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.