April 22, 2022
Show season. In short, it’s a phrase that means living out of a suitcase, getting to travel to some far away cities to see what’s new, and with a little luck, getting a good meal or two.
It’s also one of the best and busiest times of the year if you’re an outdoors journalist.
In a run of industry events and trade shows that dominates the first half of the year, it all starts with the Archery Trade Association show — the ATA Show as most know it — and continues up until the ICAST Fishing Trade Show in July.
Between those two bookend events are gatherings around the country that show off new products and gear, unveil a company’s direction for the coming year, confirm or deny rumors that have swirled for weeks, and let colleagues see colleagues until the same time, same Bat Channel next year.
Already in 2022, the run of shows has been impressive — including the ATA Show in Louisville, the SHOT Show and SCI Convention in Las Vegas, the Dallas Safari Club Convention in Big D, the Ducks Unlimited Expo in Fort Worth, the Bassmaster Classic and Expo in Greenville, S.C., the Bass Pro Tour REDCREST Championship and Expo in Tulsa, and the International Fly Tackle Dealers Show in Salt Lake City.
Add in the myriad of local shows and it’s apparent that even though the coronavirus threat hasn’t completely ended, life in the outdoors world is returning to some sense of normalcy two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In fact, despite the lightning fast run of the Omicron variant earlier this year — which unfortunately caught up with me in Louisville and sidelined me from attending the SHOT Show in Las Vegas — the 2022 show season seems to have been a success. And that’s with the NRA Annual Meetings scheduled for Houston in late May and the ICAST Trade Show still looming in Orlando at mid-summer.
In almost every instance noted above, the various shows have been held without cancellation, interruption, or date adjustments on the calendar. That stands in stark contrast to what happened in 2020 as the early days of the pandemic rolled on, steamrolling long-planned events and forcing cancellations worldwide.
In 2021, things improved and several shows were able to be held during the summer and early autumn months in a lag period between the original strain of COVID-19 and the Delta variant that caused more problems last fall.
And while the Omicron variant earlier this year caused plenty of illness, in general, the country and the outdoor industry is learning to live with the super bug of the 21st Century, making plans, opening up doors, and rolling on into the future of a brave new world.
It all started in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country with the January gathering of the ATA Trade Show, the event’s 50th run and a successful show that in some ways helped to set the path forward for what has followed.
“We were sure (that we were going to be in Louisville),” said Allison Jasper, senior director of marketing and communications for ATA. “We knew all along (last fall) that ATA Show 2022 was always on.”
For Jasper, the confidence that the 2022 ATA Show would happen was always strong, even as last fall brought about the Delta variant, more event cancellations, and a few weeks later, the term Omicron entering the nation’s lexicon.
Add in an early January snowstorm as the ATA Show began — one that plastered portions of Kentucky with several inches of snow — and there were certainly doubts about whether the show could go on.
But not for Jasper, not for her colleagues, who were all committed to making it come together again, obstacles or not. And when the show finally opened for business in Louisville as famed Kentucky Derby bugler Steve Buttleman sounded the “Call to Post” on his famous musical instrument, there were plenty of big smiles as the curtain came up on the 25th ATA Show, an anniversary gathering like no other.
“I told my husband (when the show began) that there were a lot of folks, that I was so happy to see people on the show floor, and that it was almost surreal,” said Jasper. “I’m happy we (were) back (together).”
Jasper acknowledged that storm clouds in the previous couple of years had gathered and that a lot has happened in the archery industry, some good and some bad.
But then she smiled when thinking about the dedication of the archery industry and bowhunters, too, both determined to get back together again for the first time since January 2020.
That idea was especially important to Jasper, even though the pandemic showed the industry new and unusual ways — here’s looking at you Zoom rectangles — for conducting business. But in the end, nothing replaces actual gatherings, product tire kicking, and the shaking of hands despite what medical experts might have predicted a couple of years ago.
“I think that it’s incredibly important,” said Jasper of getting together again, face-to-face. “The (ATA Show) is a buying event and we stand to that and we love the fact that so many of our retailers are able to meet with so many manufacturers, write orders, and share these connections.
“And there is an element to an in-person connection that you just can’t get over the phone and virtually,” she added.
As many who have struggled through a Zoom meeting connection might attest to, amen to that.
As the ATA Show looks forward to the 26th gathering from Jan. 11-13, 2023 in Indianapolis, a glance backwards at the Louisville show seems to bear out Jasper’s idea.
