Mar 10, 2015

Sports Shows Are A Dying Breed

Yet The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show Is Thriving

There was a time when sports shows were big business.  Vendors came from across North America to take part in these events. They were the annual outdoor conventions for the hunting, fishing, boating, camping, and travel enthusiasts to visit. Sports show attendees came from across the state to attend. Only the major cities had sports shows, starting with Minneapolis in 1939, then Milwaukee in 1940, then Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Indianapolis. Other cities then followed with smaller shows. Those that started on the east and west coasts never matched those of the Midwest power houses.

From Post World War II through the late 1990s, the sports show business grew. The baby boomers and their parents drove demand for the outdoor recreation business. Resorts and lodges were springing up across the northern half of the country.  Technology and mass production meant that equipment for outdoor sports were quickly being invented or improved upon. Sport fishing boats evolved from wooden, to aluminum, and then even to glass. Rods, reels, line, lures, decoys, and every item needed for hunting, fishing, camping, and boating were constantly being developed. This provided a growing base of companies needing to sell their products, and the large sports shows were the perfect place.

Anyone that wanted to book a trip to a fishing or hunting lodge did so at these sports shows. It wasn’t like it is today where you could make travel plans from home by simply going online. Plus, more people were going on family fishing trips and taking trips to the wilderness for a week. This meant that anyone who wanted to go fishing or hunting planned their trips at sports shows.

Back in the day, Milwaukee was the only city that had a big convention hall. The MECCA had a monopoly on these types of events. Eventually other smaller cities started to build convention centers as well. They would fill these spaces with sports shows, RV shows, and boat shows. Soon Madison, LaCrosse, Green Bay and cities across the state had new convention centers, and sports shows started happening everywhere. This diluted the value of the Milwaukee events.

Suddenly there weren’t just sports shows across the state, but also specialty shows, including the Muskie show, the Deer & Turkey show, the All Canada shows, and many more. Each of these specialty shows sucked the life out of the bigger sports shows, which led to some disappearing altogether.

Yet, throughout this shift in the outdoor exposition industry, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show has always thrived. When it opens its doors on Wednesday, March 4th, it will be doing so for the 75th time. This is the largest show of its kind, and is always visited by tens of thousands of hunting, fishing, boating, and outdoor enthusiasts coming to see all that’s new in the outdoor industry. Many of these people bring multiple generations of family members, carrying on a unique tradition deeply rooted in Wisconsin.

While there are Muskie shows for muskie fishermen, deer shows for deer hunters, and duck shows for duck hunters, there is still only one show covering everything an outdoor enthusiast could want. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show is still the place for families to gather, and where hundreds of exhibitors still come from across North America.

Some may view this show as still successful because it’s a throwback to a simpler time, when lumberjacks were household names. It features lots of traditional family fun, made-in-Wisconsin entertainment, and a place where you can enjoy the sounds and smells of the outdoors.

A lot has changed for the outdoor industry over the years, but one thing is for sure – when March arrives, the Wisconsin Expo Center will open its doors to the 75th annual Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sports Show, the biggest event of its kind and a tradition Wisconsin is proud of. The show marks the arrival of spring and the best season to enjoy the great outdoors in Wisconsin.