in one of the afore-mentioned tattoo shops.

Many in the business were disappointed that the widely anticipated showdown between certain trade publishers never took place at the Gun Shop… there’s always next year though. On return to Blighty, Westminster is now calling for a stewards’ inquiry from the Fees Office as Expense claims ranging from Limousines to M-16s make Hazel Blears look almost acceptable… hold on, no actually she still looks like she puts her make-up on in a wind tunnel.

The show itself was a fantastic commercial opportunity for all and congratulations must go to Advanstar for putting on an excellent event. The atmosphere on the show floor was superb and the convenience of being in the same hotel (albeit it a 40 minute walk away!) as your room cannot be overstated. The staff were friendly, the roof didn’t leak, the air conditioning was switched on throughout and the only real disappointment was that Percy (one of the Javits’ resident pigeons) could not make the long flight in for the show… there’s nothing like a close shave with Avian Flu to focus the mind during a meeting with a key client.

In fact, the show was so good that there are calls for Ken Livingstone, fresh from terming LondON and THE Hotel to turn his attention to another irritating misappropriation of the definite article for THE Licensing Show making it irritatingly impossible to pronounce the word without over-emphasising the otherwise passive syllable.

Certainly everyone I spoke to was a big fan of the move saying that it had reinstated some of the old vibrancy and that hopefully it now puts an end to rumours of The Licensing Event – licensing as an industry needs one US-based event supported by all… and the Vegas Show is it. Perhaps the only opportunity for improvements would be to the numbering system (somehow, sequential and visible seems sensible to me!) and perhaps some inducement to ensure exhibitors stay beyond three o’clock on the Thursday afternoon so the hall doesn’t look as though Moses has led the lads down through the South Lagoon Pool again.

With the added zest to the show occasioned by the move, it was suggested that a biennial change of venue would be no bad thing. Though with its love of brands and all related fripperies, Vegas surely has to be the most appropriate place on earth for this expo.

As its sobriquet suggests, there is no end of entertainment in Sin City and singing was clearly the winner at the Times Square Piano Bar as the UK industry celebrated Martin Lowe’s 40th (plus overages). Unfortunately, this must-attend event clashed with the LIMA US Licensing awards so I was unable to attend those. It was a pity, it’s always good to find out what the international trade body flagships as the leading brands, licensees and retailers in the US, but we’ll all be able to celebrate the international achievements of the industry at the superb UK Licensing Industry Awards Dinner this October.

The Nine Fine Irishmen (also at the New York New York) seemed an appropriate replacement for Rosie’s – after all, where better for the UK industry to meet up than in a place saluting people who rebelled against UK rule? Though I was left baffled by the inclusion of the Sherwood Forest Café at the Excalibur hotel - clearly Robin Hood’s role in the Arthurian legends was hugely downplayed by Chretien de Troyes and Mallory and I don’t remember him ever mixing it up with Merlin… but then historical relevance and cultural reference are largely left with the latex-gloved security officials as you arrive at McCarran Airport.

The commercial success of the show was self-evident as surveys revealed that over 62 per cent of licensing industry members could afford to buy a round of drinks in THE bar and the ground looks well set for an excellent year to come. Congratulations to all concerned.


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