The Super Show fades to dark with slooooooow show

Both sides of the aisles at the last-ever Super Show were so empty that the atmosphere elicited head-shaking about the dismal end that the once behemoth and spectacular event had come to. Consider this: The Super Show, begun 21 years ago, was once the second-largest trade show in the United States, covering 2.2 million or so square feet of space in Atlanta, Ga., with an attendance that topped 100,000. From the show revenues, show owner SGMA reported in the mid-90s that it gave more than $4 million in grants in 1994 alone to a variety of sports interests.
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Both sides of the aisles at the last-ever Super Show were so empty that the atmosphere elicited head-shaking about the dismal end that the once behemoth and spectacular event had come to.

Consider this: The Super Show, begun 21 years ago, was once the second-largest trade show in the United States, covering 2.2 million or so square feet of space in Atlanta, Ga., with an attendance that topped 100,000. From the show revenues, show owner SGMA reported in the mid-90s that it gave more than $4 million in grants in 1994 alone to a variety of sports interests.

This year, it was a stretch to say the show covered 300,000 square feet -- not even a third of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., since some large swaths of that space were taken up by open areas for demos, such as racquet, board and scooter. There were close to 450 exhibiting companies. Attendees? Well, we were told that the number range of 20,000 to 25,000 had been "bandied about," but even those were likely padded a bit. Note that the first year in Orlando, numbers in the local press were touted as high as 80,000-plus (it was likely half that), although with the move to Orlando, the SGMA opted to decline to give out any numbers.

OK, so the show has been euthanized; however, painless it wasn't since the decline of the last few years -- especially since the move to Orlando three years ago -- was pitiful to watch. (See the Jan. 23, 2006, SNEWS® story, "The Super Show: Say good-night Gracie," for a few last words and thanks from SGMA President Tom Cove.)

Funny enough, that's not to say that exhibitors at the event in late January were twiddling their thumbs. Many had relatively full meeting schedules and set impromptu meetings with potential international distributors or other business partners who stopped by, some voicing enthusiasm for even the one or two deals that would make it all worthwhile. Nevertheless, new products, at least by established companies, were simply not to be found -- although SNEWS® didn't spend much time in the relatively busy kitsch and carnival area of collectibles and license since our readers don't have much interest in bobble heads and dart boards.

The press has often blamed the exit of Nike from the show in the late '80s as the sword that cut the show's carotid artery and led it to bleed out and, eventually, die. That's way too much credit to give the swoosh. There is much more that led to the Super Show's demise really, including the upswing in technology (Internet and email that enabled quicker and sometimes more efficient communication), the increasing speed of product development, the exponential growth in the cost to exhibit at or attend shows, the "niche-ing" if you will of the sporting goods industry that birthed specialty shows, and the difficulty of finding one week a year that all categories could agree on as a great one for a show. Of course, it didn't help that the industry, both retailers to manufacturers, began to consolidate, leaving fewer buyers and more that simply didn't find a show necessary, for the above reasons.

"None of our large accounts are here," said Corey Cornacchio, sales director for Polar heart rate monitors, who has been to 10-plus shows with Polar and more before that in a previous role with Reebok. "They don't seem to be coming. It's become a necessity rather than something you looked forward to. It's not something The Super Show has done. It's the nature of business."

In the fitness area, it was possible to count on one hand the companies in attendance, most of which had considered pulling from the show but stuck it out (some downsized) for the sake of a few meetings. Fitness equipment companies included Horizon and Fitness Master, as well as Polar, Spri, Sportline, Tanita and Everlast, with a few other accessory and yoga companies filling out the short roster. Continuing Fitness, which debuted at the Health & Fitness Expo in Denver in August 2005, didn't show for its booth space. A number of other companies sent representatives that were seen walking the aisles. Several told SNEWS® they had a few meetings set up although they weren't exhibiting.

"We miss the good ol' days," said Craig Lerner, marketing director for Spri Products, "but it was important for us to be here with our brand. We've had a few but very meaningful meetings."

The little, brand-new, one-product companies were the ones that had a lot to gain if the right retailer or distributor contact drifted by. A few "sporting goodsy" types wondered aloud to SNEWS® where they would go without this one show.

In memoriam then, here is what we saw that was new or relatively new that had some relationship to fitness:

Accusplit pedometers showed a sleek new "executive" type model that will retail for between $20 and $30 and be at retail in April. The front cover -- the part that shows -- is either a silver, gold or gun metal color and the model itself is about a quarter-inch thin for easier wearing with business clothes.

Horizon Fitness showed for the first time its WT950 treadmill that connects wirelessly to a pedometer, although it has been at sporting goods stores since early winter.

Fitness Master had its indoor cycle, which was introduced at the Athletic Business conference in December. The belt-driven Velocity has a list price of $900.

Lace Stick sorta looks like a skinny Chapstick with a top that doesn't come off but a hole through one end. Pull your shoelaces back and forth through the hole to coat them with a silicon-like material and the claims are they won't come untied. Around for nearly a decade, the inventor was a frustrated runner. A new owner-investor is working on marketing and packaging to bring the product to the world, so to speak. We're not sure this isn't an answer without a question since it costs about $5 and you could actually just double-tie or knot laces, BUT for dress shoes -- where that isn't possible -- it could be a neat trick. www.lacestick.com

Sportline has evolved itself from a stopwatch and pedometer company to an all-things-walking company, introducing its new line of packaging called "Walking Advantage by Sportline." Yeah, OK, so we loved the kid's pedometer that's a Sponge Bob. To come is one that talks -- recorded by the real actor who does the voice of Sponge Bob on TV. Cool.

Sweat Hog is sort of a glove without palm. No, really, and the mom-and-pop owners were ecstatic with the contacts and potential sales. Basically, imagine a fingerless glove that's made of a terry cloth towel without a palm. It stays on your hand using little loops on your fingers. For golfing, gardening, walking or whenever you may need to mop up some sweat and don't have a towel handy. Retail is expected to be about $9 or $10.

Swing Gym (www.swinggym.com) used the show as its company launch for its, well, swing that it called a gym with the motto "rock your body fit." It basically looked like a skinny and shorter porch swing with a seat, but it also added metal arms you held onto to push yourself back and forth for the fitness part. Basically, this is just begging for QVC and TV infomercials with claims of "burn calories, lower body fat and increase muscle tone, all while sitting down." So far, founders have a list price of $350.

Tanita, known for its sleek body fat and body fluid scale/monitors, had a couple of new models under the Ironman brand that were simply sleeker looking (glass with built-in electrodes) or had memory (so you could compare your last measurement with a current one). Retails will be $100 to $130.

And one last product note: Jelly Belly was showing and giving out its "Sport Beans," which are Jelly Bellys with electrolytes in 100-calorie packages (about the number of calories per package of most sport gels). Each tasty little package has 60 milligrams each of sodium and potassium. With the low Super Show attendance, the women in the booth had tons of samples and were pushing passers-by to take a handful.

 

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