2002: Our Opinion - Change needed to strengthen PGA Show

The expected exodus has not materialized.

When the Acushnet Co., parent of Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra, announced May 5 it was withdrawing from the PGA Merchandise Show, officials from Reed Exhibition Cos., the event’s owner and operator, held their collective breaths fearing other exhibitors would exit en masse.

Though most of the industry’s biggest names haven’t departed, their commitment to stay is tenuous at best. Which is why this is no time for Reed executives to relax.

The PGA Show, held each January in Orlando, Fla., still touts itself as the industry’s most important gathering. It needs to embrace change to maintain that stature. The event has become a runaway expense item for leading exhibitors – many who have spent ridiculously competing in a “booth pageant” – and more significantly, it provides an insufficient return on investment.

Major exhibitors can’t write enough business to justify the cost of attending, in part, because the show’s date no longer suits their evolving product cycles. Today, many companies preview new products to retailers in the fall, build inventory to match orders during the winter and debut goods to consumers in an orchestrated spring launch. Increasingly, these companies collect orders on their own in the fall, meaning they have virtually nothing to do but shake a few hands and pat a few backs at the January show.

But the annual exhibition need not be irrelevant. Indeed, its very existence is vital to the industry.

Lost behind the storylines of what the big players may or may not do is the fact the PGA Show serves as an incubator for industry entrepreneurs and mid-size companies still “trying to get legs.” There are countless stories of hidden gems that were “discovered” at the show and have grown successfully, leading to industry jobs and consumer satisfaction. Without the PGA Show, it is almost inevitable that the industry’s giants only will get bigger and increase their dominance on the shelves of retailers. The homogeny of consolidation is an evil that strips golfers of choices.

That said, support for the show shouldn’t be interpreted as a call simply to protect “the little guy.” By making the right moves, Reed can make the PGA Show valuable again to major exhibitors as well.

To their credit, Reed executives have developed, and are considering, plans that would go against the grain of show history and tradition. One of their proposals calls for changing the PGA Show date to October to better reflect industry timetables, and eliminating the PGA Fall Expo, a sister trade event. Golfweek agrees with Reed: If the industry is having a difficult time justifying one show, then there is certainly no need for two.

Reed also should consider:

• Increasing “incentives” to secure the presence of anchor tenants. Many attendees come to the show to see the game’s top brands. If these companies increase the gate, they should receive special deals on features such as floor space.

• Cap booth size. Let’s do away with the frivolous bells and whistles. Force industry leaders to spend their money more wisely.

• Elevate the show’s leadership role. Though informal networking conducted at the event is invaluable in its own right, critical conferences should be organized to allow the industry’s brightest minds to discuss key issues affecting golf business.

• Enlist the PGA of America to offer more continuing education and professional development seminars at the show, thus boosting membership participation. The PGA may have sold the show to Reed, but as long as its name is on the event, the association has a duty to support it fervently.

In a recent interview, Christopher McCabe, vice president and show manager, said, “At some point, we’re going to have to make some hard decisions.”

That time has arrived.

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