Cigar Coop presents a full “Post-Game Report” assessing the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Convention and Trade Show for the eighth consecutive time. In this report, I analyze this year’s Trade Show.
This year I again published five daily post–game recaps during the Trade Show. These were intended to be short daily recaps of the Trade Show. Today I present a more detailed “post-game analysis” of the show. I’ve done some recap shows, but there are things I saved exclusively for this report as well.
If you follow the cigar industry, there is no bigger drama than the annual PCA Trade Show. There are plenty who have an opinion on it. Those who make sure to tell you they don’t care about the PCA Trade Show are sometimes the ones most commenting on it. This drama justifies a detailed article. The topics are not in a particular order but were arranged somewhat for a logical flow.
This won’t put a close to the Cigar Coop 2023 PCA coverage. We still have more of our product-centric coverage and company reports coming out throughout August.
Finally, the thoughts of this article are the thoughts of this author and this author alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other members of the Cigar Coop team.
And in my opinion, this was a very positive Trade Show overall.
The Restructuring of the Opening Day
This was a big win for the PCA. If you didn’t attend or don’t remember, these were the activities for Day One. Here are my notes on each of the activities.
- Cigar Docuseries Premiere: Hand Rolled: J.C. Newman Cigar Company: From what I understand, this was still a raw cut, but it was extremely well-received. I thought this was an excellent segment and learned a lot. Most importantly, as the first official activity of PCA, it set a positive vibe that carried to the rest of the show.
- The World of Fire Cured Tobacco – Discover the Passion Behind Toscano Cigars: This also had positive feedback. It provided an excellent overview of Toscano, who they are, what they do, etc. I also enjoyed it and found it educational.
- Blending Seminar Triple Threat: Manuel Quesada (who substituted for Ernesto Perez-Carrillo), Christian Eiroa, and Nestor Plasencia Jr.: It didn’t quite have the buzz of Fuente Friday in 2022, but it still was very well received. My feedback is the same – I enjoyed it and learned from it.
- Premium Cigar Association Annual Meeting: The move from the morning before the Trade Show opens to the day before the Trade Show opens worked well. The PCA did an excellent job at moving the business of the meeting along. At the meeting came the official word on 2025’s Trade Show moving to New Orleans. I’ll cover that in a separate section of this report.
- Keynote: Oz Pearlman: This I did not attend. I didn’t hear much of anything positive or negative about it, so I cannot add anything here.
- Opening Party: This was extremely well-attended. The open bar was a plus. The big complaint was the long lines to get cigars and the line to meet Guy Fieri. The lines could have easily been mitigated with some better organization. If you go to Smoke Inn’s The Great Smoke, they do a great job managing the lines for an equally large crowd. This is a solvable problem for the future.
Now for some more general notes on Day 1:
- There were cigars provided for the Docuseries (The American), Toscano (Master Aged Cigars), and the Triple Threat Seminar (a preview of the Plasencia Cosecha 151), and cigars and accessories from the four Opening Party sponsors. This was an outstanding job by the PCA and the sponsors.
- I liked the fact everything was in one location in the convention hall. I just hated the industrial feel of the convention hall.
- I liked the fact there were multiple sponsors for the opening party. They need to do a better job at more seating and, of course, solve the problem of the lines.
- I still think Day 1 could succeed without investing in a keynote speaker.
- Registration has also been quite a smooth process for the Trade Show.
Overall, I love the direction PCA has taken with the activities before the Trade Show opens. Improvements can be made, and this could even be better in the future.
Reaction to the change to the Spring in 2024 and move to New Orleans in 2025
The PCA Trade Show will see big changes in 2024 and 2025. The 2023 PCA Trade Show marked the last one in the summer and in the Venetian Expo Center for the foreseeable future. The 2024 PCA Trade Show moves to March 2024 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. In 2025 the Convention will remain in the spring but will occur in New Orleans.
The reaction at the Annual Meeting summarized it all. When Executive Director Scott Pearce reiterated the 2024 Show was moving to the spring, it was met with applause. When Pearce announced New Orleans in 2025, there weren’t boos, but there was no applause. I commend the attendees at the meeting for not booing, but these reactions give a good temperature for what’s ahead in 2024 and 2025. People are happy about the move to the spring and indifferent about the move to New Orleans.
