New York's Toy Fair has traditionally been an adult-only event. But for 2016, organizers are adding an event for kids and their families.
Courtesy of Toy Industry Association
By John Kell
September 18, 2015

Every year in the depths of winter, in what often feels like the coldest week of the season, toy buyers, retailers, reporters and industry experts descend on Javits Center in New York City to see the latest toys made by Mattel, Lego and over 1,000 other companies. Ironically enough, the building filed with new toys –what some kids would likely describe as the happiest place on Earth – has a strict no-children policy. That is, anyone under the age of 18 are not allowed.

It’s one of the strangest aspects of the four-day event, held in February, where some 30,000 industry professionals – often in suits, dresses and other business attire – stand around and chat about Barbies, Transformers, Star Wars figures, and Lego bricks. Tons of toys on display with no children around to enjoy them. “The truth is, a child would be very bored at a toy fair because it is very b-to-b [business-to-business],” says Marian Bossard, senior vice president Global Market Events for the Toy Industry Association, the event’s coordinator.

The event is a place for roughly 1,200 toy manufacturers to connect with retail buyers to place orders, as well as get some critical feedback on toy prototypes. They can also generate some early media buzz for toys due to hit shelves in the months leading up to the holiday season.

That got the Toy Industry Association, also known as TIA, thinking. Why not invite kids and families to enjoy some of the fun?

Next year, for the first time in the event’s 113-year history, TIA is carving out some space at Javits for an inaugural event it is calling “Play Fair.” Lego, Viacom’s (VIAB) Nickelodeon, and other toy and media companies are busy planning Comic Con-esque reveals for real consumers, a separate chance to connect with the people who will buy the products from retail shelves. TIA is hoping those toy makers will reveal new toys for 2016, as well as showcase stage performances and other goodies more synonymous to the massive events staged by the comic book industry.

“We won’t open up Toy Fair,” Bossard told Fortune, pointing out the traditional sales floor filled with corporate booths will remain a separate event. “But as time has gone by, [toy makers] need engagement with their end user: the child and their family.”

Part of what inspired the TIA to work with event organizer LeftField Media is the power of social media. Because consumers can now generate buzz on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter in ways that could never be done before, an argument can be made that even tiny kids can be big influencers.

“Retail is important and media is important,” said Greg Topalian, president of LeftField Media, “But thanks to social media, the consumer has a greater influence today than five years ago.”

The goal for the first year is to invite around 25,000 people to Play Fair, which organizers say is an event that should sell out. Tickets cost $30 apiece, though there are discounts for larger families.

Bossard said Play Fair is conceptualized as matching the fantasy that people have in their minds when they hear about Toy Fair, which is essentially, a business networking event for a $84 billion global toy industry.

“I’ve broken a lot of hearts at the front of Toy Fair,” Bossard said. “I am tired of breaking hearts.”

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