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December 2, 2007

IRONY: could 'MotorFloat' superbrand play a role in the Battle of the Boat Shows?

Press Day at the Whyte and Mackay Earls Court Boat Show was impressive enough. Classic FM's Katie Dereham introduced Strictly Come Dancing stars Penny Lancaster-Stewart, Gabby Logan (and her co-ambassadorial husband of The Princes` Trust, Kenny) as the fresh faces of Earls Court`s brand new boat show – and the 50th to be held within the venue.

However, tonight`s alleged big rumble is that former News International live events guru and the inspiration behind the London International Motor Show success at ExCeL last year, Rob MacKenzie, has lured several big gun British Marine Federation (BMF) member brands, possibly even including the UK`s flagship manufacturer, Sunseeker, to support an exclusive `MotorFloating` luxury brand event for the super-wealthy to run alongside the 2008 British International Motor Show in July, and set to star, allegedly, leading brands such as Lamborghini, Sunseeker and Ferrari.

Closed door deal for superbrands

The offer to each superbrand is understood to include an agreement that requires them to invest in public exhibition space, or a Royal Victoria Dock mooring for the floating variety, to keep the aspirational punters happy whilst the real business of capital investment takes place among the global playboy community, by invitation only and at no further cost to the respective manufacturers, in the venue`s Platinum Suite aloft of the common man on the shop floor.

IF the rumours prove accurate, and IF the luxury marine brands, such as Sunseeker, were to use the opportunity to replace or dilute their traditional January presence at the Federation`s London show in the Docklands so as to reach the City`s high-flyers and super wealthy, coinciding with sub-prime relief in the summer, then there might be some serious disquiet among the remaining BMF members not invited to ExCeL`s summer party.

If the BMF were forced, due to a reduction in demand for exhibition space from these iconic brands in favour of a post sub-prime retail window from Mackenzie in the summer, then the remaining members of the BMF would endure a higher per metre rate and possibly a reduction in industry and/or attendee promotion. If indeed this was, in part at least, due to the `establishment` within the BMF investing in a super yacht exclusive, the rank and file members would possibly rethink their position when considering the implications of attending Whyte and Mackay`s event (and indeed that of the BMF itself at ExCeL).

An alternative route to the super rich

As the price of oil tops the $100/barrel and sub-prime fever takes a grip in the Square Mile, loyalty amongst the BMF community will be severely tested by each company`s focus on the balance sheet. Faced with a contagious recession already beginning in the US and already affecting confidence this side of the pond, a credit crunch biting hard within the London Boat Show`s core City-bonus-based community, and the offer of an alternative route to the remaining super rich, it doesn`t take a trainee accountant to work out where the interests of the marine industry`s big guns might be redirected. Securing fastrack access to Ferrari`s client base and an opportunity to cosy up to Dr. Dollar in a more discreet environment might become very appealing to the industry`s luminary brands.

Back at Earls Court, this week will therefore be fascinating.

If James Brooke and his team recapture the imagination of the UK maritime community to the extent that genuine mariners vote with their feet (insiders say to the tune of 50,000 or more) then the Federation`s London event has a problem. Equally, if Brooke and his team have squandered the marketing window of opportunity that they have created and the show fails to fulfill the expectations of the consumer as well as some brave exhibitors (who have allegedly faced unwelcome pressure not to take stand space at the new show) then the status quo will probably prevail and this time next year the Logans could be dancing alone in SW9.

Foreign invasion

As the press walked a rejuvenated Earls Court today, the talk was of choice – from America, Italy, France, Germany and beyond compared to the traditionally UK-centric offer of bygone days at Earls Court. One couldn`t help thinking that for every square metre at the Whyte and Mackay event not occupied by a BMF member, a foreign marque is set to enjoy access, probably for the first time, to the UK consumer. Interestingly, several industry stalwarts were questioning how this could ever have been allowed to occur - the consumer, on the other hand, will love it.

The next two months will see more square metres of marine leisure than ever displayed in the history of UK boat shows from a global range of manufacturers never before witnessed in the UK, yet sadly at a time when consumer spending is set to nosedive. This fact wasn`t wasted on Nigel Nathan, chairman of the Events Industry Alliance and MD of Earls Court, who recognised the importance of the next 10 days.

"It`s amazing what a little competition can do. There`s clearly a lot of unfinished business going on around us and there`s no telling what the outcome will be at this point, but the Whyte and Mackay team have a fresh and uncompromising approach which, despite their naivity, gives them a certain look of confidence", he said.

When I asked him to expand, he just smiled at me and then couldn`t resist it, "Naivity isn`t exclusive to the inexperienced you know."

The Whyte and Mackay Boat Show finishes on the 9th December.

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