The PGA Show is Dying…and How to Save It

Golf Is Booming, the Show Is Not

This week, I should be publishing my PGA Merchandise Show Recap.  Due to COVID-19, the show was cancelled, so I’m not writing that story.  Instead, I’m writing something that bums me out: the story of why the PGA Show is going to die.

If you’d prefer to listen to this rather than read it, I have this in podcast form HERE.  Also, the podcast is a little more expansive and includes more stories and examples.

Finally, as ever, this is just my perspective.  There are many aspects of the show that I have no contact with or knowledge of.  This is based purely on my experiences going to the show for almost a decade and talking to hundreds of exhibitors and media members.

Five Reasons Why the PGA Show Is Dying

1 – No New Products

It used to be that products were unveiled at the PGA Show.  People would go to the show and watch the coverage to see things they hadn’t seen before.  Now, thanks to changing release schedules and spy pics, anyone who is interested can see all the new gear weeks or months before the show.  If the show isn’t where you go to see exciting new products, what’s the point of attending or following the coverage?

2 – No Sales

The PGA Show used to be the place where sales reps and buyers got together to book sales of equipment, apparel, and everything else in the golf industry.  Now, sales for the current year are often done the prior fall.  If the show isn’t where you go to make sales (which, as I understand it, is the point of having a business), why go?

3 – Everyone Is Already Connected

Thanks to the internet and social media, you no longer need the PGA Show to find new products or connect with the media.  If you want to get your new invention in front of golfers, you can email me or contact dozens of other media outlets on their sites or their social media accounts.  Similarly, I don’t really need to fly to Orlando to see new golf stuff – Instagram is shoving it in my face 365 days a year.

4 – The Tragedy of the Commons

This trend of being “at the show” without really being at the show has accelerated in the last couple years.  Brands won’t buy a booth on the show floor, but they’ll host an event or a dinner during the show week.  Or they’ll use a meeting room, which is cheaper than having a booth on the floor.  Or – for smaller brands – they’ll walk the show and meet up with contacts to show off product unofficially.

For each individual actor, these decisions make sense.  A nice dinner or a night at Top Golf has much more impact on the invitees than having them walk through a booth.  But if everyone had this attitude, there would be no show.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of brands are just ditching the show altogether.  TaylorMade has taken years off, PXG has never exhibited…you get the idea.

5 – The Rent Is Too Damn High

The single biggest reason why the show is dying is that the cost of being an exhibitor is too damn high.  The smallest booth costs $10,000 and if you want more space or need monitors and electricity, the price only goes up.  This pushes out brands at every level.  Small brands can’t afford to be there because they don’t have ten or twenty thousand to spare.  A big brand needs to spend a lot more because they “must” have giant booth, and that leads to the same question of ROI.

The Show Will Never Die!

1 – Seeing Stuff In Person Is Exciting

I’m pretty jaded about golf gear (occupational hazard), but I still get enthused about going to the show to see the new stuff in person.  And for the people watching from home (I used to be one), there’s a big difference between seeing a long distance shot of a club in a pro’s bag compared to close up, in hand video or photos.

2 – Tradition & Habit

Some of our most durable psychological traits relate to habit.  Once we’ve committed to doing something for a long time, we will continue to do it whether it makes sense or not.  Always bet on the status quo.

3 – Orlando in January Is Nice

This is slightly tongue in cheek, slightly serious.  Yes, a lot of the golf industry is in California, but a lot of it is in cold markets, too.  For those golf pros and inventors and club builders, getting to Florida for a week of golf is really attractive.

4 – There Is No Substitute for a Handshake

As much as the show has been antiquated by the internet, there will never be a substitute for spending time with a real human.  Whether it’s meeting someone for the first time or renewing a longtime friendship, the face to face interactions that the show provides can’t be overvalued.

How to Save the Show

1 – Bring Down the Cost

I have no idea what the economics of running the Orange County Convention Center are, but it seems to me that you should be able to rent a booth to someone for three days for less than $10,000.  And the add-ons don’t need to cost an arm and a leg.  If the OCC would give companies the ability to be creative with their booths without destroying their budgets, the result would be a better, more vibrant show.

2 – Shrink the Show

The “miles of aisles” are fun, but would it be easier to bring the costs down if the show was smaller?  Do we really need buses on the show floor and booths that cover hundreds of square feet?  In addition to potentially bringing the cost down, a smaller show could force companies to reimagine what they do with their space.  Plus, having more people in a smaller space would raise the energy level of the show and create more opportunities to see things you might otherwise miss.

3 – Re-Imagine the Show

Golf is a traditional game, but that doesn’t mean that the PGA Show doesn’t need to evolve.  Shrinking the show floor could be part of that evolution.  The show could become more interactive or more open to consumers.  The exhibitors need to take on this responsibility, too.  Stop recycling the same booth year after year and think about new ways to engage attendees.

