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