The Super Show mellow, but still productive

In its last hurrah on the West Coast for at least three years, The Super Show in Las Vegas last week seemed to have steadied itself from its precipitous fall from glory of late, leaving many fitness and sports exhibitors and attendees saying they'd be back next year.
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In its last hurrah on the West Coast for at least three years, The Super Show in Las Vegas last week seemed to have steadied itself from its precipitous fall from glory of late, leaving many fitness and sports exhibitors and attendees saying they'd be back next year.

"The show was actually very strong for Horizon," President Bob Whip told SNEWS. "It was more quality of meetings versus the quantity, since we didn't expect a lot of non-appointment traffic. I'd say this was our best Super Show in terms of momentum coming out of the show. So we'll be back when the show moves to Orlando."

This doesn't mean that the show was pumping like it was in the old days where the parties, celebrity appearances and energy made it a must-be, must-see, must-go. No, no, not that at all (although SNEWS did notice lines of people camping out for autographs for some team sports celebs). The biggest reminders of that era were, one, the Under Armour bash at MGM Grand Hotel's Studio 54 on Monday that didn't even start til 10 p.m., and, two, the Fitness Quest booth that had nearly non-stop dance shows to a Latin beat that keep attendees google-eyed watching bare and gyrating pierced belly buttons on tanned, svelte bodies.

Granted, SNEWS focused on its categories of interest (fitness, cross-training, outdoor, and related accessories, clothing and footwear), so we didn't see all that was going on in the humongous and still-growing areas at the show that include licensed, imprints, trading cards, collectibles, team sports, bowling, billiards, darts and awards (how many NFL logo'd bar stool covers does a world need?). In fact, take a look at a show hall map and it's easy to see that these areas have all but cannibalized others, taking over nearly three-fourths of the entire expo area. Of course, none of that includes the newly unveiled World of Sports Innovation, about which SNEWS wrote last week (a great idea with superior highlights that needs a bit of refinement to work better).

Show numbers to remain under wraps

Numbers? Well, we can't tell you exhibitor numbers, booth spaces or booths because it's going to remain a big secret, we were told. It seems show-owner SGMA has decided it won't release these figures from now on, but instead will only discuss total square footage, which also wasn't available as of our deadline. Mike May, SGMA spokesman, did tell SNEWS that attendance was about 5 percent ahead of last year on Day 1, but we have nothing to back that up to vouch for its accuracy. Show Director Peter Haines also told us that total exhibitors in the regular show plus participants in the World of Sports Innovation (WOSI) took the total show exhibitor numbers up about 8 percent over last year. But with WOSI tossed in, that seems a little like comparing apples to oranges and there are no figures given to back those up either -- also because of the SGMA mandate. Another non-verifiable percentage for your brain: Buyer registration was ahead of last year by a single-digit margin.

We won't make a negative conclusion about show success based on this lack of information because we did hear mostly positive (not gushing, mind you, but positive) feedback, but wouldn't it be nice to have a few numbers? And if management won't divulge them, then one can't help but question how good said numbers are.

What we did hear is that international attendance still drives this show and keeps companies coming back to set up their 10-x-10s. "That alone is well worth it," said Diamondback's Kevin Huels.

And the lack of bustling and jammed aisles is an advantage to some. For example, Joe Alter of Smooth Fitness wasn't the only one to tell SNEWS that the moderate pace allowed him to spend more time with dealers. "This is a nice show because it gives you time to spend with your customers. It's not so fast," said Alter, who added that his new line of Evo equipment was jumping.

A few product and company high points

New products on the regular show floor in fitness, workout and related areas weren't leaping out at you in every aisle. In fact, the likes of Hoist and Nautilus were showing what had been introduced in August. But there were a few highlights ... if you poked your nose in close enough and asked. At least one exhibitor told us that they don't bother bringing anything new to The Super Show even if they have it since it'll just be knocked off and on the market competing with them by the time they bring their item to market.

