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Saturday, February 02, 2013

What Happened To the Eastern Sport Show?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 2, 2013.)

This year’s Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, slated to open February 2, ended before it started. Besides leaving a 10-day gap in the calendars of over 1200 vendors, hundreds of thousands of show goers still wonder what happened.

January 24, with the show just 9 days away
 Reed Exhibitions pulled the plug.

Reed Exhibitions, long-time owner of the show, has put on a great event for years. It grew to become the largest consumer outdoor show in North America – probably, in the world – thanks to show director Chris O’Hara and his hard-working team. Virtually every outdoor celebrity has appeared. Often, something new is added – this year Reed promoted “a new Tactical Gun & Accessories Section” to draw new show goers. Reed invited vendors to exhibit these weapons, and announced it to the public on November 26.

Sometime in the middle of January, Reed reversed its original decision and decided to ban “tactical” weapons –prohibiting even pictures of them. People began talking about a boycott, and someone created a Facebook page promoting a boycott. Within days, it had twice as many “likes” as the show’s own Facebook page. Cabelas, a corporate sponsor, withdrew on January 19, followed by four of the five corporate sponsors, including the Outdoor Channel.

News reports falsely claimed that the boycott was driven by the National Rifle Association, which participates in the show to build relationships with members and recruit new ones. But while sponsors, celebrity seminar presenters and vendors were dropping out, the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation were calling for patience. In the end, they failed to persuade Reed Exhibitions to reverse their decision and return to their originally advertised plan. By the time about 400 vendors and seminar speakers had pulled out, the NSSF and the NRA joined them. On January 24, with the show just over a week away, Reed pulled the plug.

Who won? Not hunters, fishermen or gun owners. For 57 years, they have been gathering in Harrisburg for a mid-winter celebration of the hook and gun sports. Not this year.

The anti-gun crowd didn’t win. They might have blocked the display of what is arguably today’s most controversial weapon, but they probably didn’t prevent the sale of even one of them. Worse for them, the pro-gun crowd is more unified than ever.

Reed Expositions, owner and promoter of the show didn’t win. They are refunding roughly $2000 for every one of the 1200 or more booths they had rented, plus $14 for every pre-sold ticket. Other losses include advertising costs, parking revenue, food services, and other support services.  

Vendors, probably the least able to afford it, have lost in a big way. They ship booth furnishings to Harrisburg from around the world, print millions of brochures to distribute, and order extra merchandise to sell. Now they have a boatload of excess inventory on their hands, and a huge gap in their travel schedules. Reed's decision has cost them many millions of dollars in lost business. Some may use legal channels to recover losses.  

The city of Harrisburg lost, too. Estimates of between $44 million and $80 million in revenue has been lost to the city. Hotels and restaurants lost business from one of the biggest events Harrisburg ever sees. People all the way down to the bottom of the economic scale will feel it.

Some news outlets have not performed well. Stories were written about the cancellation of the “gun show,” complete with photos showing table after table full of guns – pictures that were not even from the Eastern Sport Show. Anyone who has ever been to a gun show and an outdoor show knows the difference, but mistaken reports that a huge “gun show” was canceled continue to be published.

Some stories lauded Reed Expositions for its bravery in standing up to the powerful gun lobby by cancelling the show. Those stories misled in failing to mention that it was Reed’s idea in the first place to bring tactical weapons to this year’s show. 

Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas, said, “Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event’s historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families.” That statement seems crafted to camouflage the fact that Reed’s real “original decision” was actually to include and promote the “certain products” he refers to.

By comparison, archery was a much larger part of the show than guns. A national archery tournament was to be held, one whole building was dedicated to archery, and show goers could actually shoot bows. The truth is that guns have always been a very small part of the event. In fact, in the 10 years I’ve attended the show, I’ve seen several major gun manufacturers displaying guns. I wasn’t aware that any were selling them.

Will this great American hunting and fishing event return next year? I hope so, but planning an event of this size is always a huge challenge. If it’s successfully brought back next year, overcoming this year’s disaster will be double the challenge.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who put the pressure on Reed to prohibit "Assault type or Black type weapons at the Expo? Is the Expo held on private or public property? Did Pennsylvania lawmakers have a hand in this decision made by Reed?
This seems to be the real story behind the cancellation.

10:10 AM

Blogger Steve Sorensen said...

The venue is owned by the state of Pennsylvania, but lawmakers have nothing to do with regulating the events held there -- and they shouldn't. Nothing illegal was proposed or promoted. In fact, there is a very large gun show held there on a regular basis (though this wasn't it and the gun show has nothing to do with the outdoor show. It's a completely separate event.)

Reed initially PROMOTED the display of semi-automatic weapons. Two months later they BANNED what they had been promoting. Who put pressure on Reed? Good question. Apparently Reed hasn't said, but it's a sure thing it wasn't the state. If it was, then bye-bye gun show -- and that hasn't happened.

More likely, they got notice from anti-gun people who threatened to picket. Certainly they would have been better off engaging them on their own basis, rather than capitulating to threats.

Incidentally, Reed is a global company which promotes some 500 shows around the world. And, it's based in Sussex, England.

2:58 PM

Blogger Dean Weingarten said...

Reed Expositions appears to be very "left leaning" in nature. It seems likely to me that they could have corrected the initial error very quickly, if they had wanted to.

Perhaps they got a little pressure from the Obama administration or fellow travelers.

Their parent organization said that they were going to divest themselves of all military shows in 2007.

9:38 AM


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