Club Industry ’11: A move to Las Vegas in 2012 attempts to reinvigorate still-shrinking event

As continued budgetary belt-tightening prompts manufacturers to rethink trade show expenditures, the Club Industry show Oct. 12-14 again inhaled a notch. Plus, shocking many exhibitors and attendees, it announced a move to Las Vegas in 2012. We analyze its past, present and future.

As continued budgetary belt-tightening prompts manufacturers to rethink trade show expenditures, the Club Industry show Oct. 12-14 again inhaled a notch.

A move to a more intimate space at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center didn’t lessen the impact of the curtain at the back of the hall being so, well, close to the front, partly reflecting a list of brands opting out of the event and many others downsizing booth and staff. Even with the event being just a fraction of its former size, many expressed positive views about the opportunity to meet with executives for key regional accounts.

“Although it seems the attendees and exhibit space continue to decline, it’s still been an efficient use of our time to be there to be able to meet with key buyers, particularly from regional Midwest-based accounts as well as some national key accounts,” said Mike Leveque, chief operating officer for MyZone.

But the rampant aisle gossip about no-shows and the big shrink at the now two-day exhibit hall (downsized from three exhibit days two years ago), the biggest yammer was about the show’s decision to move to Las Vegas in 2012 – Oct. 10-12 at the Las Vegas Convention Center (

“Reinvigorate” was the description used by show spokesperson Heather Smith for the move, which promised a fresh look at the current format with expanded pavilions such as the new natural foods area, which had 11 exhibitors this year.

“We’re taking the best of the best from our whole portfolio of expos,” said Smith, spokeswoman for show owner Penton Media ( that runs an array of shows, including many focused on natural and organic foods. “Let’s open the event to new audiences and regions who haven’t typically come to Chicago.”

Despite optimism about the change by Club Industry management, exhibitors expressed dismay (but all declined to go on-the-record), wondering aloud to SNEWS if the move would be a death knell for two reasons:

  1. Having become a mostly regional Midwestern show, Club Industry would now be alienating its strongest attendance base, from which many drive to Chicago or take short-haul flights.
  2. Moving to the West could force it to compete for attendees with IHRSA, historically a West Coast show held in March each year and also focuses on the club/commercial business.

In general trade shows are struggling as technology, the Internet, varied buying cycles, the ever-increasing expense of travel and continued economic doldrums plague every industry. Those who exhibit need to make tough calls about where to go for the best ROI – and they are getting choosier. Sometimes even smaller shows – think the tiny retail-focused Health & Fitness Business show (now merged with Interbike after its own battle to survive) – can win over Club Industry since it attracts an entirely different market. For example, two Club Industry no-shows, SportsArt and True Fitness, both had moderate booths at the small HFB show a month earlier.

In hard numbers, Club Industry this year had 136 exhibiting companies, including the 11 in its natural foods area. Adding to that the 24 booths in the combined “Club Industry Live” demo and seminar area and the Club Industry area in the front, the show covered 36,500 net square feet.

That’s down about 15 companies from a year ago and down 24 from the 160 on the floor two years ago. Demonstrated is a consistent downward trend in numbers – not unlike many trade shows – but more important to note is a decrease in space per company since the early 2000s. For example, in 2009, 160 companies occupied about 70,000 square feet. A year earlier in 2008 there were 25 percent more companies (nearly 200), but only 10,000 more square feet at 80,000. Going back another five years: 2007 had 217 in 82,400 square feet; 2006 had 219 in 86,100; and 2003-2005, each had about 240-245 exhibitors in 90,000 square feet.

Penton show management reported nearly 4,000 attendees, which included all exhibit staff, media, guests and anyone registered for the event including those who focused on conference seminars. Two years ago in 2009, that number was reported as nearly 7,200.

With the American League Championship Game 5 on TV (Detroit Tigers vs. Texas Rangers), many attendees either deserted the floor for a sports bar by 4 p.m. on the show’s first day Oct. 13 – or skipped heading out into the rain to gather at booths where the equipment had embedded TVs. With a bright, sunny autumn day on Oct. 14 beckoning (as well as flights home to catch), the hall began to empty quickly by 3 p.m.

Although Matrix Fitness, Precor and Life Fitness still had the front row, others were glaring in their lack of appearance on the floor: Cybex (which is of course experiencing its own financial pressures), FreeMotion Fitness, Hoist, Nautilus (Med-Fit), Total Gym, SportsArt and True Fitness.

In a coming story, we’ll take a look at a few product trends and highlights from the show.

--Therese Iknoian