The PGA Show’s Uncertain Future

32161976660_df04319a1c_o_2017SignThe annual PGA Merchandise Show is quite correctly termed “The MAJOR of the Golf Business” and since 1953 in a Dunedin, Florida parking lot has undergone a multitude of changes with the potentially most far-reaching being cancellation of the traditional conference in 2021.

Concerns for the health and safety of the 40,000 from 80 countries who typically attend led decisionmakers to opt for an online format or so-called virtual experience.

The announcement made October 22 was hardly unexpected given the pandemic-induced disruption of lives and business worldwide. Converting the 68th annual get-together of industry professionals from face to face to computer screens raises important questions.

Will it be a success and what will be the impact on future Shows?

Show owners Reed Expositions and the PGA of America made the right call but creating a meaningful online experience for the entire spectrum of interests the Show serves is not an easy task. A virtual assembly is yet to be tested with thousands (much less tens of thousands) of golf businesspeople leaving the question open, can the Show provide participants a worthwhile event or will technical issues, a natural reluctance to change, and the overall “hassle factor” make for dissatisfaction that jeopardizes future Shows?

On the positive side, a virtual show will allow participation of those who in the past were unwilling or unable to foot the bill for a week in the Florida sunshine.

A logical assumption is the PGA Show will return in 2022 to Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center making the year online simply a blip on the history timeline. It is also worth noting the PGA of America does have some experience in virtual meetings with an online community for members begun last July called PGA Connects and though not the magnitude of the Merchandise Show it should provide a base of knowledge.

Several reasons stand out why the Show should even exist and why is it a “MAJOR” for the industry and the roughly 1,000 exhibitors in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center.

The PGA Merchandise Show is the industry’s only worldwide meeting and as such provides the opportunity for discussion of issues by leaders from associations, manufacturers, service providers and golf professionals. This may sound like something written by a PR department, but it is the truth and leveraged by the networking among participants is a vital reason to be there. As one association executive said, “How can you say you’re in the golf business and not be here?”

For PGA Professionals the chance to earn continuing education credits is reason enough to attend all by itself without even considering the advantages of making new connections, networking, and investigating employment opportunities.

Equipment manufacturers no longer write orders on the floor which is almost entirely computerized and done weeks prior. Exhibiting though is vital for further enhancing relationships with customers whether they be buyers from individual shops or major retailers plus the floor displays are ideal for drawing attention to new products and the company’s competitive advantages.

Soft goods makers use their display space to burnish their image and visibility and still write significant orders. For many the Show will make or break their year as it allows them time to present buyers the scope of their lines’ colors, styles, and quality.

A special category are the small companies taking a minimum size booth hoping to introduce their products to a wide audience. Anyone who has ever walked the miles of aisles can relate tales of “discovering” a new putter, training aid or other product or service they never would otherwise have known about.

Often overlooked is the Show’s importance to industry associations that use the week to educate attendees about their mission in ways not possible the rest of the year and it is a prime time to recruit new members.

For media professionals the Show is an efficient vehicle to acquire information and having attended the Show for 30 years it is one of the two big reasons I return, the other one being the chance to see longtime friends and acquaintances.

Prior to the pandemic the trade show business in general, not just the PGA Merchandise Show, was trying to find better ways to attract participants and retain relevancy to the industry they serve. For a worldwide annual convention conversion to virtual meetings does not help either goal.

In the golf industry topics such as increasing the number of players, e-commerce, rules restrictions and golf entertainment centers are all vital and may or may not find the proper audience in an online format.

Companies are also making use of more individual virtual events and, for example, presently club makers are sending invitations to attend online product introductions. No doubt these are more efficient from a time and money viewpoint but give no opportunity to actually hit these new latest and greatest and little chance to strengthen relationships with media members.

Speculating on the PGA Show’s future is of course guesswork but having a virtual event in 2021 does not build the case for companies to exhibit in subsequent years nor for tens of thousands to attend future Shows.

The reasons for having a traditional event are still valid with the person to person interaction being the most important success factor. It is a well-established that for even quality products the “secret” to business to business sales is relationships or put in modern buzz words “engaging customers” to build value and competitive differentiation in buyers’ minds.

The PGA Merchandise Show will survive though the form will be different. What remains to be determined is how it can remain relevant to our industry.

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