When the press release was issued announcing the 2025 show will take place in New Orleans, PCA said:
After conducting several member surveys, it became clear that New Orleans was a top choice for a future trade show. It has been several years since PCA held its trade show in the Big Easy, the last being in 2015. The PCA has worked closely with the state of New Orleans to make this happen, and the city has been very accommodating in ensuring PCA and its members will feel welcome during their stay. PCA would like to thank and acknowledge New Orleans & Company, the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, for being great during this selection process.
I know PCA did several surveys, but with my ear to the ground, I cannot say the people are doing handstands for New Orleans. I understand that PCA did not have a Las Vegas option for spring 2025. Thus New Orleans became a choice among very few options. I have been impressed by the job Pearce and his team have done, so I have confidence they will do their best to make New Orleans a memorable experience.
One final note: the 2025 PCA Trade Show will be right up against the French Quarter Festival, a celebration that attracts nearly 900,000 people.
The BCA Pavilion Can Be Considered a Success
As many know, the Boutique Cigar Association (BCA) was present at this year’s Premium Cigar Association Trade Show.
Prior to the 2023 PCA Trade Show, I wrote:
What I will say is I think you have to consider the concept to be a success. To answer my question, “They did come,” – and while I have no way of quantifying the level of success (i.e., sales), I think these companies did succeed in creating brand awareness. Throughout the four days, I saw a fair amount of foot traffic in the booth – which is encouraging.
Now imagine if these companies created more awareness of their products. The results would have even been better.
The Return of Two of the Big Four Can Be Considered a Success
Every year since 2018, I select one company I think will be “The Company of the Trade Show.” This year I chose two of the Big Four companies: Altadis USA and Scandinavian Tobacco Group (STG). These were the two booths our team spent the most time in. This is due to heavy traffic and multiple “stations” to be covered in the booth.
In Charlie Minato’s editorial in Halfwheel, he disagreed with selecting these two companies as my picks. He points out the lack of a “wow” factor with the products. From that perspective, he makes some valid points. Both booths had compelling products being showcased. In this author’s opinion (and some of the Coop Coalition team), the Montecristo 1935 Anniversary Edición Diamante had the wow factor. Quite a few attendees asked me if I had tried it and what I knew about it. Some will debate that since this product had a soft launch before PCA, it doesn’t count as new. However, it was the featured product and made an impression on many.
I’ll say it here again. The fact that many iconic brands are now returning to the big stage of the PCA Trade Show still matters. Retailers know these brands have a good track record. Many retailers are simply not getting excited about bringing in uber-limited products or small-batch products that don’t have a long lifespan. Maybe Altadis and Forged weren’t the sexiest picks, but I would still say they were solid picks. I’m happy with these picks because of a good amount of booth traffic.
What Other Companies Had a Wow Factor?
A fair question is whether there were other companies with a “wow” factor. Three companies stand out to me.
Perdomo knocked it out of the park with the Perdomo 30th Anniversary line. The packaging was stellar, and while I haven’t tried the cigars, I talked to enough people I trust to know the cigars delivered. This was my pick for the most impactful cigar at the Trade Show. Not only do I think it was the most impactful cigar, but it put the Perdomo booth to the next level. This new line delivered a “wow” factor for Perdomo as a company. This line will be a flagship line for many years to come – and it got off to a heck of a start at this year’s Trade Show.
The second company is My Father Cigars. Most of the releases were on the limited edition side. The Don Pepin Garcia 20th Anniversary releases looked spectacular, and if one thinks the My Father/Tatuaje collaboration La Union didn’t deliver a wow factor, I don’t know what did.
Finally, Nelson Alfonso’s Selected Tobacco deserves consideration. While things such as the Alfonso Gran Selección and Atabey Complete Selection Limited Edition Humidor were previously showcased last year, these products are now available. The excellent track record, the exquisite packaging, and the performance cigars with Selected Tobacco are impressive.
Guy Fieri, Year Two
Once again, Guy Fieri was a part of the 2023 Premium Cigar Association Trade Show.
Last year most of Fieri’s time was spent at the Espinosa booth. While he was at the Espinosa booth this year, he also was present at the opening day party. This, in turn, led to some of the big lines the night before. The next day, the Espinosa crew took Fieri on a walking tour of the Trade Show, where he visited other manufacturers.
I’ve talked to Guy Fieri twice (once at last year’s show and once on KMA Talk Radio). Both times he seemed pretty energized about the PCA Trade Show itself.
