Exclusive: Clarion's Group MD Alex Pratt

ICE London: "Our registration numbers are up compared to the same stage for the 2020 campaign"

Alex Pratt, Group Managing Director at Clarion Gaming.
Reading time 6:46 min

Alex Pratt, Group Managing Director at Clarion Gaming, talks with Yogonet about the responsibility associated with organising the return of ICE London, why it’s vital not to pursue a growth at any cost strategy, preliminary registration trends for the first post-Brexit edition, and why the appearance of ‘Big Betty’ is likely to be one of the most talked-about features on the show floor across 1-3 February 2022, at ExCeL Exhibition Centre.

The upcoming edition of ICE London will certainly be a very special one given the two-year pandemic-enforced absence. Could you share some insights to understand Clarion Gaming’s strategies and approach to craft an event of this size and live up to the expectations and eagerness for in-person events return?

First of all, I would like to say how honoured and excited the team is to be organising the return of what is undoubtedly the world’s most anticipated b2b gaming industry event after a two-year absence. It’s a responsibility that we are not taking lightly and one that we are approaching with energy, enthusiasm and commitment. The theme of our creative ‘Together never felt so good’ captures the mood in the industry. We have spent a lot of time talking with our customers and listening to their hopes, aspirations and in some cases their concerns about the future. We know that some of our most loyal and dedicated customers will not be able to attend the show and we respect that. While our registration numbers are up on what we had at the same stage for the 2020 campaign we are not really talking about attendance so much as focussing on delivering the experience. Obviously, we will have Covid protocols in place that uphold all of the UK Government requirements and advice as well as drawing on the experience of colleagues within the broader Clarion Events business. We have committed to impose a limit on the size of the show despite having a larger than normal list of companies wanting stand space. We want to void having a surplus of exhibitors at a time when there will be additional pressure on visitor numbers. It is a delicate balancing act to get right but with the support of our exhibitors and visitors I am confident that we will deliver an edition of ICE London that will accelerate the industry’s recovery and provide a platform for growth and prosperity.

The Bingo Pavilion will be renamed as the Bingo Association Hub under a recent agreement. Why have you decided this rebrand and further promote this sector in particular now?

One of our key commitments is to work in partnership with every sector of the international gaming and gambling industry in order to deliver an experience that helps to generate business and interest. In this instance, we met with the Bingo Association which represents all licensed bingo operators in Great Britain and to establish what areas we could improve on. One of the requests was to change the name from the Bingo Pavilion to the Bingo Association Hub, which we were happy to do and to market the area as a meeting hub for everyone interested in bricks and mortar bingo. There will also be key suppliers exhibiting in the Hub including Cowells Arrow, ECM Systems, Edward Thompson, Leisure Electronics, NRM, Shipley Creative and Wexel Gaming. We have a deep commitment to the land-based gaming sector and over 50 percent of the floor space at ICE London 2022 will be occupied by organisations and brands whose main sector is land-based gaming. The strengths of ICE London are in its size — it’s physically the biggest b2b gaming show in the world and one of only two annual events to occupy all of ExCeL —, its internationalism and significantly the fact that it covers every gaming vertical and serves as a meeting place for all sectors of the gaming and gambling industry. Bingo is an important part of our offering and we look forward to helping to make the Bingo Association Hub a must-visit component of the ICE London experience.

Clarion Gaming has decided to create the Esports Event Manager position, and name former Red Bull executive Jamie Coles this year. How is this reflected in ICE London, and which new space will esports have as compared to previous editions?

