Toy Fair, worth an estimated $20 to $30 million, announced plans to move from New York — where it’s been held for a century — to New Orleans. Extensive and vociferous member blowback forced organizers to do an about-face.
The deal was all but done. The Toy Association told its members that after 100 years of hosting the annual Toy Fair in New York City, at the Javits Center, it was moving in 2026. For three years, it was going to hold the show at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Contracts were signed, and plans were in motion.
The news was released on October 1 during this year’s Toy Fair. It was the first such event since 2020 due to the pandemic. The decision was made after numerous Toy Association members requested in surveys, focus groups, and more that the show dates be moved up to mid-January, from the customary February time period to accommodate changing industry buying schedules. It was held in September this year to honor previous requests made by participants.
New York City and Toy Fair Synonymous
However, the Javits Center had a conflict with the proposed dates. Plus, other toy shows take place globally throughout the early and late parts of the month. Still, the announcement was met with an uproar from exhibitors and attendees alike. They had grown accustomed to the Big Apple. Angry emails and requests for conversations with the board and the Toy Association’s leadership ensued.
“I don’t know why they chose New Orleans, and I’m wondering what kind of deal they received,” said Stacey Reiner, president, of Remarkable Brands Inc. who has gone to the show for 29 years as both an attendee and exhibitor, and is New York City-based. “Other attendees and exhibitors are asking the same thing.” She noted too that airfare and travel would make going to the show in New Orleans a significantly more costly venture for her.
Show organizers were taken aback by the community’s skeptical and angry reaction since they were trying to accommodate members’ stated needs.
But, in the end, as Steve Pasierb, president and chief executive of the Toy Association described it, “Our members didn’t want to leave Mom’s house where they have Thanksgiving dinner. Human nature is hard to judge. We thought we had a good read on our base but that love/hate of New York City is very powerful.”
Shopping for a Place to Call Home
When the Toy Association board knew a date change was in order, it looked at several other destinations. But the show could only work in a handful of cities given the date requirements and its size. The Toy Show generally spans 445,817 net square feet, or “more than eight football fields full of toys,” Pasierb said, and draws just over 20,000 attendees from all 50 states and 100 countries.
It looked at Las Vegas, but the Consumer Electronics Show pretty much takes over in January. Orlando was also considered, but the dates just wouldn’t work. Other destinations were evaluated too.
The board was particularly impressed by New Orleans’ approach to the business, said Pasierb. “We’d talked to a lot of cities, and they were all good, but the New Orleans people were amazing. New Orleans & Co. (the city’s convention board) and the Convention Center were completely in sync. It’s a super strong bond.”
New Orleans & Co. took the loss in stride. In a statement to Skift, president and CEO Walt Leger III, said, “This unfortunate situation speaks to the complex nature of association meetings for both destination marketing organizations and their clients. We appreciate the Toy Fair’s word that their difficult decision was not a reflection of the organization’s nor their members’ feelings about New Orleans. We look forward to continuing a good partnership with the Toy Association and hope to be able to host some of their other events in New Orleans in the future.“
Javits Center officials declined to comment.
As for the takeaway, no one can say the Toy Association didn’t do its homework. Still, Pasierb said, “No matter how much research you do, you can still kind of miss it.” Also, he noted, with the event taking place for the first time last month in three years, people were feeling nostalgic. “Emotions are strong, and that’s an important lesson.”
Toy Fair will return to the Javits March 1-4, 2025. Plus, dates in February 2026 and beyond are in the works. The Toy Association is also looking at additional gatherings in Los Angeles next year.