Slow touring season, NHL strike are hot topics.

Two issues are top of mind for those in attendance at the International Assn. of Assembly Managers (IAAM) conference: a difficult touring environment and the looming National Hockey League work stoppage.

The 79th annual confab began here Friday and runs through tomorrow (July 27).

Both issues are causing consternation among arena managers. Summer concerts are drawing fewer attendees and smaller grosses than had been projected. Meanwhile, with salary negotiations threatening to derail the NHL season -- which is supposed to begin in September -- arenas are facing empty dates and a tentative environment.

The talent issue was addressed early on at a panel geared toward helping venues stay in the loop with booking agents. According to Scott Pang, agent with International Creative Management, buildings need to move fast if they are interested in bringing in an act. Venues, he said, "have to make a decision quickly. We're looking for an offer that comes in on a very timely basis, because managers are pressing us, record companies are pressing, and they want results."

Ray Shelide of Monterey Peninsula Artists suggested that arenas in secondary markets collaborate to offer agencies block booking opportunities.

In other news from the confab, officials say 1,075 attendees were registered, along with about 307 exhibitors, both on par with last year's figures.

Jimmy Earl, assistant GM of the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, is IAAM's incoming president, and midway throught the conference, he was pleased with how it was progressing.

"We compacted the schedule some this year, and I think it's working," he said. "We're trying to get more traffic in the trade show. We do listen to our exhibitors, and we made some fundamental changes in response."