Writer: Carly Terwilliger

It’s official – Outdoor Retailer is moving to Denver.

Wide speculation among the industry and media about Denver’s landing of the show arrived after the Denver Post reported that Emerald Expositions, the parent of the Outdoor Retailer show, would also be sending its top personal to the press conference that would also include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Luis Benitez, the head of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office. Also present were OIA Executive Director Amy Roberts and SIA President Nick Sargent.

Outdoor Retailer has been held in Salt Lake City for the past 22 years, but conflicts between the outdoor industry and the state of Utah escalated to a breaking point earlier this year. Among other contributing factors was a February 16 call between Utah Governor Gary Herbert and leadership from Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia, The North Face, REI and Outdoor Retailer that failed to bring the two parties together on the thorny subject of public lands protection.

On February 14, OIA had released a statement announcing the call with the governor that concluded, “If they are unable to reach agreement, OIA will continue to work with Outdoor Retailer to move the show as soon as possible.” On the same day, The Conservation Alliance applauded OIA “for taking steps to explore other locations for the show, and recognize that Utah’s position on public lands is the most important factor in motivating them to do so.”

After a confidential request for proposal (RFP) process that included an unsolicited bid from Salt Lake, Denver was officially selected as the new host city at an event held in the City Park Rose Garden in Denver this morning. The press conference was kicked off by Benitez, who called Colorado a center for passion and thought leadership in the outdoor industry. He also named climate change advocacy and protection of public lands as prominent issues in the state.

The process of moving OR to Denver is an “off the charts” move that is “rather history-making,” said Darrell Denny, executive vice president, Emerald Expositions. “We took an extensive process that normally takes about 18 months and basically crammed it into a six-month period.” And while the excitement was as high as the expectations among the key players present for the announcement, “a lot of heavy lifting still has to be done.” According to Denny, Emerald is working with important buying groups to meet their needs and better serve them with the new shows, which will be “better positioned to respond to a changing market,” as well as current buying cycles.

A Q&A released by email shortly after the press conference addressed some additional logistic concerns. Although Denver hotel capacity exceeds the capacity OR worked with in Salt Lake City, the show “looks forward to working with the Denver community and its new housing vendor, EventSphere, to make a smooth transition to Denver.” In addition, “The move to Denver gives us the opportunity to bring Outdoor Retailer under one roof. There are no plans for pavilions at any of the shows.”

The official announcement came from Marisa Nicholson, VP and group show director at Emerald Expositions. “Outdoor Retailer has chosen Denver for all shows beginning January 2018,” she said to applause from the audience. Nicholson also laid out the by now well-known show stats – $110 million of direct and indirect economic impact and more than 85,000 attendees each year, across the three shows.

The timing and number of the shows have been much-discussed topics in the industry. They will stage at the Denver Convention center beginning in January with the Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, January 25-28, 2018. Outdoor Retailer Summer Market will be July 23-26, 2018 and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market will be November 8-11, 2018. Emerald Expositions acquired the SIA Snow Show in May of this year.

“We will announce future dates shortly, once contracts are finalized for both Outdoor Retailer as well as for the co-location of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Connect,” said Nicholson in a statement released after the event. “Denver is a wonderful choice for hosting a co-located Outdoor Retailer and Grassroots Connect,” said Rich Hill, president of Grassroots Outdoor Alliance. “These combined events in Denver will deliver the most effective and efficient nine days of our specialty-retail buying cycle. We look forward to continue working closely with Outdoor Retailer and OIA to achieve this and other shared industry goals.”

Representing Colorado-based Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) was Executive Director Amy Roberts, who began by saying, “Denver didn’t happen by accident. It happened by design.” In a nod to some of the themes of the day, Roberts reminded the audience that more than 35 percent of the state is public lands and that Colorado’s many recreational opportunities are powerful recruitment tools for companies both in and out of the outdoor industry.

Being in Colorado, she said, “is a matter of authenticity” for the brands that call the state home, not to mention the chance to participate in an industry that generates $28 billion of consumer spending annually and supports 229,000 jobs. “We want to make those numbers even bigger,” she said.

Roberts urged the audience to “reflect and understand that outdoor recreation … shouldn’t be a polarizing issue,” but rather a unifying one. The occasion was certainly unifying for Colorado Govenor Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Companies come to Colorado to “create a business and a lifestyle,” commented Hickenlooper, adding that the outdoor industry “helps make so many other things possible” for the state. “We’re in this for the long term,” he said.

Mayor Hancock concluded the event by saying, “We get along with our governor, and we get things done because of that partnership.” Denver, the mayor said to Outdoor Retailer, “is simply where you should have been, and now we welcome you home.”

Photo by Carly Terwilliger