The Super Show's "super-ness" questioned by some

Although the fitness area at The Super Show had beefed up compared to recent years, the show's move this year to Orlando, Fla., from Las Vegas resulted in mostly desolate aisles, with some exhibitors and attendees not only questioning the huge visitor numbers flaunted by show management but also wondering whether the show was worth their time.
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Although the fitness area at The Super Show had beefed up compared to recent years, the show's move this year to Orlando, Fla., from Las Vegas resulted in mostly desolate aisles, with some exhibitors and attendees not only questioning the huge visitor numbers flaunted by show management but also wondering whether the show was worth their time.

Some large exhibiting companies lamented empty aisles and noted the show would have been a bust if they hadn't pre-scheduled appointments. Smaller and new companies weren't so lucky in their ability to pre-schedule; in fact, they can't in most cases and must hope for curious aisle traffic.

"Traffic seemed down but we had meetings booked almost straight through for the first two days, so overall we were pleased," said Mike Olsen, marketing manager for Horizon Fitness. "The Super Show is more of a place for us to build the relationships we have with our dealers and discuss any current issues. It's not the right time of year for us to introduce new product."

Although the first morning of the three-day show, Jan. 12-14, seemed to have moderate traffic and energy, by mid-afternoon it was time to set up aisle bowling. On Tuesday, the show started slow, picked up to a crawl, then slowed down again by early afternoon, leaving exhibitors to prowl the aisles. On Wednesday, the last day, it never really got going. Said one exhibitor: "Wednesday afternoon definitely was a ghost town. The majority of the people still walking around were exhibitors looking for deals. Many larger booths began tearing down around 2 p.m., some even earlier." (Note: The show closes officially at 5 p.m. and exhibitors by contract are supposed to wait until 4 p.m. to tear down.)

One former large exhibitor called The Super Show "a shell of a show."

"In terms of traffic, it was a snoozer," said Mike Hosey, president of exhibitor HighGear, maker of pedometers and technical watches.

Show traffic reports

What SNEWS® heard over and over again from exhibitors, attendees, non-exhibiting manufacturers, media and others roaming the aisles and booths was that the numbers touted by the management were laughable.

Of course, we don't really have numbers since the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the show owner, decided last year only to release percentages. Attendance numbers come from those cited in Orlando-area papers as quoted by SGMA personnel -- 62,000, 65,000 or as many as 70,000 -- with the Sports SPIN show daily one-upping those figures and citing "upwards of 75,000 attendees." ("They must be on crack," said one attendee.)

Show Director Peter Haines told SNEWS two days after the show's close that preliminary figures show buyer attendance up "about three percent," while overall attendance was off "as much as two percent" but mostly in "other" categories, he said, such as SGMA guests and non-exhibiting manufacturers.

He said the reason the show appeared less busy was that the new Orlando Convention Center is nearly 1 million square feet with four entrances, so attendees are more spread out and that eliminates lines at doors and escalators. Some large chunks of the 1 million available square feet were still empty, however, with 80,000 going toward the second (and rather vacuous) World of Sports Innovation (see our separate story) and the SGMA offices and meeting rooms. In addition, Haines said the Orlando facility requires 10-foot-wide aisles instead of the 8-foot ones required in Las Vegas, making for a roomier look.

"This is the first time The Super Show was all spread out in 1 million square feet on one level. We're going to look less crowded," Haines said. "The consensus with the SMGA, the SGMA board and show management is that Orlando has had a favorable impact on the show. We're pleased."

After the previous three years in Las Vegas, the show has committed to Orlando through 2005 and, Haines said, will consider another three years after that.

Regarding complaints about slow or non-existent traffic, Haines said the proof is in the pudding.

"We walked out of there with several million dollars in rebooks. We came out of this show with more contracts for next year than we did last year for this year," he said. "People like to bitch and moan about trade show business."

He also said that success at a trade show isn't just reliant on buying the space, setting up a booth, and then waiting. Haines said you have to schedule events, booth excitement and meetings, rather than just hope for walk-bys and drop-ins. "You need to know how to work the show," he added.

Although the mostly sleepy atmosphere permeated beyond fitness and into the beef of the show in the licensed, team and games areas, there were a few celebrity appearances (Sammy Sosa and Sugar Ray Leonard, among others) that created lines in the aisles, although pretty quiet ones. Under Armour held its show bash at Pleasure Island at the Disney Marketplace area on Monday night and attracted a couple hundred people. And the swimsuit companies, among others, still hired buxom girlies to hand out samples or model -- all in hope of attracting what little traffic there was.

Working the show and the numbers

Despite a larger fitness area and several manufacturers telling us they were told by show sales staff there would be more specialty retailers attending, The Super Show has evolved more and more into a sporting goods/big box show with a large emphasis on international buyers and distributors. In fact, in the last two weeks before the show, Icon Health & Fitness, in its typical off-floor string of meeting rooms, abandoned its domestic showing and made the show an international one while the same weekend flying its domestic buyers into a private show at its Logan, Utah, headquarters.

"Internationally speaking, there were opportunities," said Universal Gym Equipment's Bob Lochner.

Lochner wasn't the only one to appreciate the international attendees. Some told us that although they didn't do much business, they likely picked up a couple of international distributors or buyers and, said one, "that made it all worth while."

Some smaller companies mentioned to us they were disappointed that the buyers for the large sporting goods chains weren't on-hand. Funny thing is, we knew they were, but they were apparently only going to scheduled appointments and not just walking the aisles looking for something new and interesting.

"We've not had one legitimate new business opportunity," said another exhibitor. "Not one non-active customer has walked into my booth."

SNEWS View: We really wanted to see a bustling show floor. Really we did. Especially after the show seemed in the last couple of years to have halted a precipitous fall from its glory days, The Super Show seemed primed to now pick up the momentum a bit to a point where it might again resemble its name. But we couldn't disagree more with the show daily's headlines (Day 2: "Wow, What a Day." Day 3: "Momentum Carries Through.…"). It may be true what Haines said about working shows by making appointments, but the little guys and newbies don't have that opportunity. If they tried to make an appointment with, say, Dick's or Galyan's, they'd be laughed off the phone. These folks count on traffic -- traffic that wasn't there this year. Now about those numbers: Give us a break. We aren't stupid. Even if we go with the lo-ball of 62,000, we fall on the floor laughing. The only thing we can figure is that the show counts every last badge, be it the CEO's family popping in for an afternoon or the likes of us media folks. At most shows, non-buying attendees can make up two-thirds of attendance. At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in the last three years, buyers made up a third to less than a third of total numbers; at the Health & Fitness Business Expo in recent years buyers make up about half or fewer of attendees. With those comparisons in mind, those attending The Super Show who really matter to the exhibitors would be anywhere from about 20,000 to 31,000. That's a far cry from 62,000 to 75,000 and, considering a spread-out hall and three days to come and go, far more steeped in reality.

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