Athletic Business ’11: Broad slate of education, seminars key to event

Other shows may have educational seminars but they are often a supplement to the trade show floor. At the Athletic Business Conference the educational component is just as important as the trade show. We take a look at its development and current focus.

Other shows may have educational seminars but they are often a supplement to the networking receptions and trade show floor.

Not at the Athletic Business Conference.

A packed schedule of seminars and workshops at the show, commonly referred to as "ABC" (, Dec. 1-3 in Orlando, Fla., runs from early til late, with pre-conference sessions and speakers, all in 11 tracks.

“The educational component of the show is what really sets Athletic Business apart,” said Sue Searls, conference director. “Attendees immerse themselves in all the event has to offer -- not only the seminars, but the trade show and the networking events. But it’s the educational program that keeps them coming back year after year.”

It didn’t start out that way, to be sure. When the show launched 30 years ago, both the exhibitors on the floor (with a mere 62 exhibitors in a hotel ballroom) and the one track of seminars were almost entirely focused on facility construction, design and products needed for that, said Searls, who has been with the company for all three decades. (Click here to see an Oct. 12, 2011, SNEWS story on ABC’s focus and history.)

“People were lost back then,” said Searls. “They had no idea where to go. We found a niche.”

Back then the audience was originally composed only of representatives from schools and universities, she added, compared to today’s broader reach not only to the “non-profit” centers such as YMCAs, city recreation centers and military, but also to for-profit facilities, such as sports and recreation, physical therapy centers, corporate wellness facilities, and retirement communities.

Tracks of education

As the audience grew, so did the tracks, partly due to the event’s partnership with three other organizations: the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA, that set up its conference with ABC in 2003; the Medical Fitness Association (MFA, that co-located with ABC in 2004; and the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS, which joined with ABC in 2007.

Each of these groups runs its own track, focusing on their own members' needs. The others include: facility design and construction; aquatic programming and management; programing, marketing and customer service; military fitness and sports; leadership, people management and personal development; new managers/emerging leaders; college and university; facility operators/risk management; and fitness center management.

No matter which track or who runs it, the sessions are open to all attendees, Searls explained, and all offer continuing education credits from most of the major organizations.

“Many issues are just broad across the board and of interest to all,” she said. Click here to see a list of the seminars and schedule.

There are no annual themes, but Searls explained that they consider what is trending and in-demand when choosing speakers and presenters, all of whom must apply and go through a selection process. None are simply representing manufacturers, she said. This year they had nearly four times as many applicants than the 83 sessions could accommodate.

Over the years the biggest growth and most interest has been in the leadership and management areas, which tends to be the most highly attended, she explained.

“We look for timely topics,” Searls said, “and we solicit for certain topics we want covered. We try to keep a good core of topics.”

To register for the event, click here, and to see a map of the show floor and exhibitor lists, click here.

--Therese Iknoian