The names have changed - the former International Assn. of Assembly Managers is now the International Assn. of Venue Managers, and its annual conference and trade show is now VenueConnect - but the motivations to attend remain the same for this 87th gathering of public assembly venue managers, who this year will gather July 21-24 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Companies with venue products and services put them in front of the building folks, and the building folks come to shop and "connect" with each other.

Allen Johnson, executive director of venues for the City of Orlando in Florida, will be attending his 15th consecutive IAVM conference, and finds the gathering a good barometer for market conditions. "I look forward to visiting with my colleagues and finding out how business is around the country," he says. "I have found the training and education opportunities have continued to improve, and I always leave energized, informed and ready to bring those ideas back to our team."

Today's independent concert promoters often have a national profile, which prompts Dan Steinberg, president of Square Peg Concerts in Auburn, Wash., to make the trip.

"IAVM is an amazing chance to meet with venue management from around the country and find out who truly wants to cut a great deal and do business," Steinberg says. "It helps develop relationships that lead to new and additional business."

VenueConnect attendees frequently attend affiliated with one building or company one year and wearing another hat the next. Brock Jones was VP of booking for Nashville's Bridgestone Arena at the 2011 conference and this year is VP of bookings for Philadelphia-based venue management firm Global Spectrum.

"My new role requires me to take a strategic view of our industry, [to see] how I can assist my venues in growing their event content and not simply focus upon a single arena," Jones says. "It is not practical to expect a GM to successfully focus on the day-to-day operation of a successful venue while staying aware of all the event opportunities which potentially exist. Further, it's helpful to agents to have a contact who can obtain timely responses regarding multiple venues."

Meanwhile, Bridgestone VP of booking David Kells will attend in the role Jones held a year ago. "As a new member of IAVM, it will be a good opportunity to better understand the organization, how it serves our industry and its members," he says.

Facility management firm SMG operates host venue the Broward/Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, and SMG senior VP of sports and entertainment Jim McCue says, "We'll be there in full force, including our convention, sports and entertainment executives. Our Savor culinary team will also be cooking and serving right from our booth at VenueConnect."

Secondary-market venues attend seeking content from the major entertainment producers who attend. Todd Hunt, executive director of BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Miss., says that "spending time with agents and promoters selling the virtues of Tupelo" is on his to-do list, as it is for Matt McDonnell for his buildings further south. "VenueConnect allows me to get with most of my family show promoters, and I get to see the latest innovations for facilities," says McDonnell, assistant executive director of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, Miss.

Ticketing companies are generally at the trade show in abundance, including market leader Ticketmaster.

"IAVM is, more than anything, an opportunity for us to connect with customers from across the country all in one place at one time," Ticketmaster COO Jared Smith says. "We love the opportunity to get feedback, share ideas and tell them a little bit about what we've got coming down the pike."

Consortiums within the venue community also find the conference valuable in getting member buildings together. ArenaNetwork CEO Ed Rubinstein says that he and new VP of entertainment Tina Suca are going because "it is a great opportunity for us to meet face to face with our members. VenueConnect, the Arena Managers Conference and, of course, the Billboard Touring Conference facilitate the personal interaction that is so important in our business."

Similarly, Jeff Apregan, president of Apregan Entertainment Group, president of the Venue Coalition and executive director of the Gridiron Stadium Network, says, "VenueConnect is just that: a great way for us to connect with many of our Venue Coalition members in one location."••••