Baselworld had one, slim, remaining chance to survive earlier this month when it was asked by its committee of exhibitors for a full refund on this year’s exhibition or to move without charge to 2021.
I argued the organiser had 24 hours to reverse its preposterous position or face oblivion.
Even a U-turn may not have worked, because we learn today that the latest departing brands: Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tudor, Chanel and Chopard, did not like the late January date selected for next year.
The brands claim they were not consulted on this change of date. Baselworld says they were.
It hardly matters who is telling the truth, because the brands have all the power, and Baselworld had none.
Baselworld may find a way to survive, but the path looks impossibly narrow now.
Shares in the show’s parent organisation dropped by just 2% today. It appears the expectation that Baselworld’s biggest exhibitors would walk was already baked into a share price that was trading at CHF 14 today, down from a peak of CHF 80 in 2017.
It is a sorry saga that began under the previous management of Sylvie Ritter, whose style was often described as aloof and arrogant by exhibitors.
It was her task to repay the investment MCH Group had made in rebuilding the main exhibition halls, and it began well with the biggest brands building mega-structures that used the full scale of the new Hall 1.
Rolex, Patek Philippe, Breitling, along with the major Brands from Swatch Group and LVMH, built such extravagant and expensive stands they needed to be used for several years to make them worthwhile.
MCH played on this by cranking up the cost of the space beneath the stands while hotels and restaurants also took advantage of the extreme over demand Baselworld created for a week by hiking prices to two or three times normal.
The mega stands became Baselworld’s greatest strength, and ultimately its fatal weakness.
As costs spiralled, brands became more and more disillusioned about the investment at a time when sharing news of their new watches to millions of fans was just an Instagram post away.
When Swatch Group’s brands left, the hole created for 2019 was impossible to fill with anything more than a souped-up press office and some additional shrubbery.
Hall 1.o has been decimated. The image below is originally from Baselworld’s own mobile phone app back in 2018.
The following year, the stands in grey, which include all of the Swatch Group brands, had withdrawn.
Now, the stands crossed in red have also disappeared, leaving pretty much nothing left.
Baselworld can’t even fill Hall 1.0 by decanting Hall 1.1 into the space because most of the biggest exhibitors — mainly those hailing from Japan — have also walked. I would expect them to be in discussion now to join the Geneva show in early April.
I wish I could reach another conclusion, but I genuinely fear this is the end for Baselworld.