Give Espinosa Cigars and Fieri a lot of credit. It would have been easy for Fieri to stay in the Espinosa booth the whole time, but he moved around. This allowed Fieri to mingle with more show attendees and industry people. This was, again, a job well done.
The Bar Luca Fiasco
Somehow, Bar Luca always finds a way into my post-game reports, and I admit I ask myself why each year. This year except for being there on July 4, I spent no time at what has become the cigar industry’s favorite watering hole at the PCA Trade Show.
There were two major complaints I heard this year about Bar Luca. First, the Venetian/Palazzo was quite upset about the overflow into the casino aisles of the crowd from Bar Luca. This was nothing new; I’ve seen and heard this before in previous years (the photo above is from 2022). This year I’ve heard from numerous attendees that security was more forward in terms of trying to clear the isles. Second, Bar Luca imposed minimal purchases for anyone sitting at a table. I’ve heard conflicting reports of up to $150.00 per person. Again, Bar Luca had minimums last year, but it was a $50.00 limit. When I was there on July 4, I did know about the minimums, but it also wasn’t crowded. The funny thing is everyone who told me about these things was there every night – either paying the minimum or standing in the aisles.
Bar Luca is not part of the agenda at the PCA Trade Show, but it is a popular spot. Based on the relationship coming to an end between PCA and the Venetian, there probably was nothing the PCA could do to alleviate the Bar Luca situation. The PCA has tried to organize nighttime activities at various places through “PCA After Dark” and did hear some positives about it. But the fact remains many attendees and industry people were drawn to Bar Luca.
The changes coming in 2024 and 2025 will probably end Bar Luca as the evening epicenter for the cigar industry nightlife. I’m not sure what the PCA has planned. Still, ideally, if they can get an evening host lounge near the Las Vegas Convention Center in 2024 or somewhere near the convention area in New Orleans in 2025, then perhaps this will alleviate a Bar Luca situation like this from occurring again.
While I am sad to see the Convention leave the Venetian property, I’m happy I don’t have to write about Bar Luca next year.
Please Put the CRA Meeting on the PCA Schedule
For the past few years, on the final hour of either the second or third day, there has been a meeting on the Trade Show floor in an attempt to raise funds for Cigar Rights of America. Upfront, I applaud this move, and I think our industry trade show is a great forum to do this stuff. The meeting has taken place in the Rocky Patel Premium Cigars booth. It’s not a closed meeting, but many key stakeholders and industry personalities go there.
The problem is that this meeting has not been put on the PCA Schedule. It causes difficulties for retailers, media, and manufacturers to keep appointments that have been made. If a time had been announced at least a few days before the show started, all parties could have managed their plans accordingly. Carlito Fuente gave a passionate speech this year, something he is known for. Having as many people as possible there to see this would have been a great opportunity.
It might have also been better to do this meeting once business for the Trade Show closes, but I also understand trying to make sure people attend before they leave the trade show floor. This meeting deserves to be a formal part of the Trade Show agenda – and there is no reason why it can’t be.
The PCA Exclusive Series Generates Little Buzz
While I know the PCA Exclusive Series is something the PCA really wants to get behind, the program seems stuck in neutral gear.
For those who don’t know, PCA Exclusive Cigars are offered to retailers who attend the PCA Trade Show. The idea is it’s meant to be an incentive to get retailers to go to the show. The concept was modeled after the Tobacconists Association of America (TAA) program that offers exclusive cigars to its retail members.
Earlier this year, I noted that the TAA Exclusive Program lacked excitement. Unfortunately, the PCA Program seems to be also lacking in that area. As I pointed out during the PCA Pre-Game Series, the PCA Exclusives aren’t being announced early enough to attract attendees to the Trade Show, and very few of the products being branded as PCA Exclusives have no “wow” factor. It’s even confusing as to what exactly is a PCA Exclusive. Here is what I said:
One thing that is blurry is the distinction between PCA Show Exclusives and the PCA Exclusive Series. Technically any company could offer a cigar exclusively to show attendees – and do it on their own terms. This is what I term PCA Show Exclusives. As for the PCA Exclusive Series, these are also cigars offered exclusively to show attendees, but these are cigars promoted by the PCA.
