Nigel Freemantle attended his 35th PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando and it proved a worthwhile trip for someone who represents brands like Sun Mountain, SuperStroke, Volvik and AXIS-1 across Europe. Here he reminds the major equipment brands why the PGA Show still matters, despite the many no shows.
While several major golf manufacturing companies quietly gave notice months ago that they wouldn’t be turning up to the 2022 PGA Merchandise Show, others left it until the doors were virtually opening at the Orange County Convention Centre to withdraw their customary booths and Demo Day spots.
Ultimately, all the leading golf equipment and apparel brands turned their backs on the international golf industry’s greatest product showcase – with the exception of Bridgestone, whose President/CEO cited crowded American football stadiums and school sessions as valid reasons to front up.
And as we all know, they did so at a time when golf is enjoying an unprecedented global surge in participation. Demand for their products and the prices they command has rarely been higher. Golf is even being reported as the world’s fastest growing sport, so the trend that has benefited everyone in the golf space over the past 22 months shows no sign of abating any time soon.
As bad as the pandemic has been in so many respects, undeniably it’s been reinvigorating for the game of golf. Former players have returned in droves, while many others of all ages now see the physical, mental wellbeing and social benefits that we’ve always appreciated, yet had relatively little success in conveying convincingly in the past. The extraordinary level of demand for products has proved difficult to manage for much of the industry. But, it should be seen as a great problem to have, especially compared to those indoor pastimes forced to close while golf courses reopened.
Sadly, I believe that the air of optimism and renewed confidence that surrounded the industry up until January 2022 – embracing manufacturers, wholesalers, on-course retailers and online vendors alike – has been unwisely punctured by market leaders who stand to gain the most from the game’s continued popularity.
Of course, credible explanations were offered on why the decision not to show was more or less taken out of their hands. The timing was just all wrong. Fears over it being a super-spreading event for COVID-19 and poorly timed for product launches were enough to see top brands stay away and retain more of their record 2021/22 income on the balance sheet.
In terms of occupied floorspace and footfall, Golf’s Business Major was a shadow of its former self. Displays were down by 40% and visitors were around a quarter of the number attracted when the golf industry as whole was often struggling to make a profit in less uncertain times. Nike can attest to that, after dropping golf hardware almost five years ago.
As Golfweek speculated in a post-Show review, the result could mean that the 69th PGA Show is remembered as the last of its kind. No longer seen as relevant by the major golf equipment brands, while an unjustifiable cost for PGA professionals who traditionally headed to Florida for a working vacation to network with suppliers and see what’s new up close.
But if they do see the PGA Show in those terms after two years off the calendar, then the bigger hitters among us miss the point about the value of business engagement that has helped to make the game so attractive and dynamic both on and off the golf course.
What this year proved, is that the PGA Show needn’t be all about how big and brash the booths are and spending millions of dollars. A lot can easily be achieved by much smaller booths and less staff providing a ‘showcase’ for the local reps to build on, rather than expecting huge orders.
Like the number of 4-ball games played, the flagship annual product display also acts as a social barometer of the sport. Losing it due to another lack of support from the top brands would prove a genuine setback, when building more forward momentum should be the order of the day for our industry. GR
Nigel Freemantle, Managing Director of Brand Fusion International.