Athletic Business ’11: Education, exhibits keep attendees coming after 30 years

Despite continued economic doldrums, the Athletic Business Conference’s 2011 event Dec. 1-3 was bustling, posting success with its combination of education and exhibits that cater to the vertical markets, non-profit facilities, the government and military. SNEWS was there to check it out firsthand.
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Despite continued economic doldrums, the Athletic Business Conference’s 2011 event Dec. 1-3 was bustling, posting success with its combination of education and exhibits that cater to the vertical markets, non-profit facilities, the government and military.

“We were very happy with the attendance, especially since so many organizations are experiencing budget cuts,” said conference director Sue Searls. “We received nothing but good comments from attendees, both full-conference and those who came just for the trade show.”

Celebrating 30 years, the 2011 event in Orlando, Fla. attracted 3,000 attendees – a preliminary figure released to SNEWS on Dec. 3 indicating a slight increase over 2010, Searls said. Exhibitor personnel added another 1,166 to overall event attendance numbers.

“The comment I consistently heard was that the quality of the attendees was excellent,” said exhibits director Adam O’Brien, “and that the people walking the aisles were actually buyers.”

The exhibit hall, only open for a total of 9.5 hours divided between two of the three full days, may not be the sole focus of the event but manages to keep exhibitors busy. This year, there were 306 companies exhibiting, with small areas labeled as specific to brands focused on two of the event’s co-located partners, the International Council on Aging (ICAA) or the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). A third conference partner, the Medical Fitness Association (MFA), was also represented, although without a group of booths.

All walks of athletics

In contrast to many fitness industry trade events, Athletic Business has strong attendance in its 11 tracks of educational focus, from military fitness to leadership to facility design. With those seminars starting early and typically concluding when the trade show floor opens, most attendees seem to head straight for the floor. In addition to Athletic Business’ tracks, its partners (ICAA, NAYS and MFA) offer list of seminars, and all attendees can go to any of them, earning what is for most a much-needed list of continuing education credits.

For U.S. military personnel from Europe and far reaches of the globe, the show is a bit of a break. Mark Juliano, athletic director at a U.S. Army base in Italy, told SNEWS he didn’t get away much and this show was fulfilling his needs.

“I’m thrilled. The seminars I’ve taken were outstanding,” said Juliano, while sizing up the suspension training system at PurMotion (www.purmotion.net) and called it “the secret of life.” “It just makes so much sense to me,” he said, pointing to the bars, weights, straps, loops and other training tools that allow a full workout appropriate for his clientele.

The event exudes a professional seriousness. Education is not taken lightly since, like Juliano, it may be one of only a few chances to get it. And the trade show floor is buzzing but not busting out in loud music from dueling group-exercise class demos.

“It’s great to reach out to the other segments, the active aging and senior facilities, the medical fitness, the parks and recs, and government,” said Chuck Herman with BallBike, a new company to the industry overall (Click here to see a SNEWS TV segment on BallBike from the 2011 Health & Fitness Business Show.)

Even more than club-focused shows, Athletic Business (www.athleticbusinessconference.com) has exhibitors from a broad expanse of services. As O’Brien said, everything you might need for any facility, from architects to lighting, to equipment and software, to flooring, fences and fans. Some of the business that is done is also between exhibitors with designers and architects connecting with suppliers.

“The show has been very good for us and is the way we get to connect all the dots. A number of weeks ago, we were at AORE (www.aore.org) and got to meet with all the folks who run city, school, park and other recreation programs,” said Jerad Wells, director of sales and business development for Eldorado Climbing Walls. “Now, at Athletic Business, we are meeting with their bosses and the ones who control the purse strings.

“Athletic Business is also very important for us as it is the best place for us to meet with architects who design rec facilities – all the key ones are here – so we build essential relationships,” he added.

Despite some suppliers who have held off on launches, others used the show to unveil partnerships or new products.

Technogym announced its new Vario trainer (what SNEWS has called an “A-Trainer. Click here for that background). If it looks suspiciously like Precor’s AMT (introduced in 2007), that’s because Technogym is producing it under license. The Vario has been available in Europe for three years, we were told, but is now launching in the United States.

New company PowerIce (www.powerice.net) showed off its frozen treats and said that by shortly after the show’s opening on the second day, the company had given out 1,500 samples.

“This is our first event and the response has been terrific,” said Judy Chen, director of events. “We are writing orders which is awesome.”

Let us entertain you

The Athletic Business Industry Party took attendees by bus to the Hard Rock Live at Universal CityWalk the first night of the show – the first time the party was back off-site since its first-time away from the ballroom three years ago. OK, OK, the show calls it a “Networking Reception,” but we’re not sure how much networking could happen with a zillion decibels of classic rock music – dang good music, no less. We bet sponsor Precor and show management had quite a bill with buffet tables of unending dinner food and an open bar.

After a successful tour outside of Orlando two years ago, Athletic Business will continue to rotate shows around the country, Searls said. The 2012 event will be in New Orleans Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, with 2013 returning to its 2010 venue in San Diego before it rotates back to Orlando for 2014.

--Therese Iknoian with Michael Hodgson

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