The Super Show up for major reassessment

In its second year in Orlando, The Super Show has become a shadow of its former self as even some key buyers bailed this year at the last minute, leaving a few exhibitors questioning the expense to be there and calling the 20th-annual event a turning point in the show's life.
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In its second year in Orlando, The Super Show has become a shadow of its former self as even some key buyers bailed this year at the last minute, leaving a few exhibitors questioning the expense to be there and calling the 20th-annual event a turning point in the show's life.

"It appears The Super Show is a thing of the past," said TKO CEO Garry Kurtz, whose company chose to take a suite at a neighboring hotel to have quality time with select buyers. "More and more vendors, as TKO did, decided not to be on the show floor. And major buyers didn't come or had only very limited time."

Not to say that a few additions to the agenda didn't show a glimmer of hope: The speaker series attracted an average of about 30 or so attendees per session, and a few attendees told SNEWS® that the talks made up for the poor show that was called everything from a cordial "disappointing," to "sad" or "average," to a much less complimentary "pathetic." In addition, the show sponsored "networking parties" on the first two nights of the show, with the gathering in the main south concourse attracting a romping, stomping, ready-to-party crowd both nights with rockin' music and free drinks.

"We are committed to Orlando in 2006, but after that we're going to re-assess everything," incoming SGMA President Tom Cove told SNEWS®. "We are going to look at all the fundamentals of The Super Show.

"We were disappointed in the buyers. There were a number of no-shows and that's a problem," Cove added. "It's a serious situation. We can't afford to have that situation with buyers again."

In the past, show management has claimed -- as some shows do -- that overall numbers may be down, but that's because retailers are bringing fewer numbers while the decision-makers are still circulating on the floor and going to meetings. That wasn't the case this time around. Cove admitted that both overall numbers and quality were down, but that some exhibitors still claimed they had a great show. (The biggest and busiest areas where licensed and team. Does the world really need that many bobble-heads and can coolers?) Most exhibitors that SNEWS® spoke to -- focusing on the fitness, workout, cross-training and related gear areas -- remained lukewarm to head-shaking about the future.

That's not to say that all the other areas were bustling. SNEWS® chatted with media and buyers who came for things such as outdoor or tennis and got the same ho-hum response. Everybody, however, said licensed and team was where the action was. And where everybody ended up for the take-home goodies like Spiderman Frisbees and inflatable Sponge Bob chairs.

One comment heard in the aisles between two buyers sauntering along: "I can't believe the size of this show. It's like atrophy."

Show numbers dwindling
Indeed, the show area has gone down 25 percent over last year (750,000 square feet compared to 1 million last year) and still had room to spare. In Las Vegas, where it was for three years prior, the show took over just under a million square feet. The former World of Sports Innovation was a small plot of yellow carpet that you could easily walk over and not realize it was supposed to be something different.

Attendee numbers? Well, we can't tell you officially or exactly since two years ago SGMA management decided to stop giving them out, but rather would report percentage gains or losses. Show Director Peter Haines said only the show was "a bit smaller" this year and said percentages weren't available yet. The Orlando (Florida) Sentinel quoted the SGMA as claiming 40,000 attendees. (Last year, the paper quoted 70,000 to 80,000, so take that for what it's worth.)

But considering the space was 25 percent smaller and the aisles weren't any more full than last year, it would likely be fair to say that attendee numbers were also down at least 25 percent to 30 percent, which if you count backward a few years when numbers were bandied about, then do the math going forward, could put you up to about 25,000 or so, max. Sources say about 10 percent to 15 percent of the show's attendees are historically from outside North America. That may have still held true since some exhibitors we talked to pointed to the internationals they saw that were good business. We heard about Russians, Chinese, Germans, French, Italians, Indian and Australians, among others.

Exhibitor numbers? No, show management doesn't do the 1-2-3 for you here either, but one can do the 1-2-3 on floor plans for a pretty good ballpark, coming up with no more than 700 exhibitors this year and likely a couple of dozen less. Do the math again, and you'll find that the exhibitor number is also likely down about 25 percent to 30 percent over last year.

"This show was not the result we were looking for on a whole," Cove said. "We're going to try hard to reach out. And we've always thought we could serve fitness better than it's being served."

What the future holds
So not being up to expectations, dreams or hopes doesn't mean the Super Show gathering is dead. The speaker series and networking parties, as two first-time non-product-related show ingredients, may in fact be a part of the future of what the show -- or what some prefer to call an "event" -- becomes in a sporting goods world that has changed immensely.  

The SGMA is holding a special meeting of its board of directors in March to help it decide how to focus. Anything is possible, both Cove and Haines said. In fact, the show -- excuse us, event -- could begin a series of events that include a location for company sales meetings, PR conferences, educational workshops and discussions, networking events, and many other happenings. The trade show itself could become less of the focus and just one of many pieces of the pie.

"It's our mission to create an annual gathering for the sport product industry," Haines said.

Cove said that perhaps the show can't serve certain segments because needs and timing just don't mesh, and maybe it could focus on certain areas. "Maybe we shouldn't try to be all things to all people," he said.

After next year in Orlando, the location is up for grabs too, with attractive and competitive convention cities such as Las Vegas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego all being considered. Las Vegas remains high on the list because although it's in the west, it's easier to get direct flights there from many eastern cities. New Orleans certainly offers nightlife. And San Diego offers a great winter retreat weather-wise for Easterners but demands more convoluted flights.

The choice to co-locate with another show has been heard, but what show has the timing that's a good fit, and are larger shows like WSA or MAGIC really interested? It is clear that show management will consider any timeframe; January or February is not sacred, and it could look at spring or even summer timing, depending on the needs expressed by its constituency or the dates of a show that might be a good match for co-location.

In the next few months, The Super Show management and show owner SGMA know they have a lot of re-thinking, re-shaping and re-analyzing to do for the show to continue.

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