SNEWS has learned that VNU, owner of both the annual Health & Fitness Business Expo and Conference (HF Biz) and Sporting Goods Business magazine (SGB), has entered into an agreement with SGB that prohibits all other fitness trade magazines from buying exhibit space at the upcoming August trade show.
This surprising news comes several months after Lance Camisasca, trade show director for HF Biz, announced in a formal press release to the trade on Nov. 22 that the trade show had reached an agreement with SGB to serve as the show's Official Fitness Trade Magazine and to publish the annual pre-show Health & Fitness Business Event Guide. Certainly nothing shocking about such a deal, and we reported it on Nov. 25 as a simple sponsorship agreement. Or so we thought.
Then, last week, both Sports Edge, the official publication of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association and published by Sporting Kid LLC, and GearTrendsÂ® magazine, published by SNEWS LLC, received notice from Camisasca announcing that the trade show was not allowing any fitness trade publication to exhibit as a result of the agreement with SGB. Other trade publications affected by the ban include Fitness Management, Club Industry, and SportsOneSource.
Interestingly, another trade magazine that covers the sports and fitness market, NSGA Retail Focus, published by the National Sporting Goods Association, does not seem at this point to be subject to the freeze -- nor would its specialty fitness newsletter -- because, according to Camisasca, "The NSGA exclusively endorses the Health and Fitness Expo and Conference and is working closely with our staff to bring us greater retail attendance, while providing aid in producing a more relative fitness conference."
In seeking clarification, SNEWS was told by Camisasca that the arrangement HF Biz made with SGB was not unusual and not unlike other sponsorship arrangements at other trade shows.
"All shows have exclusive sponsorships, which sometimes provide the exhibitor exclusivity in some identified areas. SGB's is magazine distribution. This isn't unprecedented," Camisasca wrote SNEWS in an email.
We spoke with representatives from the NSGA, The Super Show owned by SGMA, SIA, and even other VNU trade shows, and none could think of another example when competitors of a sponsoring exhibitor -- in this case, trade publication competitors of SGB -- were prevented from even buying exhibit space as the result of a sponsorship agreement.
Peter Haines, former Cybex CEO, and now trade show director for The Super Show even pointed out that, "In the fitness business, even competitive shows such as IHRSA and Club Industry allow the other to be an exhibitor because that is good for the industry."
NSGA's former trade show, the predecessor to the current Health & Fitness Expo, used to prohibit distribution of other trade magazines from bins and in common spaces, but they never prevented anyone from buying exhibit space, a representative told SNEWS.
SIA's president, David Ingemie, told SNEWS, "SIA would never entertain such a relationship or sponsorship deal because I don't think it is in the best interests of our show or our members."
SNEWS asked Mark Sullivan, publisher of SGB, for clarification on the magazine's position regarding this sponsorship deal and the apparent interpretation that his competitors were not allowed to exhibit. Sullivan told us he fully supports the agreement since SGB is paying royalties to the trade show and producing the trade show guide as part of the sponsorship. "They (the trade show) would like to bring more sporting goods retailers to the show and we have been trying to develop a stronger connection to the fitness market so this deal accomplishes mutual benefits and is a good thing."
Other than Sullivan and Camisasca, retailers, manufacturers, and other trade show organizers SNEWS spoke with said they found the deal limiting and potentially damaging to the industry.
"It's not necessarily in the best interests of retailers attending, but it's probably in the best interest of the show," says Jerry Greenspan, owner of Exercise Equipment Experts, a two-store fitness chain in Columbus, Ohio. "It's all about money and they've basically created a monopoly, and that's the sad part."
John Talley, regional sales manager for Advanced Exercise Equipment, a six-store chain based in Colorado spoke more broadly: "A trade show is an industry gathering, and it's good to get as many people there exhibiting as possible for a successful show. The whole meaning of a trade show is the educational experience and getting to know more about what's out there. I like to get as much information as I can."
Of course, this decision is not just about the availability of information. It is about possibly limiting a manufacturer's ability to present itself through advertising to show attendees, or forcing a manufacturer to advertise in the one trade show publication -- or not be seen in advertising at the show.
Scott Logan, director of marketing for SportsArt America, told SNEWS, "We think the decision by the trade show to exclude other publications is unfortunate because many, many manufacturers gear product launches and advertising campaigns with the timing of a trade show and use multiple outlets and sources to coordinate these product launches. Limiting distribution materials and magazines at the show inhibits and potentially stifles the exposure to the industry."
SNEWS View: Reading between the lines, we can guess this decision is about a VNU trade show where specialty retail attendance has not been growing as its organizers would like and where attendance by chain and full-line stores has been lacking. Tossing a bone to a VNU publication could be done with the hope that the publication can bring a brighter spotlight to the trade show among a larger audience and, as a result, attract more retail attendance from the chain store segment. More retail attendance will mean the possibility of more exhibitor attendance. It is of course exhibitor dollars that feed the trade show coffers. But do SGB and the HF Biz trade show staff honestly believe that by prohibiting other magazines from buying exhibit space that this will have any positive impact on the show itself?
Let's be very clear here: We are not taking issue with the Health & Fitness Business show organizer's decision to establish a sponsorship relationship with SGB. It is a natural and smart move. The Super Show recognized SGB as the official trade magazine of that show this year too, for very good reasons. It is a good magazine with a great staff that fully covers the entire sporting goods market. However, The Super Show did not bar other magazines from exhibiting or distributing.
Of course, even SGB has to realize that the belief in an exclusive position is a bit flawed. After all, what publication is going to attend the show and not hand out samples of its own magazine or newsletter in conversations in booths and in the aisles for exhibitors and retailers to see? Even exhibitors are likely to carry copies of other "banned" magazines in which their ads appear for controlled distribution within their own booths.
What we believe is absolutely at issue is that a VNU-owned trade show has decided to enter into a sponsorship agreement with another VNU-owned magazine that excludes all other magazines which are essentially competitors of the VNU-owned magazine, from buying a booth or otherwise having a presence at the VNU show other than in a reporting function.
Isn't the idea of holding a trade show that represents the industry -- or at least has the claim or holds the promise of representing the industry -- to ensure that the floor of that trade show is fully representative of the entire industry? Where the industry can also network, communicate within its community, gather a broad array of information, and be exposed to new ideas? That means manufacturers, reps, suppliers, distributors, and publications, all in one place, on one floor, at one time, for all retailers and other industry members to see, visit and learn from as they so choose. That's an industry gathering.