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Angling Trade on AFFTA’s Decision to “Co-Locate” the IFTD Trade Show with ICAST

Posted on September 25 2012

The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) recently announced that its IFTD trade show would happen next July in concert with the “all-fishing” ICAST trade show, organized by the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), in Las Vegas.

I think that’s a good move.  (Hang in there and hear me out, those of you who disagree with the ICAST partnership).

Of course, I also acknowledge that there are many manufacturers and retailers in this industry who would have preferred IFTD hitching its wagon to the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Outdoor Retailer Summer Market event that happens in Salt Lake City a few weeks later next summer.  If I had a dollar for every time someone bent my ear about why AFFTA should join with ASA, or why AFFTA should join with OIA, suffice it to say that I’d be sipping rum punches adjacent to a bonefish flat right now instead of cranking out another E-newsletter for Angling Trade.  But I don’t.  So here I am, and here’s my opinion.

It’s all good.  Or, at least, it’s all better.

Let’s face it.  IFTD as a stand-alone entity was a one-way street that pointed toward a dead end.  The fact that the AFFTA board recognized this, and didn’t try to pump us all up about doing the same thing the same way, was a move in the right direction.

So now they’re going to put fly fishing back in fishing.  I can’t argue with that logic.

Of course, the “hitching of wagons” thing is nothing new.  Fly fishing has, throughout recent history, been attached at the hip with “all fishing,” then with “outdoor sports,” then on its own, and now it’s back with ASA.  Who knows where it will be 10 years from now?

Here’s the most positive thing to come out of this most recent decision.  By moving away from a stand-alone trade show entity, AFFTA has also moved itself out of the mold of a trade organization that exists almost entirely to make a trade show… and then apply the money it makes from that trade show to making another trade show.

Let’s be brutally honest.  Is this going to allow AFFTA to get about the mission of  “growing the sport?”  Probably not with much more direct effect than it already does.  You can’t hunt bears with a stick, and even with the trade show revenues and membership dues it collects, AFFTA simply doesn’t have the resources to implement anything meaningful in a grassroots, national marketing context.

If you think AFFTA is going to “grow the sport” on its own, you’re misguided.  For better or worse, it’s on retailers and manufacturers to grow the sport, just like it always has been.  It’s clearly on AFFTA, however, to do a better job in helping retailers and manufacturers do just that.  And I think it’s reasonable to expect that much from AFFTA.

I can’t help but think that AFFTA is better positioned now to lean on ASA to make some of that organization’s significant resources shine a brighter spotlight on fly.  For that matter, I also can’t help but think that AFFTA is in a better position now to encourage and help OIA do more to expand its effect on the fly market.

OIA president Frank Hugelmeyer—himself a die-hard fly angler, who happened to be steelhead fishing in British Columbia when this whole deal started to shake out—has a right to be disappointed that AFFTA decided to go to the prom with ICAST, at least for next year.  But he took the high road in conversations I’ve had with him, and even wrote an eloquent op.ed. on the topic, which is published in its entirety next in this newsletter, and will also appear in the next printed issue of Angling Trade.

His point is that there’s more than one “honey hole” to fish if you’re a retailer or a manufacturer.   He’s absolutely right.  It’s a dynamic market with evolving opportunities.

Put it this way.  If you think your business is an “outdoor” business (whether you’re a manufacturer or a retailer), you should go to the “outdoor” trade show.  And AFFTA should do its damndest to make that show a better fly experience for those interests, whether it carries an official IFTD partnership or not.

If you’d describe your business as a “fishing” business, you should go to the “fishing” trade show.  And AFFTA should do its damndest to not be a tag-along, rather a featured act at ICAST.  (For the record, I know that ASA brass, many of whom are also die-hard fly anglers personally, have also indicated a willingness to make that happen, which is exactly why AFFTA went that direction in the first place.)

If you think your business is a bit of both, maybe you should go to both.  Okay, I read some of you loud and clear that finances limit your options, and you can’t be flitting about to trade shows when you should be minding the store.  But that’s your call.

Heck, it’s already been going that way for the past few years with retailers attending ICAST and/or OR, and manufacturers exhibiting at one show or another (or both), based on what their business models and plans have told them to do.

My point is that it doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive deal.  Why can’t we have it all?  Why can’t we work to develop fly fishing’s prominence within “all fishing” as well as the “outdoor” realm with equal impact?

By deciding not to maroon itself on “fly fishing island,” AFFTA has already done plenty to inspire meaningful conversation, and hopefully action.  If AFFTA plays its cards right, works as facilitator, negotiator, and representative of a powerful lobby interest within both “all fishing” and “outdoor,” it will continue to be a viable and effective trade organization.

In closing, I’ll digress a bit here, but I think it’s with good reason, and I know many of you will understand.  My late mentor, Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post always reminded me that, in the context of writing columns, making magazines and books, and all that, “It’s a marathon, and not a sprint.”  He warned me that, over the course of my writing career, I was going to piss some people off, and endear myself to others.  And if I lasted long enough, and wrote honestly enough, it was quite likely that some who liked me would inevitably become upset with me, and yet, some who were angry with me would eventually come around.  It’s all about respect.  And respect is earned through effort, and willingness to take risks, and keeping your focus on a larger end goal.

In that light, as you know, I have been a vocal critic of AFFTA in the past.   But in this particular instance, I cannot help but respect the decision AFFTA has made, just like I will respect your individual decisions regarding where you go, and what you do in the trade show context.

I do think the options and opportunities are much better now than they were even a few months ago.   We have a uniquely wonderful and interesting sport.

I think it’s moving forward.


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