2003: PGA show viability in question

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The 50th annual PGA Merchandise Show, golf’s largest trade extravaganza, is set to take place in Orlando, Fla., next week.

But with notable absentees – including industry leaders Titleist and Ping – this year’s rendition likely will have a different feel and could raise further questions about the show’s future viability.

Rising exhibition costs, a flat market and changes in product debut cycles all have played a factor in diminishing the value of the January showcase, which nearly all equipment manufacturers once used to unveil their new goods.

Industry eyes will be on show owner Reed Expositions, which has taken several steps to revitalize the event and increase its relevance to avoid future exhibitor defections.

Even with some big brands missing, Reed officials said their event remains the industry’s most important gathering. Approximately 50,000 people will converge at the Orange County Convention Center for the Jan. 23-26 event.

The show will house 1,300 exhibitors, down about 15 percent from 2002, according to Christopher McCabe, vice president and general manager of the show. Those exhibitors will man booths covering 600,000 square feet, which McCabe said still places the show among the nation’s 20 largest trade expos.

The number of retail buyers also might decline, but McCabe said that the number of “legitimate buyers might be up” because they had to submit three references when they registered, addressing exhibitors’ concerns that the floor was becoming cluttered with too many people who weren’t doing business.

This year’s show will include several new elements. Among them are an equipment demo day with more than 40 companies on Jan. 22 and more than 60 education seminars to be held Jan. 22-25, expanding on ideas Reed first tested at last year’s PGA Fall Expo. The show floor also will have its own 19th Hole, complete with beverages, a practice putting green, hitting bays and a live eBay/First Tee charity auction.

The PGA of America also will hold its inaugural Business of Golf Conference Jan. 22 at the convention center.

The conference’s first session will bring together top television and golf executives to discuss their perspective of golf as programming and a business. Panelists will include CBS Sports president Sean McManus, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, USGA executive director David Fay and Royal & Ancient Golf Club Secretary Peter Dawson.

The second session will address the impact of equipment technology on players and course design. Panelists will include Callaway Golf chairman Ron Drapeau, TaylorMade Golf president Mark King and course architect Tom Fazio.

More information on the show can be found at www.pgaexpo.com.

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