4 – The Show Itself Must Do More

From the perspective of this media member, the PGA Show does virtually nothing for me.  They give me a badge and that’s about it.  Their website is terrible.  It spits out meaningless recommendations.  At a bare minimum, the PGA Show should be working harder to understand each exhibitor and each attendee to try to make worthwhile connections.

5 – Invest in the Show

Ultimately, the industry will decide whether or not the show goes on.  If the industry decides that the show has value, it needs to invest in the show.  Get a booth on the floor and make it really good.  Unveil your new stuff there.  Give the media and the other attendees stuff to get excited about and share.  The alternative is that the show won’t last another five years.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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11 Comments

  1. James Redmond

    Matt,

    As someone not in the industry, I think opening up the show up to the consumer to some degree would definitely invigorate it. Move it to more of a consumer show model. I think many avid golfers would love the opportunity to go to Orlando., Talk with the reps, see the products, learn about new companies, etc. Plus, this would create additional value add for the OEMs that are participating. I think this is especially true for the smaller brands, especially those in the soft goods/apparel/training aid categories.

  2. Some good thoughts and ideas you bring up. I would split it into a 2+2 day even where first two days are B2B and the weekend is for the consumers. The angle I would take is to also make it heavy on consumers having the ability to book fittings and test a bunch of equipment (and yes generate sales). Throw in seminars on course strategy and data (e.g. Fawcett & Stagner) etc. and you have my interest to attend. Especially a lot of people in the country can’t play during this time of the year so it would be a perfect time to combine this with a 3-4 rounds of actual golf as well.

  3. I was there one year for my daughter graduation. So I tried to get in .
    I forgot if it was to expensive or I couldn’t get in. I never made it in

  4. Move the show to Tampa. It’s lower cost than Orlando, has more golf courses and is below the freeze line in January.

  5. As a sales rep that has been at the PGA show for 32 years, the show has definitely gone in the wrong direction, Reed Exhibitions is one reason this show is failing, then there is the OCC itself, having the union workers has increased costs from laying the carpet to supplying you with electric. This show used to let the little companies in the industry come down and display their products in a small 10×10 booth that was affordable, it was a great place to see the new guys, now they stick them at the end of the show floor so no one can see them. The PGA of America that has their name on this needs to get this back to a show that you see new companies, socialize with contacts and create a buzz so that all in the golf industry attends, that includes getting the owners of small mom and pop golf courses to come back like they used to do.

  6. Good Day. Thank you for invite to comment. These comments are from a “Recreational Player” & start’s off by doing Hi 5’s on the Suggestions made. True; Golf is Traditional ; fostering Respect for “The Game”; True; Golf NEEDS to Evolve!!
    The PGA Show is Traditional & ,imho, attendance by Industry Professional’s does filter down to Recreational Golfer level, the smart industry folk make that happen. They understand it is the Recreational Golfer carries the Freight.
    Grass Root’s player’s & people have an expectation that their particular & local Pro & ProShop lead. With Golf Knowledge & attending “The Show” speaks volumes & enhances that “Lead”.
    The Mfrs. need to remember “Nothing Happens until Somebody Sells Something”!!
    Cheers.

  7. SHAD GOLDSTON

    Matt,
    You are making too much sense for the PGA. Remember, this is the same organization that pulled a MAJOR from a great course, because the owner of said course is controversial to half (or less) the country. For the most part, the PGA is absolutely worthless. They can’t get out of their own way.

  8. Great points Matt. I spent every last nickel to my name getting my product to market, including the PGA show in 2017 because I thought I had to do it. My booth was over $100.00 per sq ft out in the lost section of the show floor. Not much press coverage at all for the new companies and the wifi there was brutal to non existent. I almost couldn’t recover. Never again for me as a Booth, but it was amazing to see booths the size of a city block with meeting rooms upstairs in their booths. Thanks for sharing!

  9. The fact that an industry leader such as Taylormade would choose to not even attend some years speaks volumes as to the show’s diminishing appeal. I worked at a company for many years that hosted a trade show. A unique aspect was that the show moved around to different cities each year. In addition to the changes you suggested, maybe rotating the show to some different parts of the country would help. For example, add Arizona and California to the show’s rotation. Maybe even schedule the show around the same week as a tournament in that state.

  10. $10K for a small booth?? Seriously? How is that even profitable for the companies? Definitely have to lower the cost for it to really work. Make it smaller, more unique in some way. #GetFit2021 :)

  11. Not gonna lie, I love golf shows, the fact this could be going down hill is sad. However, I do agree, the cost does seem like a killer, there has got to be a better way. #GetFit2021

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