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SIA's Nick Sargent on the merger with Outdoor Retailer

A candid discussion with Nick Sargent of SIA about what this merger will mean to SIA members and the greater outdoor industry.

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Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industry America (SIA)

Last week, Snowsports Industry America (SIA) announced that Emerald Expositions, owner of the Outdoor Retailer, has purchased his group’s Snow Show, which will merge with OR Winter Market in Denver beginning in January 2018. For many, this merger has been a long time coming and represents a consolidation of the taxing trade show calendar.

SNEWS sat down with SIA president, Nick Sargent, to learn more about what this means for SIA and the industry at large.

SNEWS: First, the basics: Is Denver the confirmed location for Winter 2018? And will Emerald honor the contract extension you signed back in January to keep the show in Denver through 2030?

Nick Sargent: My understanding Denver is confirmed through January 2018. Beyond that I can’t comment on what Emerald is thinking.

SNEWS: Running a trade show is no joke. Does it feel like a relief that you don’t have to do that anymore any more, and can focus SIA resources on other aspects of the association?

NS: Yeah, running a show is a very serious operation. I don’t know if it’s a relief, but it’s a little bittersweet. The show is part of who we are, and we’ll still have a hand in running it. We’re not walking away from it. We are one of the faces of the show and we will be there to help our members maximize their investment. But the nuts and bolts of running it? That’s one less thing on our plate.

We’re an industry association focused on education, advocacy, government affairs, marketing, and participation. The show has historically consumed about 80 percent of our time. We felt it was time to put the trade show into the hands of someone who knows how to run it. Running trade shows is not our core competency. We’re going back to what we should be focusing on: most importantly, promoting participation. We can’t help the snowsports industry thrive if 80 percent of our time is focused on managing the show.

Yes, we will have to work with and answer to Emerald on the show, but that’s ok. It’s in good hands with an organization that will look after it.

SIA Snow Show
A birdseye view of the SIA Snow ShowJesse Albanese

SNEWS: Can you describe the nature of your/SIA’s involvement with the show now that you won’t own it anymore? Is it hard to give up control?

NS: It’s a clean and clear arrangement with Emerald. We will continue to support the show through marketing and membership efforts. We’ll be at the show, and do what we’ve always done: work with members, help the buying groups and reps groups, host board meetings and annual meetings there. It will look like a (much larger) SIA show. And we’ll still be front and center welcoming all the guests as they come to show.

SNEWS: Do you get any sort of revenue share from the show, like OIA does with Outdoor Retailer?

NS: It was a straight up purchase of the Snow Show. We do not get a rev share. We do get some incremental revenue from the show as a way to continue to promote and market it. It’s a small percentage, nothing like what OIA gets. But the board felt it was best to sell the show straight up, as opposed to have a long-term royalty arrangement.

SNEWS: What are the pros and cons of this deal from your perspective?

NS: The hardest concession we had to make was changing the mentality from an industry that has run and owned its own show for 60+ years to now having someone else own it. Some might say its concession, I view it as progression.

SNEWS: SIA has always been proud of the low cost of booth space at your association-run Snow Show. Presumably that will change. Emerald is, after all, a for-profit, publicly- traded company. Can you talk about that? How will you justify/communicate with the members about that?

NS: We’ve negotiated a 3-year cost structure for our members. Prior to the sale, we ran the show on a shoestring budget to make sure we control the costs for our members. In some ways, we did them a disservice, by not being competitive in trade show square footage costs and potential fees.

Everything is costing more year over year. The natural evolution of everything is cost adjustments. I’m proud that we’ve kept costs as low as we’ve been able to, and even more proud that we worked to keep prices down as low as we could within this the new relationship.

We hadn’t raised prices in 8 or 10 years. We were looking to raise prices anyway, so this doesn’t change that too much. Throughout the negotiations, Emerald was a sincere and respectful suitor. They understand what our members were used to paying, which was $16.50 less per square foot than what it cost to exhibit at winter Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake. They were sensitive and concerned about losing audience and exhibitors to cheaper regional shows, so they came up with a competitive cost per square foot.

SNEWS: What does this sale mean for SIA, and the resources now at your disposal?

NS: Even though we’ve had an infusion of revenue into the coffers, it’s not like I can go on a spending spree. I’m still held tightly to the budgets we’ve set with our board. I need to work with our investment committee if I want to access those funds, then create a business plan and model on how they might be used and replaced. It’s the industry’s money, not mine. We’ve been creating research and data for our members, and that’s very much low-hanging fruit. We will for sure look to invest in that area: numbers, interpretation of numbers, and what the market is looking like.

SNEWS: Do you have any plans around expanding your data/research into the core outdoor realm?

NS: Potentially yes. We have to make some adjustments in our own research. Once we right that and get it right, we’ll look into other categories. It’s an obvious evolution.

SNEWS: The sale excluded your 2-day On-Snow Demo at Copper Mountain. Why was it important for SIA to retain ownership of this part of the show?

NS: We have a long history of running demos. We know the snow biz, we are the snow biz, we represent the snow biz. We wanted to be fair to our members and continue doing it. Keeping ownership of the demo gives us some latitude to extend that to other on-snow events around the country. We’ll continue to work with reginal rep groups to support these events, so people get the best experience and an opportunity to try gear before they buy it.

SNEWS: How will Denver accommodate the larger crowds?

NS: They have plenty of square footage. There are 111 overlapping exhibitors between winter OR and Snow Show. The overlapping square footage amounts to 70,000 square feet. Snow Show has 230K Square feet of exhibitor space, winter OR has bout 400K. When you subtract the overlap, you get to 560K square feet of booth space. All in Denver has about 800K square feet available.

SNEWS: Does this deal pave the way for closer relations with OIA, and if so, in what ways? Has there been any talk of OIA and SIA joining forces?

NS: Big question. This deal naturally paves a nice path for us to co-exist. The work that OIA does is great for the outdoor industry and serves a specific need and interest, all of which is what our industry as a whole needs to consider when it comes to government, climate change, and land issues. We have some redundancies in our work, but plenty of ways to partner with them. I look forward working with them closely. We’ll also look at ways to do some consolidating work with OIA. I’m hopeful that we’ll find some common ground and more ways to collaborate in the future.

SNEWS: What have you heard from the membership so far about the merging of the shows?

NS: They love it, they’ve been asking for this as long as I’ve been in this chair and I’m proud we can deliver what they’ve asked for. It only makes sense. There were too many competing shows, and now we can give them what they want which is one super-show. The members are stoked.