I like the idea of the PCA promoting a series of cigars, and I like it as an incentive to bring people to the Trade Show. The PCA certainly did its job of promoting the cigars. The problem is that the incentive needs to be offered much earlier than it was. Many of the PCA Exclusives weren’t announced until late June. I contend these cigars need to be offered 60 to 90 days prior to the Trade Show. I believe the PCA did its part, putting a framework in place for the Exclusive Series. Now it’s up to the manufacturers to step up and work with the PCA to get the word out.
I also think the manufacturers need to create more of a “wow” factor with PCA Exclusives. I believe C.L.E. Cigar Company has done the best job this year in announcing innovative blends with the Eiroa PCA Exclusive and C.L.E. PCA Exclusive this year. Luciano Cigars has a cigar with Turkish tobacco – which is unique. However, as a whole, I can’t get excited about a new size of an existing blend as a PCA Exclusive.
I was hoping there would be a better definition for the PCA Exclusive Series. I also was hoping that by Year 3 (this year) companies could announce their PCA Exclusive products in ample time, but that has not been the case. Finally, there seems to be no progress in terms of having a set of truly innovative products making up the PCA Exclusives.
My conclusion. PCA has made an admirable attempt to build a framework, but it’s like herding cats. My advice is for the PCA to encourage companies to do PCA Exclusives but put the burden on the companies to market their own PCA Exclusives.
Attendance vs. Foot Traffic -2023 Edition
For the past four trade shows, here is the tale of the tape…..
|Retailer Attendees (Badges)||2156||2036||1622||2085|
Here is the good news. The numbers for the 2023 show in terms of retailer badges and the number of exhibitors are up and back to pre-pandemic numbers.
The numbers don’t tell the story of foot traffic – namely, how many of those people are on the show at a particular moment in time. As we have seen almost every year since 2019, foot traffic has dropped the last two days. Foot traffic is not something that can be quantified, but it’s more of a gut feel. This year many people were gone by the morning of the last day.
This led the PCA to pull the plug on the final day going forward—more on that following this section.
Punting on the Final Half Day
Once again, the final half day of the Premium Cigar Association was a ghost town in terms of foot traffic. The first hour of the last day, from 9am to 10am, reminded me of the emptiness of the 2019 PCA Trade Show. It’s not a good look. Earlier this year, the PCA eliminated the final half day beginning in 2024. Based on how empty the Trade Show has been on the last day of the past four trade shows, I think punting has been the right choice.
What surprised me was how low key the PCA was about this. There wasn’t an announcement about it. The fact this final day was eliminated could be inferred from the 2024 dates. The PCA hasn’t talked much publicly about this change, and I’m perplexed why. They could easily have promoted the fact they have streamlined the show. Even more interesting as I walked the Trade Show floors was how few manufacturers and retailers had no clue this change was coming in 2024.
Most manufacturers seemed to welcome the change. Probably the group that is impacted the most is Cigar Media – as we will be losing four hours of coverage. When one small manufacturer told me how happy with the change they were, I responded that the company that person works for might not get coverage simply because the media will have less time. The response I got from that manufacturer was, “Well, that’s not a good idea.” The bottom line is media can’t squeeze blood from a stone in terms of having reduced hours to cover.
This did come up at the media press conference, and PCA is aware of the problem this presents for the media. One suggested solution was media access to the same time as the manufacturers get at the Trade Show (two hours before the official start and one hour before VIPs and the current time for media).
The Behavior of Some Media Surfaces Again
At this year’s PCA Trade Show Media Press Conference, Scott Pearce informed the attendees that there were complaints of the media interfering with business at the Trade Show. He also mentioned that the media in attendance at the conference was not the center of the problem. It should be noted that the media press conference was only open to credentialed media.
This argument comes up every year and is the same thing every year. The root causes are 1) Lack of a process to issue media credentials; 2) Access to non-media badges is too easy.
Many of us have said that accreditation is an issue PCA must tackle. Each time it’s suggested, the can gets kicked, and nothing gets done. It’s been recommended that the media police themselves, but I don’t subscribe to that. Media members should not be determining which of their competitors should get in. It’s PCA’s show.
As far as getting badges go, it’s too easy to circumvent the process of getting badges. One thing most companies who exhibit at PCA don’t have a shortage of is extra badges. The PCA can devise policing methods to ensure media has a media badge, but I think it would be too complicated to implement. The root cause of this problem is companies have too many badges to share for free. It’s simple – reduce the amount of badges a company has. If they are short of badges, allow them to request what they need, but also make them submit a legitimate business justification for why a particular person needs a badge.
