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EICMA Debrief: EICMA Is Dead, Long Live EICMA

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I had originally intended to follow-up my preview for the 2021 EICMA trade show in Milan with daily round-ups, but after witnessing what was produced in the first two days, that clearly was unnecessary.

There were question marks on what the 2021 show would be like, after last year’s cancellation and with the specter of COVID-19 still hovering over Europe and the motorcycle industry as a whole.

We have that answer now, and it is not a good one.

In the 13 years that I have covered the largest motorcycle industry trade show in the world, I can tell you definitively that this year’s EICMA was by far the most disappointing.

EICMA, as we know it, is dead.

The Writing on the Wall

For anyone that has been watching the space, for the past few years, the writing has been written clearly on the wall.

Dozens of brands vying for attention from motorcycle consumers, in a short span of just a handful of hours, was never going to last for long. Not in the age of the internet.

Traditionally, the first two days of EICMA (Tuesday and Wednesday) are the media days. This is where the bulk of press conferences and new product announcements occur.

In the past, this was coveted time as it meant exposure to most of Europe’s moto-press in one sitting, and then of course there were the legion of Italian motorcyclists that would mob the Fiero Milano on the public days (Thursday through Sunday).

But, dozens and dozens of motorcycle brands all vying for attention at the same time was never going to last, especially as the internet began to rise and gain eyeballs.

Each year, it became more and more difficult for brands to get their signal heard beyond the noise. So, the savvy players began to cheat a little bit.

Special press conferences were held on the Monday before EICMA’s formal unveiling, and when that got crowded, then Sunday started hosting events, and then Saturday. And then COVID hit…

The slippery slope of brands taking it upon themselves to host their own live and streamed press conferences was well into effect before COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic, but make no mistake that the coronavirus was the catalyst in what has transpired since.

The pandemic forced European brands to learn how to launch a product without EICMA, and with that flexibility, they could launch their products at a time and place of their choosing. No more getting lost in the tsunami of press releases.

The worry going into the 2021 EICMA show (beyond another surge in cases that could see Italy lockdown again) was that EICMA would find its relevancy and power greatly diminished. Those worries were not for naught.

The Missing Brands of 2021

Roughly half of the motorcycle OEMs decided to sit out the 2021 EICMA show – most notably BMW, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Indian, KTM, and Triumph.

And while all four of the Japanese brands had a presence at the Milan show, Yamaha opted to continue using Monday as its launch day, getting a jump on the show’s announcements.

It is interesting to me that the brands that sat out this year’s trade show are the same brands the excelled at producing their own virtual events just a year before.

Conversely, I find it interesting that of those manufacturers at the show this year, not a single one offered a live stream to their social media followers of their EICMA news.

There is clearly a bright line amongst industry marketers who “get it” and those who do not, but that is an A&R Pro story for another time and place.

It is not bad enough that six notable motorcycle brands were absent from EICMA this year, but the ones that were there underwhelmed in their offerings.

On average, each attending manufacturer had two or three “new” machines on offer, though many of those were simply minor refreshes to existing bikes.

I had someone ask me for my top three picks for bikes launched at EICMA this year, and I struggled after naming my first two.

MV Agusta producing a three-cylinder ADV bike is certainly notable, and Moto Guzzi’s V100 Mandello looks very intriguing with its active aero…and then? I would honestly like some options in the comments section on this one. I am at a loss…

The Trade Show Is Dead, As We Know It

When I first attended EICMA, I was the only American journalist in attendance.

What struck me was not how European-centric the show was in its workings, despite its global reach, but instead how Italian-centric it was, despite the bevy of countries in attendance.

Maybe 50% of the press conferences were in English, with the other half in Italian. BMW Motorrad presented in German (because…BMW), but at least they had the foresight to pass out headphones with English and Italian translators speaking.

I remember the Ducati presentation being completely in Italian. I think they launched a bike that year…or maybe it was a great pizza recipe. There is really no way to know.

Thankfully, It didn’t take long for the show’s presenters to realize that they had the world’s attention, and to act accordingly. A few years later, almost all the presentations were in English, or at least translated.

Similarly, I can still remember when brands started realizing that press kits could be hosted online, rather handed out via thumbdrive to the zombie mob of journalists with business cards in hand. The year was 2015.

I bring these examples up not to reminisce about the whacky times I spent in Milan, but instead to illustrate the glacial pace that occurs within the EICMA walls.

In many ways, EICMA has always felt like the land before time, and it is that inflexibility to adapt and to change that has strangled the show into this dark oblivion.

In the coming weeks, marketing teams throughout the industry will be begin earmarking their budgets for next year. Will that include EICMA? After all, the show is a considerable expense.

Sure, there is some value in having one’s entire lineup on display for hordes of grown Italian men to finger-diddle. I am not sure if the same can be said about the never-ending supply of booth babes, who get ogled just as much by the before-mentioned group, but for many they are an integral part of the experience as well.

But is the trade show format the best for getting asses on seats and swaying euros/dollars out of wallets?

The IMS Outdoor Show is making an argument that it is not. The droves of younger buyers who make purchases every day without actually holding the item in their hands makes a compelling argument as well.

From an industry perspective, Zoom calls have replaced the need for global meeting points. Virtual press conferences have replaced the need for expensive media presentations as well. So what is the role of a show like EICMA now?

For as much doom and gloom as I have written here, I sincerely believe there is some value in a show like EICMA, but I’m not sure what that is. I do know that it is not what it used to be before.

The EICMA as we knew it is dead. Long live the EICMA that comes because of its demise

Photo: © 2021 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved