Virtual PGA Merchandise Show 2021

By ED TRAVIS

The 68th PGA Merchandise Show scheduled for January 27 – 29 in Orlando, Fla., was yet another major conference morphed into a virtual event due to COVID-19 health concerns. Rather than over 40,000 attendees walking the 10 miles of aisles with 1,000 exhibits in the Orange County Convention Center, all that was required of the 11,000 people registering was an Internet connection.

The question in everyone’s mind was would it work and like many things in life the answer is yes and no.

Show attendance is restricted to PGA Professionals and industry members and as it is every year the most important item on the agenda was the extensive continuing education courses for PGA members. Experience has shown virtual education sessions can work well when conducted by qualified moderators. This year’s education schedule gave club professionals at-home access to training adding to the already extensive in-person and virtual programs the PGA conducts throughout the year.

However, the PGA Merchandise Show has other critical functions starting with relationship building between vendors, product buyers, and other industry members such as the media. From the standpoint of marketing, it is an efficient way for new brands to create exposure, for established brands to reinforce their visibility and for manufacturers to get their latest into the hands of potential buyers. This year approximately 420 companies set up virtual booths on the “electronic floor.” Most were recognizable names with relatively few first timers, Apparel brands traditionally use the Show to show off the new styles and the virtual format must have been a challenge compared to the familiar personal sit-downs. 

The biggest positive and ironically also a drawback of large virtual events is for topics such as new product introductions. Mass meetings via computer screen can readily convey information but do not encourage give and take between presenter and audience. They might be compared to the anonymity of college classes in a 500-seat auditorium. The other unfortunate aspect is that audio and video problems frustrate meeting planners not to mention attendees. The angst level spirals sharply upward with each one-on-one meeting or product presentation experiencing technical hiccups.

Virtual participants must overcome both any aversion of face-to-face becoming face-to-computer and the inherent issues when the whiz-bang software does not work. Also, for some, Internet bandwidth can be a problem.

All this is unfortunate because after a record year in 2020 driven by the pandemic restrictions the 2021 PGA Merchandise Show could have been an industry-wide celebration of the robust health of the golf business. Golf Datatech reported 2020 U.S. equipment sales were up 10.1% and the number of rounds exploding 13.9%. Golf’s inherent social distancing combined with a healthy outdoor activity makes our sport an ideal cabin-fever remedy. 

The usual Orlando confab would have been a chance for everyone to pat themselves on the back. It is safe to say the industry hopes 2022’s PGA Merchandise Show will be back in Florida’s sunshine.

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