From July 19-22, the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., will host ICAST, marketed by the American Sportfishing Association as the largest sportfishing trade show in the world.
Soundings Trade Only spoke with Blake Swango, vice president of trade show and membership, about how this year’s event is shaping up, what attendees can expect, and challenges that the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine are causing in the fishing industry.
It’s been a challenging two years for in-person events. How is ICAST is shaping up this year?
Well, we were light in June. I only ordered 7,000 lanyards because I only had 4,500 registered. We ended up with 10,800 registrants, so I am scrambling for lanyards. It’s a good problem to have. A normal year is about 14,500 registrants.
What about exhibitors?
The biggest year we had was 2019, when we had about 656 exhibitors, with around 120 of those being international groups. We ended up with 475 last year, and we’re sitting at 539 right now. We’re pretty happy about that.
What’s exciting and new at the show this year?
Well, I won’t say it’s new for this year because we started it last year, but our Lunch-and-Learn business seminars moved onto the show floor, so people didn’t have to go sit in a conference room. That was a success. Other than that, we’re always trying to improve the New Product Showcase experience for both our exhibitors and our attendees.
What categories are in the New Product Showcase?
The apparel category has really taken off over the past few years, so we had to break it out into men’s and women’s subcategories. Electronics are always hot. Others include eyewear, fishing line, saltwater rods, freshwater rods, fresh and saltwater reels, fishing accessories and more. Last year, we had about 700 entries. I think that we’re probably on pace to be back around that number, but it’s too early to say with our deadlines coming up here in the next few weeks.
How is the New Product Showcase judged?
There are two rounds of voting by [product] buyers and media. We’ll be voting for the 30 category winners on the first evening of the show, and that goes through noon on Wednesday. Then, we announce those winners Wednesday evening.
Based on the past six years, what are some of the biggest growth categories you’re seeing?
Apparel is really the biggest category right now. Soft coolers and hard coolers are showing that same growth, and lots of sunglass companies are coming in. Electronics are always highly sought-after, and always have something innovative.
What challenges are you facing with the pandemic?
I don’t think it’s any secret out there: We’re still missing the international component. Typically, we have 70 to 80 countries, and last year we had 48. Travel restrictions really hurt us, but they’re slowly starting to trickle back in. Hopefully this year we get 20 or 23. Once all those restrictions are lifted, we can get our Asian companies back, like Vietnam and Thailand. Either way, exhibitor registrations are still strong overall.
Is the fishing gear segment suffering the same supply-chain issues as the broader marine industry?
I heard more about it last year than this year. Last year, I had companies pulling out because they had no product, and they didn’t want to show up with no product. We try to explain that having no presence is worse that showing up and having less product to offer.
How is the conflict in Ukraine affecting the recreational fishing industry?
I’ve had some issues with some European companies that wanted to come from Eastern Europe, but they decided not to because it was in their best interest to stay in their country. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve been working with them to make sure that they stay involved and have opportunities to advertise, or at least have some sort of presence.
What else is important for Soundings Trade Only readers to know?
The show is going to be great, and we’re looking forward to building some momentum coming out of Covid-19 and moving forward. It’s just nice that travel is back, and things are looking better for the future. I certainly don’t want to do 2020 again, even though we staged a really positive virtual show that year. n
This article was originally published in the July 2022 issue.