Expo could relocate as part of L.A. Convention Center is demolished

After 46,000 industry insiders, retailers and journalists swarmed the Los Angeles Convention Center last week for E3, the videogame industry’s annual tradeshow, none of those people know where they’re going to be next year.

While E3 is one of the city’s biggest tradeshows, generating an estimated $40 million in revenue each year from hotel bookings, restaurant and other travel spending, the construction of the new Farmers Field football stadium could drive the show out of town in 2013.

At issue: The pending demolition of the convention center’s West Hall will eliminate 210,000 square feet of show floor space — roughly one-third of the facility’s capacity. The Entertainment Software Assn. regularly sells out that space for E3 and is concerned there won’t be enough room for publishers and console manufacturers to show their wares in the coming years.

Organizers behind Farmers Field want construction of the $1.1 billion stadium to begin as early as March 2013; plans include a new exhibition hall. If construction of the new stadium doesn’t occur within two years, however, AEG would remodel the LACC to revitalize the current exhibition halls.

While the ESA is reportedly in talks with officials in other cities, including San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Chicago and New Orleans, it’s still working hard to stay in its home city. E3 has taken place in L.A.’s convention center for 15 of its 18 years.

And L.A. doesn’t want to let a major convention go. It offered the LACC to organizers of San Diego’s Comic-Con for $1 when the fanboy fest considered new homes after outgrowing its own convention center.

Moving E3 is a delicate business, however.

The gaming industry is largely based in or around L.A., and the travel costs that would be added on top of the already substantial expense of erecting a booth for the show (which can run to tens of millions of dollars for some) could discourage some publishers from participating should the show hit the road, especially to the East Coast.

In 1997 and 1998, E3 moved to Atlanta as the LACC was being renovated to make room for the Staples Center.

In 2007, the show was downsized and moved to a series of hotels in Santa Monica — a move widely panned by attendees and game companies.

“We are in negotiations to ensure E3 continues to be a best-in-class and invaluable experience for our members, exhibitors and attendees,” Rich Taylor, ESA senior VP of communications and industry affairs, said in a statement. “There are several areas that still need to be resolved, and we need the city to fully appreciate the value E3 brings to Los Angeles. We hope the city can work with us to resolve areas of concern.”

In some ways, next year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo is one of the most crucial ever for the videogame industry. New console launches from Sony and Microsoft could help set the tone for the industry’s future. And Nintendo will be attempting to build on the foundation set by the Wii U this holiday season. That can’t be done in minimal space.

E3 is already a spread-out affair, with pre-show press conferences from the major gamemakers taking place at the Nokia Theater, USC’s Galen Center, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and the Orpheum and Los Angeles Theaters. In the past, it’s included the Wiltern Theater and other downtown venues. Once E3 officially kicks off, the LACC is the heart of the action, with some side meetings taking place in the nearby J.W. Marriott hotel and parties occupying downtown hotspots.

In the L.A. area, the most likely replacement location for the LACC would be the Anaheim Convention Center, which actually has more floor space than the LACC, but distance and traffic make it a tough trek for many based in L.A.

Should the ESA be unable to resolve the differences with L.A. and should Anaheim be unable to host the event, other California cities likely have the upper hand to benefit from a move. San Francisco already hosts the Game Developers Conference and is also a gaming hub. And San Diego has earned a good reputation through its annual handling of Comic-Con and offers sufficient exhibit and meeting room space.

“I think we all know this is a West Coast oriented industry,” said a spokesperson for THQ, “so historically, the West Coast worked well logistically for the industry.”

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