"Innovation" world at The Super Show vacuous

After last year's encouraging introduction, The Super Show's World of Sports Innovation opened its second-annual show with a resounding … thud.

After last year’s encouraging introduction, The Super Show’s World of Sports Innovation opened its second-annual show with a resounding … thud.

WOSI’s admirable goal has been to offer a “level playing field,” as Show Director Peter Haines has said. No matter what size the company or whether it was exhibiting in the regular show halls, a firm paid a smaller flat fee to display one or two products in the gallery. No salespeople were allowed. No literature could be placed in the exhibit area. The standard small show sign at each product allowed 25 words of description and noted the company’s booth number in the main hall, if it had one.

This year, 155 companies choose to show 250 products, Haines reported. They were showcased in 80,000 square feet — with enough room between exhibits for the Cirque du Soleil to set up shop.

Management smartly worked out snafus and confusion last year regarding how to get information about the products. This year, when visitors walked in, they got an alphabetical “product locator” that assigned each product and company a code. As visitors wandered through, they could mark a product on the paper that they found interesting; then, at the exit, the visitor simply entered the selected numbers onto a screen and received a printout with company name, product description, booth number, and website or phone number. Worked great.

Each sports segment of the show had a designated area in the WOSI — with fitness being the largest — and a large demo area in the back allowed the likes of skateboard ramps, batting cages, bouncy houses and driving ranges.

Haines said the show responded to comments last year that the area was too jammed together, so this year the show spread out the area. However, looking back at our 2003 stories, we note that we were told there were 500 products from 750 companies in 100,000 square feet, while this year there were half that many products from a fifth that many companies in a space 20 percent smaller.

Haines said there were 6,000 unique visitors on the three show days, with 144 of the 155 companies getting selected for more information.

SNEWS View: We liked the idea of the WOSI. But it seems last year’s confusion might have marred this year’s participation; meanwhile, show management still allotted enough space for many more participants. Many, many more. The time we walked through and the numerous times we walked by, we found it nearly empty. This is unfortunate for the companies that spent a few thousand to be there. That may be peanuts if a large company is just sticking a product there for fun, but it’s a chunk o’ change for a startup. And, as the segment’s name implies, there seemed to be a lot of newbie companies with wares in the WOSI. OK, OK, some seemed less than marketable or truly on the edge, but we believe you have to start somewhere, no matter how outrageous. Certainly, Orville and Wilbur Wright were thought to be pretty nutty. New ideas are the bread and butter of any industry. One problem, however, was the seeming exclusivity of WOSI: There was one entrance and it was “guarded” by two people who insisted on scanning badges. More than five people trying to get in created a backup. We saw some attendees wander by, stop, and wonder aloud what this was about, then keep going. All the other draped exits were largely marked with DO NOT ENTER signs. We helped a couple of circling attendees find the entrance when they passed us mumbling, “How do you get in?” We understand control and trying to keep tabs on people, but could we be a little less Teutonic about it? What was most interesting to us, and is, we believe, an indicator of overall show attendance is that the show reports 6,000 unique visitors to WOSI. If one assumes only half the show buyers went into or managed to find their way into WOSI that still indicates only 12,000 buyers attending Super Show. If, on the other hand, less than half of the show’s registered buyers actually went into WOSI, then one has to question WOSI’s value overall.