The future of the radio exhibition Ifa still hangs in the air. At the supervisory board meeting of Messe Berlin on Wednesday morning, trade fair boss Martin Ecknig was still unable to present a contract with the consortium, which will host the Ifa by 2024 at the latest. In the afternoon, both Ecknig and Economics Senator Stephan Schwarz (independent, for the SPD), who sits on the supervisory board for the state, commented on the current state of affairs at a meeting of the Economics Committee of the House of Representatives. “We are in talks,” Ecknig said when asked by parliamentarians about the future of the Ifa.
The talks began more than a year ago and last November led to a key issues paper on the conditions under which the Ifa will continue to take place in Berlin, which Ecknig signed. Then there was a lot of background noise and distraction maneuvers, but no later than this year’s Ifa, which took place under the radio tower at the beginning of September and for the first time since the pandemic, there should be an understanding. That didn’t work. In the meantime, the time window is slowly closing because the preparations for the Ifa 2023 have to begin.
The budgets for 2023 are now being set
“The industry needs planning security and has long been busy with budgeting for the next year,” said Oliver Kaltner, who has worked for Sony, Microsoft and Gamescom, among others, and acted as an expert on the Economic Committee. The Asian Ifa exhibitors in particular, the largest being Samsung, are “very sensitive” when the future of the Ifa is constantly being discussed.
The gfu with a stake of 49 percent and the Anglo-Saxon event group Clarion (51 percent) have founded a company that will organize the Ifa by 2024 at the latest. Messe Berlin will act as organizer until 2023, at which point the corresponding contract with the rights holder gfu will expire. The parties had already agreed on the basics weeks ago: the new consortium will take over the Ifa in 2023, which will remain in Berlin for at least the next ten years. Messe Berlin rents out premises and halls and is paid for it.
If Clarion/gfu does not come to an agreement with Messe Berlin, gfu supervisory board member Volker Klodwig has announced an international tender for a new venue. The Ifa is the most important trade fair for Berlin due to the high proportion of trade visitors from abroad. This year there were 30 percent fewer visitors than in 2019, the last year before Corona, but the event still had a big “radiation effect” on the whole city, said Kaltner and warned against moving. “Brands, including trade fair brands, can be transported.”
When asked by opposition MPs what he had done to keep the Ifa where it was, Schwarz replied, “the Senator for Economics is backing the management”. He had “had many talks with industry associations, there is a lot of encouragement for Berlin,” Schwarz continued. In the negotiations, “both sides are gambling,” a solution is needed “where Berlin cannot be blackmailed.” Schwarz called the tough struggle for the world’s leading trade fair for consumer electronics and white goods “a business decision of the trade fair”. “Mr. Ecknig regularly informs the supervisory board about the negotiations and gets total backing,” Schwarz introduced himself to the managing director of the state-owned company. .
Questionable role of the chairman of the supervisory board, Wolf
Ecknig, previously a real estate manager at Siemens, has been at the helm of the exhibition company since 2021. The circumstances of his appointment and the role of Wolf-Dieter Wolf, chairman of the supervisory board at the time, are the subject of investigations by the ombudsman of Messe Berlin and the Senate Department for Finance. Wolf and Ecknig have known each other for many years. Ecknig is said to have been shortlisted only after Wolf intervened with Odgers Berndtson, the personnel consultancy commissioned by the trade fair to look for a managing director.
Before the Economic Committee, Ecknig said on Wednesday about the public prosecutor’s investigations that are being carried out in connection with Wolf’s work as chairman of the board of directors at rbb, “we are not the accused”. Wolf was significantly involved in the commissioning of Gerhard Spörl, the husband of ex-rbb director Patricia Schlesinger, who trained Martin Ecknig in media matters for a daily fee of up to 2000 euros. The investigations did not result in any violation of procurement guidelines, Ecknig said. The “own investigation”, meaning the circumstances of his appointment, “is still in progress”.
Too early for a strategy
Ecknig, like Schwarz, commented on the strategy of the trade fair after the Corona period. Ifa and the rail transport trade fair Innotrans helped the state-owned trade fair company to “make a very strong comeback” in September. “In 2022 we will generate significantly more sales than originally expected,” said Ecknig. Schwarz explained that the head of the trade fair could not present a post-corona strategy, although it was expected in the spring with the success of Ifa and Innotrans. “No one expected how desirable physical contacts are. It is therefore good that we have not yet completed the strategic process.”
Ecknig will prepare “a template” for the next Supervisory Board meeting. But there is no hurry: “We are ahead of London, Paris and New York in terms of utilization of the exhibition center,” said the senator.
more on the subject
Schwarz also commented on the ICC. “We will be able to put this building to public use that is also economically viable.” He is grateful for the debate, which is generating more and more ideas “that are also economical”. An operator should be found in an international tender. Ideally, the ICC would also be “shared use” for congresses in the future, said Schwarz. “We will be part of the performance,” said Ecknig. What is required, however, is a “primary officer” for the ICC.
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