SGMA digs deep to analyze future of The Super Show

After a special board meeting of SGMA directors earlier this month, association leadership is hopping around the country and burning up the phone lines to discuss still-undisclosed recommendations and deals as it hurries to figure out what The Super Show -- or any other event or events the group decides to back -- can or should become.
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After a special board meeting of SGMA directors earlier this month, association leadership is hopping around the country and burning up the phone lines to discuss still-undisclosed recommendations and deals as it hurries to figure out what The Super Show -- or any other event or events the group decides to back -- can or should become.

"The meeting was the meeting, and we're moving forward," SGMA President Tom Cove told SNEWS®. "We're working diligently to address The Super Show challenge."

Most of the board was at the March 16 meeting, he said, and there was agreement about the recommendations presented. He declined to reveal details of the recommendations or any board vote. That's because any event or events the SGMA decides to move forward on could still take several paths, as discussed in past interviews and stories. (See SNEWS® Story, Jan. 24, 2005, "The Super Show up for major reassessment.")

"It's not at all clear which way we're going to go," he said. "But we're moving aggressively."

It's become increasingly clear in the last few years that The Super Show had been losing attendance, exhibitors and interest, and attempts to revitalize the 20th anniversary event in January were only partly successful. In the past, some options mentioned have included expanding the show into a broader event with conferences and company meetings, moving the time of the show to better accommodate various sports communities, moving it away from Orlando, co-locating the show with others in different parts of the country, or even doing more than one show or event at different times of the year.

Cove, SGMA president since Feb. 1, said only that the "hard decisions" had been made and now management needed to see how best to execute them.

Not that the concept of changes on a large scale are anything new. Cove has made it clear that everything about the association and the show would be put under the microscope for analysis. (See SNEWS® story, Dec. 13, 2004, "Changes ahead for the SGMA under incoming president Tom Cove.") He has, however, said that the association is "committed" to Orlando for the January 2006 show, although he added that he and the association were disappointed in the outcome of the 2005 show -- its second in Orlando after a move from Las Vegas, Nev.

The SGMA owns the show and its name. It has been managed since it began two decades ago by Stanley Schwartz and Hardy Katz, who run companies in Miami, Fla., called Communications & Show Management Inc. and Industry Publications Inc., which also operate a medical news and awards business, as well as the Florida franchise for a company that puts on events for business meeting and event planners called BiZBash. Profits over the years have been split between SGMA and the Schwartz/Katz business.

The beachfront, three-story, West Palm Beach former headquarters of the SGMA, which has moved to Washington, D.C., under Cove's new leadership, is on the market with an asking price of $2.2 million. The property, which has been significantly underused in recent years, was built under the pre-Riddle regime of Howard Bruns.

With its regular board meeting set for May 5 -- and the clock ticking loudly as the 2006 show bears down on the group -- the SGMA has said it should begin to have some announcements about its direction in May.

SNEWS® View: Although details haven't been revealed, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out possible scenarios for the group as well as some of the decisions with which it may be wrestling.

First, the wrestling match: Schwartz and Katz have a contract for managing the show, but they own no part of the name or the show itself. Since that is obviously a huge part of their business, it is likely imperative to them to keep it under their management roof. If the SGMA wants to move it elsewhere, drop certain segments (what do inflatable chairs and beer can coolers have to do with sports anyway?), co-locate it, or break it into smaller segments, there isn't a reason for the association to maintain the Schwartz/Katz contract.

But what would a show management business be without, well, a show? Nothing. So perhaps Schwartz and Katz would want to either start their own show or even buy some portion of The Super Show from the SGMA. An outright termination of the management contract would likely also bring penalties that the SGMA would have to pay, but that might be worthwhile to get the show the group wants, managed by its own staff, which could help rein in expenses. Both the SGMA and Stanley/Katz then wouldn't have to split profits -- even a show that makes less money, but without the need to hand part to somebody else, could make management smile. And since the SGMA owns the name, any show that Stanley and Katz take over would have to have a different name -- unless they then pay the SGMA a licensing fee to run another branch of it -- say, the collectibles, toys and licensed stuff -- which could become yet another revenue stream for the SGMA besides the one-time windfall from a Florida building.

Next, the possible scenarios: Co-location has come up numerous times in the past, and management has stressed the need to, one, try to bring fitness more strongly back into the fold and, two, make the core of any show's active or performance sports. In the fitness arena, there are basically four shows that could offer an opportunity -- Club Industry in the fall, Club Industry East in the early summer, Health & Fitness Business in late summer, and Athletic Business in late fall or early winter. None of the above has thrived and become huge, and several are barely holding their own. The problem may be timing, however. Any show the SGMA puts on is retail-oriented. Although Club Industry has talked about ways to bring in more retailers to its event as well as more retail suppliers, the fall event (usually October or November) is simply too late for fitness retailers. Its East event in early summer, however, could be a better timing option, but since the emphasis of retail and commercial businesses is different, it could be difficult to combine them in one hall. If separate, would suppliers be asked to pay for and staff TWO booths? That isn't likely to fly (Think about the former co-location of the Play It Again Sports show with Health & Fitness Business, with supplier staff running back and forth between the halls.)

Athletic Business is possible, but the timing again is all wrong and would have to move. The IHRSA club event is a strong show and conference that needs no help and won't likely want to split its power and profits with anybody else; neither would anybody else want to get near its timing (early spring) since it would be overrun by IHRSA. HFB surveys show that attendees aren't against an earlier show in late June or, best scenario, July, so that may offer the best courtship possibility. Still, attendees really like HFB's location in Denver, and any combination of shows could be too large for that city. Plus, the intimacy of a fitness-only show has been quite attractive. How would it fly if the show added, say, hockey or basketball? Not to say that additions of apparel, footwear or nutrition -- difficult segments for HFB to attract on its own -- wouldn't be a welcome expansion and one that would make the show even more attractive to sporting goods folks.

We know for a fact that no show at any time or in any city can make 21 sports segments happy, so the next scenario is to split up the show into two, placing them in opposite seasons and putting the sports in the show that are most appropriate for their retail season. That means a spring or summer show and perhaps a fall or winter show.

Think of the MAGIC show, a rockin' and rollin' apparel-focused show in February and August each year in Las Vegas (www.magiconline.com) that is more focused on fashion than performance on a whole. Fashion always brings out an extra bit of verve to shows. If the ispo show in Germany can manage to mix fashion and trends with outdoor, fitness and ski, why can't the SGMA? If an SGMA show co-located with MAGIC, perhaps even at both the February and August events, could it entice the HFB show to move there? Perhaps. Would the mix work with other segments? Perhaps. Could it re-enliven the SGMA event? Could be. Las Vegas WAS a popular venue for The Super Show.

Would any future events be called The Super Show? We hope not. It's time to let that name die a quiet death. When it was indeed "super," that was fine, but these days it's nothing but fodder for jokes since all super-ness has gone away. Plus, if the sport segments are split up, it just ain't "super" anymore.

We're sure these decisions are keeping Cove up at night -- when he's not eating airport food and racking up beaucoup airline miles. Not to say the decisions couldn't be a work in progress, but decisions must come soon if changes are to be made by 2007. They are even more pressing if the SGMA changes its mind -- also possible -- and tries to implement changes for 2006.

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