update: feature coverage added 12/12/12
News from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) last month raised eyebrows across the motorsports racing landscape. Not only would the Performance Racing Industry show, just purchased from event founder Steve Lewis in March, merge with upstart competitor International Motorsports Industry Show (IMIS) but rather than remain in Orlando the conjoined marketplace happenings would henceforth be held in Indianapolis. In December. Beginning in 2013, the week before Christmas, thus “…creating the opportunity for exhibitors and buyers to do business in a single location,” according to the release. Just like they did in Orlando, before IMIS split off in 2009 in a Hoosier snit over Indiana versus Florida in December.
If you live in Racine and your market is oval track racing teams, this may or may not deserve high fives – now down low. If you were already familiar with Indy’ quirky winter weather, the cramped convention center access, and the lack of family oriented activities in Indiana’s capitol during those months when it’s safe to eat oysters, you may have experienced a shudder at the thought.
In the PRI/SEMA release, IMIS founder Tony Stewart acknowledges the role played by local and state government in lobbying for the venue change, although the claim that Indy is the locus for hardcore racing ignores the role Charlotte and Daytona, to name just two rival cities, play in that scenario.
return to indy ends event rivalry
Further proof of tail wagging dog is the fact that the still undersized by nearly half Indy Convention Center was the reason for moving PRI to Orlando in 2004 in the first place and continuing to keep it there despite the expansion that followed the replacement of the RCA Dome with a brick and mortar venue in 2011.
PRI, which first moved to Indy after campsites in Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Columbus, before quickly outgrowing the sometimes confusing confines of their convention facility as the exhibitor list grew in response to the event’s first decade and a half popularity.
In 2004, PRI opened in Orlando’s one million square feet plus Orange County Convention Center, featuring straight sight lines from front to back and side to side, plenty of parking, an outdoor venue perfect for live events, direct international flights, plenty of nearby family friendly activities, usually cooperative shirtsleeve weather and, yes, Gulf Coast and Atlantic beaches within easy driving distance.
With the return to Indy, known for great restaurants and easy event access from downtown hotels via an excellent system of airwalks, PRI in effect downsizes to a venue slightly more than half the size, although expandable via the across the street Lucas Oil NFL stadium. And it does so at the direction of an event, IMIS, many years its junior, and with just over half the number of exhibitors as its much older sibling.
powersports experiences similar disruption
This reconciliation is a next act that interested onlookers in the powersports community might not mind, having seen their destination legacy trade event, Dealer Expo, blow up during the same ‘mid ‘00s economic meltdown, and having also lost share to a likewise disgruntled rival startup, V-Twin Expo, shortly after leaving Cincinnati for the more expansive facilities in nearby Indy.
Lacking an interested patron like SEMA that can dictate a homologated one show, the powersports marketing experiment continues to splinter with groups like the American International Motorcycle Expo (AIME) setting up yet another event, ironically in Orlando, while some big acreage booth exhibitors abandon the third party events altogether in favor of their own distributor customer shows.
move favors midwest manufacturers at expense of market
The reaction from a small sample of PRI buyers and attendees ranged from resignation to a qualified, “…hell no, I am not going to Indy in December!” from a New Jersey drag racer.
Exhibitors’ responses varied, depending on where the market they served lived. From those who identified their customers as being located roughly within the mystical 300-mile radius of Indy, and who themselves were located likewise, the response was usually “about time.” But if booth setup involved massive machine installation or support, the move back just inflamed bygone memories of snarled parking and access.