Massive trade shows coming to Denver
Denver will host the prestigious Outdoor Retailer gatherings for the next five years, industry and elected officials announced Thursday, with a trio of shows drawing upward of 85,000 people a year, delivering the city a $110 million economic impact.
“If you look at what this means, that’s a huge benefit, but that’s not what deserves to be mentioned,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in announcing the much-anticipated deal during a news conference in Denver’s City Park. “State parks, wildlife areas. All this stuff comes as an accumulative attraction. It is part of the defining characteristic of Colorado.”
Officials said the deal is bigger than the numbers, which are huge.
It represents a dawning for a galvanized, energized recreation community that will grow from Colorado, fomenting political, social and cultural support for public lands, environmental health and the outdoor recreation industry.
Denver’s hard-won negotiations to land the Outdoor Retailer rallies—a combined Outdoor Retailer Sports Industries America Snow Snow in January, a summer show in June and a winter show in November — are a tipping point for Colorado’s surging outdoor recreation industry, a wide community that blends all types of outdoor players in an economy that stirs $28 billion in spending in the state.
“Colorado and Denver have always looked at this as more than a trade event or how it delivers a onetime bump in the city’s economy,” said Kim Miller, the chief of Boulder’s SCARPA North America who serves on both the Snow Sports Industries America and Outdoor Industry Association boards, the groups that joined with Outdoor Retailer trade show owner Emerald Expositions to create a combined winter trade show. “This was, on the highest level, an alignment of values and visions and characteristics relative to the way the outdoor recreation industry wants to be and the way the state wants to be. To me, this is the definition of a true partnership. This was the moment for Colorado and it all tipped, in my opinion, toward the logical conclusion that these shows belong here.”
In 18 months, leaders from Colorado, Denver, OIA, SIA and Emerald — the largest business-to- business trade show operator in North America — hammered out a deal that typically takes several years. The agreement will put the Outdoor Retailer summer and winter trade shows in the Colorado Convention Center for the next five years, consolidating SIA’s Snow Show — which was booked in Denver through 2030 — with the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market show into a single gathering in January. The summer show shifts from its typical early August date to June and a new Outdoor Retailer winter market focused on soft goods moves to November.
Denver bested several other cities vying for the coveted Outdoor Retailer trade shows, which announced they were leaving Salt Lake City this year.
Marisa Nicholson, Emerald Exposition’s director of the Outdoor Retailer shows, said “a tremendous amount of cities” vied to host the events.
“Ultimately when deciding on our final venue, the ethos of Colorado just aligned really well with our industry and its vision and values,” she said.
The divorce from Salt Lake City, where the shows had been for more than 20 years, was ugly. The maturing outdoor industry was unhappy with Utah officials lobbying to reduce the size of the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument, which the Trump administration is reviewing with the notion of downsizing the 1.35 million-acre monument. When Utah officials refused to back off their push, the industry galvanized and began searching for a new home.
Colorado was one of the first states to offer itself as a host for the summer and winter shows.
But summer is the busy season at the Colorado Convention Center and carving a hole in a meticulously assembled calendar was a challenge, especially for convention bookers who begin negotiating with large groups several years out. Visit Denver has groups booked in the convention center into 2031.
Amy Roberts, the head of OIA, which partners with publicly traded Emerald to host the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, said Denver stood out among the potential hosts. It’s international airport and train to downtown, wide array of hotels and restaurants and large convention center were key.
But the state’s leadership when it comes to outdoor recreation was equally important, Roberts said.
Hickenlooper’s embrace of outdoor recreation — like his celebration of public lands, his plan for a statewide bike path and the creation of an outdoor recreation office — was a deciding factor as well, Roberts said. So were Denver’s blossoming recreation amenities such as the new Colorado Classic bike race, revamped whitewater park and myriad trails.
“I think you will see Denver and Colorado pushing us on the innovation side, which we are really looking forward to. I think the industry, by its nature, is innovative and I think our sustainability work shows we are able to bring together collaboration on big issues that are important to the outdoor industry,” Roberts said. “I think Colorado will be a partner in driving the change we are looking for.”
Shifting the dates of the show has a business appeal for retailers and manufacturers dealing with increasingly shorter ordering and manufacturing cycles. Those early dates for shop owners placing their orders and manufacturers arranging with overseas factories have led to fewer actual business transactions at outdoor trade shows in recent years. Moving the summer show from August to June, hosting a winter event in November and combining the often-competing SIA Snow Show and Outdoor Retailer winter show into a single rally will help both retailers and manufacturers, Roberts said.
“It just makes sense for the industry,” she said. “I think a new city is going to breathe new life into the shows and moving to these new dates are going to change the purpose of the show. I think the location will be well received and the overall return on investment on the trade show will go up.”
The hope all along has been that the Outdoor Retailer trade show would elevate Colorado to the epicenter of all things outdoor recreation. The state already owns skiing, with its 26 resorts drawing more than a fifth of the country’s skier visits. Its rivers are among the most rafted in the country. Its network of bike trails is a national leader. With Outdoor Retailer, Colorado can take the next step from hosting recreation, to advocating for recreation as a cultural, social and economic force for good.
“We recognize the value of the outdoor recreation industry not just for the economy but also as a platform for conservation, stewardship, economic development, health and wellness,” said Luis Benitez, the head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. “This will become our political bully pulpit and we will do everything in our power to capitalize off this opportunity and partnership.”