All told, the golden anniversary ATA Show in January brought to Louisville a total of 4,302 individuals, including 548 retail accounts, 450 exhibitors, and numerous local shop owners, purchasing groups, and members of the media — including many from the Bowhunter and Petersen’s Bowhunting magazine families at Outdoor Sportsman Group.
What did those ATA numbers mean for the relaunching of “Show Season” in 2022? Well, as the ATA website notes, “The in-person event invigorated spirits, helped companies plan for the year, and brought a sense of normalcy to the archery and bowhunting industry.”
That normalcy is important as the world moves on from the most frightening days of the pandemic and searches for a return to the business routines and outdoors lifestyles that were upended 24 months ago. There’s no denying the business disruption of the pandemic, nor the human toll in an ongoing event that has cause more than 1.01 million deaths in the U.S. and more than 6.2 million deaths worldwide.
But even against the backdrop of the deadly pandemic, a return to normalcy has been important in all facets of life, including those in the archery and bowhunting industries. We mourn those who have been lost, we look for answers in the future, and we thank the Creator above that we still are here.
It’s a needed attitude of positive energy and enthusiasm in so many walks of life right now, and that includes the bowhunting world.
“It was great to be back on the trade show floor where we could all meet face-to-face for the first time in two years,” said new ATA president and CEO Jeff Poole, a statement that hardly anyone disagreed with.
While there’s no questioning that the ATA Show — and most others since then — are a bit smaller than pre-COVID era shows were, there’s also no questioning the passion and energy that is coming back in most cases.
That was true in Louisville, and not just because the city is a famous spot in the Land of Bourbon tour and home to plenty of great eating establishments. By show’s end, it was evident that the return of the ATA Show was important to the industry. And that sentiment has echoed in the weeks that have followed as one show after another has turned the “Welcome!” sign back on after two years of difficulty and misery across the globe.
“It’s obvious members at the Show came to focus on the success of the industry,” she Maria Lewis, the ATA’s senior director of trade show and membership, in a news release. “Our members know how important business relationships are and that the ATA Show provides those opportunities to connect. I’m glad they were willing to work through disruptions and challenges to come together for the betterment of the industry. We’re stronger together, and the Show was an indication of their dedication to customers.”
Jasper agrees, and notes that while the ATA Show knew things would be down this year, that isn’t unique since every industry has had chaos and change since those dark days a couple of years ago. Even so, it’s important that we’ve all been able to gather again in 2022 — in a variety of industry events and outdoor pursuits — even if it looks a little bit different for now.
“Honestly, it’s a whole (big) important part of this industry,” she said of the trade show. “We’re one big family and we’re really happy (that we’ve been able) to get back together this year.”
And while the rumor mill is always working overtime with speculation about the future and what it might hold for the trade show industry, Jasper is thankful for the success of this year as she optimistically looks ahead.
“I think the trade show industry is always evolving,” she said, after a moment of careful thought. “That’s something that we’re always committed to figuring out alongside our members and hearing feedback from our retailers, from our manufacturers, and from our other member categories, in understanding what they need. And the ATA is always committed to making sure that we provide that for our members.”
And that includes the start of another “Show Season” several months from now and the gathering of the archery industry and bowhunters early next year in downtown Indy for the 2023 ATA Show.
“I think as a country and as a global community, we’re finding our new normal,” smiled Jasper. “I think that it’s very important that we continue to dedicate (ourselves) to finding that new normal and doing that as safe and healthily as possible, but also still living and doing the things that we love, like getting back together in person once a year at the ATA Show.”
Certainly, there are challenges that remain ahead for the archery industry and everyone else in the world as 2022 runs its course. There’s already a new variant of the coronavirus causing problems in some places and there will likely be more of those in the future. Inflation is at a 40-year high, product shortages and supply chain issues persist, and the price of fuel has risen steeply against the horrific specter of war between Russia and Ukraine.
Put simply, there’s much that doesn’t seem to be going right in our world. But for many thousands who love the satisfying “thunk” of arrows into a backyard target, the sight of a rutting buck from a November treestand, or the endless gear junky process of buying, tweaking, and using bows and arrows, the worst of the COVID-19 storm clouds will hopefully wane soon.
After all, the sun is now shining, and fall is only a few short months away. And for bowhunters across America, that’s the best time of the year, isn’t it?