That said, here is a selection of product highlights spied by SNEWS, presented in no particular order:

Polar Heart Rate Monitors -- Many years ago, Polar was the indisputable leader in the heart-rate monitoring arena. Then, the market was flooded with competition. Now Polar has softly launched a new transmitter that should take it back to the top of the heap -- a soft textile transmitter belt. Yes, other than a tiny hard plastic front piece no bigger than the size of a small buckle, the entire chest strap is as soft as a double-sided piece of fabric. It's quietly slated to be at retail in July, but it doesn't even have a price yet because it's so new.

Evo by Smooth Fitness -- We wrote about the new brick-and-mortar line called Evo by Smooth Fitness, which is known for its Internet brand, back in late fall. But we finally got to see it at its official Super Show rollout. What we like are the huge readouts, the nifty so-called "Motion Control" that allows a user to speed up or slow down the treadmill with a wave of the hand over a sensor on the hand rail (no, really. And it works well). The treads feel sturdy during quick running paces and one model has a heart-rate-control program. Plus, it can tell users their BMI (body mass index) by punching in a few figures like height, weight and age. We were skeptical (what else is new?), but, dang, it's really close! www.evofitness.com

Wilson Time -- Not truly a fitness product, the new licensed timepieces for Wilson Sporting Goods by TimeTek (www.wilsontime.com) are smartly designed and smart looking too at price points that will kill. President Rick Walter said, "No fou-fou" and not too techy. One notable feature was the snap-on clasp that just won't come off, won't catch on anything and get pulled open (because of a squeeze mechanism for unlocking), and can be adjusted on the spot to be bigger or smaller for wearing over jackets if need be.

Illuminite -- Continuing its roll-out of revamped and functional illuminating clothing (forget about that plasticy, crunchy stuff you once knew), the company showed some new items for fall 2003 that will make you drool -- really soft jackets and shirts covered with illuminating webs and designs to keep you safe, as well as "safety" items that are not only reflecting but also bright yellow. What a no-brainer! And the prices? One super jacket is a mere $90 suggested retail.

Asics -- One of two major footwear companies exhibiting (the other was New Balance), Asics had a new, open and inviting booth to show its new line of highly technical and nicely designed functional workout clothing, footwear and accessories for fall that is expanding on a turnaround begun with its spring 2003 line. Look for tights (the company has named them "Biomorphic") that have inset panels curving around the behind, the knees and down the leg designed to give you support in all the right places.

Bell Fitness -- After acquiring Bollinger fitness accessories in August, Bell for the first time was showing off the line it is offering, having pared out some of the Bollinger stuff and added a few pedometers of its own. President Bill Fry tells SNEWS that he thinks -- and the company's focus groups show -- that no one dominates the accessory category and Bell's name can take it to the top of that heap. The Bollinger name is only on the yoga and Pilates equipment. The line should start appearing at retail in late summer. We think he's got a point about the accessory category and the lack of consumer awareness. And who doesn't know Bell? There could be a recipe for success here.

180s Products -- Big Bang Products, aka 180s, started out in the infomercial world and has moved into brick-and-mortar with its theory that success is not about trendiness or style, but about some tweak of design innovation that leaves an onlooker saying, "Well, of COURSE, why didn't I think of that?" One new product is a pair of sunglasses that has a swivel arm that can be turned and closed over the lens for easier transport and protection. Wow. Then there's the new cold-weatherglove with a little valve in the back of the hand that you can blow hot air into to warm your fingers. Now, why didn't we...

And, in the "why bother?" category: Hip Gear -- a most bizarre wrap that ties around your waist. It is insulating, absorbent, reflective, thick and has little zip pockets. It sort of looks like those metal shields you put on your chest at the dentist's office to protect you from X-rays, but with long ties. So instead of wrapping a sweatshirt around your waist or carrying a fanny pack on an outing, you carry this. Hm, so what do you do with it then? We don't really get the concept or its practicality. www.hipgear.co.uk. Maybe you get it.

The Super Show's next stop is Orlando, Jan. 12-14, 2004, a date that we hear conflicts with PGA and a couple of other shows. Guess you can't make everybody happy all of the time. 

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