Athletic Business Show focuses on non-profit fitness – and continues to grow

Celebrating its 30th show, the Athletic Business Conference & Expo heads back to Orlando this year and expects another jump in show size. What’s the “ABC” show about? SNEWS takes a look.

Three decades after it all began with 62 exhibitors in a ballroom, the Athletic Business Conference & Expo is getting ready to host an event with 350 exhibitors and more than 83 seminars in the event’s return to Orlando, Fla., Dec 1-3, 2011.

While other events and shows focus on club or retail business, Athletic Business has one audience in mind that differentiates it: “non-profit fitness,” said Adam O’Brien, the conference and expo's exhibits director.

From JCCs to YMCAs, universities to senior centers, and community centers to the military, ABC (the common acronym for the event) holds a tight rein on a niche market, recently partnering with related organizations focusing on other even more niche markets.

In these still somewhat depressed economic times, though, the niche and vertical markets are the ones that are growing.

“What’s great about ABC is that attendees come from all types of sports, recreation and fitness organizations, so the audience is more diverse than any other show in our industry,” said Sue Searls, ABC conference director. “Attendees comment all the time that they like ABC because of our great variety of seminars and the ability to network with attendees from different backgrounds."

So is it a show or a conference? That depends on the attendee, of which 3,000 are expected this year based on preliminary registrations, which are up versus a year ago. Needing continuing education, many only pick and choose from the dozens of seminars. Professionals may use the venue to meet with others and peruse show exhibitors ( Exhibiting manufacturers are tapping into the growing vertical market since many attendees have a budget to spend at the show.

“It’s the one place manufacturers can go and reach multiple markets,” O’Brien said. “The military is huge for us. If you want to sell to the military,… we work with the Department of Defense. In this day and age of cutbacks, the military is one of the biggest markets going.”

But, he stressed, ABC ( is not just a military show since only 10-15 percent of total attendees coming from that segment. With events, parties, and dozens of seminars, networking is huge at the show, O’Brien said.

Seminars (click here to see a list of educational events) are not run by exhibitors as a part of their exhibition and advertising package; instead they are vetted and scheduled in nine different topic tracks, with most of them offering continuing education credits from the major organizations such as American College of Sports Medicine, American Council on Exercise and Cooper.

To expand the show and give other related groups an audience, ABC began to partner in the last decade with other groups, giving attendees basically four shows in one. In addition to ABC, on-site shows or conferences include:

  • International Council on Active Aging (ICAA, joined ABC’s location in 2003, or two years after the group was founded.
  • Medical Fitness Association (MFA, co-located with ABC in 2004 and is celebrating its 20th show this year.
  • National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS, joined with ABC in 2007.

Register for a free trade-show-only pass, available online by clicking here.

–Therese Iknoian