Esports was introduced to the ICE London show floor in 2020 and was subsequently deployed to iGB Live! in Amsterdam earlier this year. Our involvement in esports pre-dated my direct involvement in ICE and I have to say that I think Clarion was way ahead of the curve in this respect. The statistics in terms of esports audience reach and the sheer size of the esports betting market are eye-watering. Our job is to facilitate business growth and opportunity for our stakeholders and that’s exactly what we are seeking to achieve with a team of experts led by Will Harding, our head of esports and assisted by Jamie Coles who as you mentioned has joined us from Red Bull. Both Will and Jamie have forgotten more about esports than I will ever know and their expertise is like gold dust. In terms of ICE London 2022 we have pulled out all of the stops in order to secure the iconic Hyper X Esports Truck aka ‘Big Betty’ to form the main stage for the professional players and keynote speakers who will be appearing at show. The customised 21-metre-long classic American style truck which when unfolded is close to 12 metres deep, boasts a rooftop VIP area and players’ lounge with 20 gaming stations. Essentially Big Betty is an arena on wheels. It unfolds into a fully equipped esports studio and main stage enabling us to reflect the culture, theatre and appeal of the esports phenomenon which will be explained courtesy of the keynote speakers who will be sharing their insight with our b2b audience. Big Betty is a high-profile centre piece attraction and will be a major talking point at show. We have secured sponsorship support from key brands including UltraPlay (headline sponsor) the multi-awarded turn-key betting provider which was assembled by a team of experienced iGaming professionals, and CoinsPaid, the leader in crypto payment services for the iGaming industry. Esports is going to be one of a number of really compelling features at show which set the ICE London experience apart from other events on the gaming industry calendar.

ICE London has introduced Les Ambassadeurs’ Tracy Damestani and Hippodrome Casino’s Simon Thomas as Ambassadors for the event. Why have you selected them for this opportunity, and what is their role for this particular edition?

Tracy and Simon are two of a number of ICE London Ambassadors that we will be confirming for 2021/2022. We have created the role of ICE Ambassador to ensure the brand remains close to, and responsive to, the business needs of all sectors of the industry across all jurisdictions. ICE Ambassadors come from across the gaming landscape ensuring that we have a varied mix of individuals, roles and experience who can sense-check our strategy and provide the broadest possible industry feedback. We are creating a group of what I would describe as critical friends: people who know the industry inside out who have a long relationship with ICE and who really care about the ICE London brand. If we as a team are doing anything that doesn’t sit comfortably with the ICE brand and what it stands for, we want our Ambassadors to tell us. I guess that in many ways they are ICE Guardians as much as they are ICE Ambassadors and they are in place to ensure that we get it right.
In a poll conducted by Explori on behalf of Clarion earlier this year, London was selected as the most popular location to host ICE 2022 with a 75% preference. The most frequently cited reason among the 10% who did not prefer London was the impact of Brexit, with concerns regarding regulations and export considerations. How have you worked to mitigate any concern and face any challenges regarding the location?

The research we commissioned in July 2021 demonstrated the popularity of London as our host city. This was based on its position as a travel hub, a place to host customers, network with peers and hold meetings with senior members of the international industry. Registration is showing a concentration of industry professionals who will be travelling to London from throughout Europe and this is the segment that will be most impacted by any bumps in the road caused by Brexit. This will be the first edition of ICE London staged since the UK exited the European Union and we will be closely monitoring the experience of both exhibitors and visitors to London in a post-Brexit world and feeding that back into the relevant government departments via our representative body the Association of Exhibition Organisers. ICE London only exists and can only be consistently successful if it meets the needs of all of its’ stakeholders. This has been at the core of our business philosophy and will remain so. The independent research carried out by Explori surveyed a total of 684 ICE stakeholders and was part of a thorough research programme that included direct engagement with a sample of 50 exhibiting brands – a community that represented 55% of the total ICE floor space. We would never insist on a location that the industry was not happy with. ICE London is a significant exhibition occupying 70,000 sqm gross (2020) a key metric that limits the number of venues capable of hosting a show of this size. To supplement the research undertaken in the summer and to sense check its findings we will also be commissioning an additional independent research project with our exhibitors post show. Our pledge is to always work with our customers in order to deliver the best and most favourable outcomes for their businesses and for the industry that we are proud to serve.

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