Outdoor Industry  March 1, 2022

Colorado seeks to retain Outdoor Retailer show

For nearly five years, Colorado has hosted the outdoor industry’s premier trade show.

But with rising costs and nagging COVID-19 concerns, the organizers of the $45-million Outdoor Retailer show are considering a move back to their previous homebase of Salt Lake City, Utah.

New York-based events company Emerald Expositions LLC opted in 2017 to bring the show to Denver in part due to Utah policy-makers’ decision to weaken protections for the Bears Ears National Monument.

“Our industry places a great deal of value — in fact, it’s a business input — on public lands protections,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Boulder-based trade group Outdoor Industry Association. “Five years ago, when there was talk of scaling back [protections for public lands in Utah,] our industry and Emerald all agreed that the show should move to a state that significantly valued the protections of public land.”

That state — with an equally or more vibrant outdoor industry and a more progressive attitude toward conservation and sustainability — was Colorado.

With Emerald’s five-year contract with Denver and the Colorado Convention Center set to expire after this year’s winter OR show, organizers are floating alternatives to the Mile High City. 

Those include Las Vegas, Orlando or Anaheim, California, in addition to the front-runner Salt Lake City. Emerald did not respond to requests for comments regarding its criteria for choosing the next host city. 

“They are considering Salt Lake City, and we have expressed on behalf of our member companies that that would be very difficult for us given how strongly our outdoor businesses, brands, suppliers and manufacturers feel about and depend on the protection of public lands,” Aangeenbrug said.

She said that Emerald’s potential return to Utah is “absolutely not a political statement,” rather a business decision.

“They are a very large company that holds many large, in-person events for lots of other industries, so they look at a variety of factors,” including cost and date availability, she said. 

“But as a partner, we do [take into account factors beyond the dollars and cents]. But we don’t even view it as a political statement so much as a business statement ourselves because our industry is wholly dependent on these land protections, whether it be for a neighborhood park or trail to a national monument. So anything that erodes that, erodes our business.” 

OIA’s constituent companies and fellow advocacy groups agree. 

Two dozen companies, including industry titans such as REI Co-op, Patagonia Inc. and The North Face, have signed onto a letter from The Conservation Alliance pledging to boycott any trade show held in Utah so long as “elected officials continue their attacks on national monuments and public lands protections.”

In the letter, Tim Koehler, CEO of Boulder-based Backpacker’s Pantry wrote, “Almost five years ago, during the 2017 Summer OR Trade Show, the owners of our company took part in the march to the Utah State Capitol. They did this not only because they are hands-on with the running of this family-owned business, but because of the core principles they want to see flourish in our business and in the outdoor Industry as a whole.”

He continued, “While some things have changed in the years since then, including the structure of trade shows, two things have remained the same. Those two constants are that the outdoor industry stands for protection of public lands and that the Utah state government, led by Gov. Spencer Cox, has not worked to protect such public lands. Due to that, we can not support a trade show that returns to the state of Utah.”

Should the OR show return to Denver, it will do so in a changing environment for trade shows, which have been all but crushed in recent years due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

“Because of COVID, we haven’t had what I would consider to be normal trade shows since 2020,” Aangeenbrug said. “Our industry is interested in a conversation around how to reimagine trade shows. Are there other things that the Outdoor Retailer show could do or be to serve new needs?”

Potential changes could include opening educational speaking engagements and roundtable discussion panels to the public and making thought-leadership more of a focal point, she said. 

The other — more challenging but potentially game-changing — tweak to the show could be including elements for consumers. 

Allowing consumer participation “is complicated because of what’s on the floor during a trade show. It’s often a product that’s not available yet, like prototypes or samples. So it’s hard to have consumers on the show floor,” Aangeenbrug said. “But there might be other ways to engage the consumer in part of the show” such as product demonstrations outside of the convention center.

For nearly five years, Colorado has hosted the outdoor industry’s premier trade show.

But with rising costs and nagging COVID-19 concerns, the organizers of the $45-million Outdoor Retailer show are considering a move back to their previous homebase of Salt Lake City, Utah.

New York-based events company Emerald Expositions LLC opted in 2017 to bring the show to Denver in part due to Utah policy-makers’ decision to weaken protections for the Bears Ears National Monument.

“Our industry places a great deal of value — in fact, it’s a business input — on public lands protections,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the…

Related Content