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When Will the Expos, Fan Fests and Skill Clinics Restart?

23 Oct, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
NCAA Championship Announcement Has Prompted Optimism, Hope in the Industry

The announcement of NCAA championship sites stretching from 2022 to 2026 was exactly the shot of confidence and optimism the industry has been looking for.

Of course, the next question is this: What about all the ancillary activities held with those championships? After all, part of what makes championships exciting are the expos, trade shows and vendor events that encourage spectators to stick around – as well as activities like coaches’ conferences, skill clinics and the like. Such events also increase the revenue stream of events, encouraging hotel use among exhibitors and business for trade show companies.

It’s a question that has become increasingly important; as a result, at least one industry poll is being conducted on it.

Although everyone is banking on a readily-available vaccine by 2022, it’s obvious the world of trade shows and meetings has changed a bit. And according to industry experts, we can count on at least a few trends to continue to influence events down the line.

Here is a map, showing any restrictions in travel and gatherings, in all 50 states.

Cathy Breden, CEO for the Center for Exhibition Industry Research and executive vice president for the International Association of Events and Exhibitions, does not see Zoom as the eternal medium for conferences and trade shows.

“Moving into the future, I don’t think that shows will pivot 100 percent to virtual,” she says in an article in Promo Marketing. “I think there’s a great value in face to face. Over and over and over again the trade show industry has proven to be very resilient after crises like the recessions and after 9/11 for instance, which was the last time that virtual platforms became really well known, and there was concern that show organizers would move to virtual at a higher rate, which wasn’t the case.”

The demand for networking, particularly as more people remain working at home (another workplace trend altogether) is going to become even more pronounced, although it is likely that in a post-COVID world, fewer people will need to undertake travel if they are not inclined to do so.

Already, some events are being held in a hybrid format, with registrants able to decide between in-person and virtual attendance. One of these is the U.S. Trail Running Conference, which announced its new format in July.

According to the American Trail Running Association website, the event, which just wrapped up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, used the Socio app  to deliver a branded hub where streaming, networking, engagement and sponsor visibility came to life.

“I think the hybrid approach is going to continue because folks are at different levels in their business environment and even personal environments,” Kenny Ved, president of sales for Goldstar, told Promo Marketing. “We have to take account that folks have kids at home, and maybe those kids aren’t able to go to school during these times. Is the parent going to be obligated to go to the office or travel to a trade show, or be with their families? These are tough life choices.”

Blake Henry, general manager of the Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC), told Convention South that the face of trade shows, expos and meetings can be expected to continue to change, especially as facilities strive to meet the needs of events through the end of 2020 and into 2021.

It is Henry’s belief that planners and attendees will continue to expect more stringent requirements around sanitary practices at venues — especially food and beverage — even as concerns regarding the pandemic subside.

“We expect this to continue into the future. Although social distancing as we now know it will evolve, we also expect some element of it to stay with us as attendees have become more conscious of enclosed, crowded spaces,” he told Convention South. And, he added, consumer confidence in safety will define how quickly events begin booking facilities again.

That consumer confidence may come from making PPE available to those who want it, colored wristbands that signal attendees’ comfort levels with being approached, more spacing between booths in expo halls, and between chairs in meetings, grab-and-go meal options (rather than buffets) and, of course, consistently sanitizing high-contact areas.

Something else that we can expect to see an emphasis on is safe building certification. And it is likely that, for example, buildings with STAR accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) will be as strongly sought after – if not more so (at least for now) – than LEED certification.

And there will be, say the experts, a return to big events – and that includes crowded games, busy exhibit halls, receptions in sports bars and all the other things people know and love, and associate with sports events.

SNEWS, a website of outdoor interests, including competitive events and trade shows, is optimistic, noting that “Grassroots announced recently that its annual Connect show has been scheduled for Nov 8-11, 2021, in Kansas City. The Big Gear Show is still set to run next August. These organizations are forging ahead with the assumption that in a year's time a vaccine for the coronavirus will be widely available, transmission rates will have fallen dramatically, and most of the world will consider it safe to travel and congregate again.

On the other side of the spectrum, some industry-adjacent groups are already planning live gatherings in the next few months. The most notable of these is the Shot Show, the hunting and gun trade show happening in Las Vegas from January 19-20. At the same time, some enormous shows are still happening virtually; the PGA Merchandise Show will be held online in 2021, a difficult scenario, since U.S. retail sales for golf equipment are at an all-time high.

The time will come for the USA to host all events live, and researchers are confident on this point.

“We have seen other countries effectively control their outbreak and start opening up, including holding large gatherings,” Lucia Mullen, MPH, senior analyst at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Promo Marketing. “While the numbers of such gatherings have remained fairly limited, we have seen that the control measures, coupled with the very low number of cases circulating in their communities, have allowed for such events to occur without cases rising or being connected to this event. So, we know it is possible both to control the virus in a community and start returning to ‘normal,’ and therefore we can get there in the U.S. But it will take time and dedication from everyone to stop the outbreak.”

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