On a side note, I heard several people with media credentials complain about paying for a badge. This is another debate. As I have said in the past, I have no problem supporting the PCA with a financial component to the dues. The reason the media pays PCA dues is for the Trade Show. In 2020, Cigar Coop paid its media dues even though there wasn’t a Trade Show. However, the fact that there is a path to bypass getting a media badge and getting in for free does bring some legitimacy to the argument over why media is paying.
Evaluating the Media Coverage
Every year I get questioned why I spend time in the Post-Game Report on Cigar Media. My explanation is straightforward. I’m in the media business, and this is the most crucial event in the cigar industry that Cigar Media covers.
There are two observations I have had the past few years in regards to Cigar Media at the Trade Show; 1) It has focused too much on personality coverage as opposed to product coverage; 2) There is a lot less written coverage. These two observations were valid. There is another observation this year – I believe there were fewer media outlets at this year’s Trade Show. I didn’t ask how many media badges were issued, but I don’t think that matters. It is also important to note that some media does not deliver much content from the Trade Show floor.
A big miss from Cigar Media was My Father Cigars. While I understand they had a lot of limited edition products, they had some exciting stuff. Most cigar media didn’t do justice to the My Father/Tatuaje collaboration “La Union.” I saw some of these media outlets cover Tatuaje with no mention of La Union. I’ve also said there is not enough coverage of Oliva by the cigar media – unfortunately, this was the case again.
Finally, I did see an increase in TikTok and Instagram Reel content from Cigar Media. While I get this is the direction a lot of media content is going in, I hate to see this replace much of the traditional coverage we have seen over the years from the cigar media.
Growing the Trade Show
As mentioned above, the PCA has returned its attendance (badge) numbers to pre-pandemic numbers. The PCA has weathered a challenging three years dealing with: COVID-19 (which cancelled the 2020 show), the aftereffects of the CigarCon mess, the Big Four pulling out of the Trade Show, and the furloughing of the PCA Staff. The good news is that we appear past the worst of COVID-19, people aren’t mentioning CigarCon, three of the Big Four will be back next year, and the PCA has built its staff back.
This past year has seen positive steps taken by the PCA to improve the show in terms of pre-trade Show “Day 1” activities, booth layout, and overall flow of the Trade Show. Now the PCA needs to grow this over the next couple of years, but this will be quite challenging. Some retailers may opt to sit out 2024 as they don’t want to do heavy purchasing eight months later, and many are not thrilled with the move to New Orleans. Unfortunately, I can’t see these challenges not having an effect, so this could be a tough road ahead for PCA to take a big step in growth.
A Message to Some Exhibitors…
Each year Cigar Coop has strived to deliver high-quality coverage of the Premium Cigar Association (PCA) Trade Show. This costs considerable time and effort for the four Coalition team members. I was incredibly proud of our team this year, and I felt we delivered the best coverage in my 13 years covering the show.
That said, we cannot get to every booth at the Trade Show. This is not meant to exclude anyone. We have a finite amount of time. Yes, we have to prioritize companies based on a variety of factors. That is reality. This problem will worsen next year when there will be one less half day of the Show.
Unfortunately, this seems to have been a sore spot for a small group of companies. Several media outlets, including Cigar Coop, have gotten complaints publicly and privately when we didn’t visit a booth – or didn’t mention them on a recap show. Some of this has even been leveled at members of my team, and in some cases, it has been unprofessional.
What is even more unfortunate is we constantly reach out to companies and encourage them to work with us 365 days a year, not four days a year. We offer opportunities to get coverage for their products and company news well before the PCA Trade Show and even after the PCA Trade Show. We offer a Virtual Trade Expo to discuss their products before the Trade Show. In some cases, we have done post-Trade Show Zoom recordings to provide coverage when we missed a booth. In a nutshell, I’m sorry if we can’t get to your booth. But if you are complaining you can’t get coverage on Cigar Coop during PCA season, you’re mistaken.
Complaining about not getting mentioned or invited to a recap show is just pettiness, especially when we have invested valuable time covering your booth or company in other ways. If you are an exhibitor who feels like this – the ball is in your court.
Photo Credits: Cigar Coop