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Virtual ICAST Draws Thousands

Organizers say the online format allowed for more audience interaction as fishing enjoys an explosion in popularity.

Few industries have reaped the benefits of a global pandemic like boating and fishing, and participation in the virtual edition of the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, or ICAST, was evidence that fishing is strong, according to organizers.

About 220 exhibitors showcased 434 new products last week at ICAST2020, which is owned and run by the American Sportfishing Association, and web traffic on sponsor sites was strong, said ASA president Glenn Hughes.

“The numbers I’m looking at, I won’t get into details, but on average, the views with diamond sponsors were up 1,000 today, and they were up another 1,000 yesterday,” Hughes told Trade Only Today earlier this week, after the show's conclusion. “People are absolutely coming to our sites and it’s great. The fishing industry is alive and well.”

ICAST had a schedule of 100 events over the course of the show, covering everything from new product debuts to conversations with some of the biggest anglers in the country, said Hughes.

“What was the most exciting and interesting thing for me … was being able to take it to the consumers and allow them to participate,” said Hughes. “When you bring it all together, it has so much more mass and attention. It was exciting to see that at some of the Facebook Live events.”

Consumers have been driving a renewed enthusiasm for fishing in general during the pandemic.

“It could be the biggest boom in fishing we’ve ever had,” said Hughes. “Manufacturers tell me it’s unprecedented, sales are off the charts. I’m not talking sunglasses, I’m talking rods, reels, lines and lures.”

During one seminar, Stephanie Vatalaro, marketing and communications senior vice president of the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, gave an update on new fishing participation numbers from 2019.

“We’ve continued that upward trajectory we’ve seen over the last 12 years,” Vatalaro told Trade Only Today. “The number of women is up, the number of newcomers is up; the number of Hispanic participants was flat, but it is at an all-time high. Youth participation took a tiny dip, but it was actually up as a percentage of the population.”

RBFF also used the platform to announce a joint marketing campaign with Discover Boating, having rolled back the Take Me Fishing campaign initially planned for 2020, said Vatalaro.

“We pushed it back a month, then at one point pushed it again,” said Vatalaro. “Then we realized, ‘We can’t run this campaign.’ Things have been fundamentally altered, and this is tone deaf.”

The group began talking about a collaboration with the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

“At the same time, we started seeing … visits to our digital assets going through the roof,” said Vatalaro. “We’re prepared for the worst, and we start getting increases. For the first two months of our fiscal year — April and May — we saw 8.4 million visits. The entire year in total was 14 million. Organic traffic was up almost 400 percent. It’s insane high numbers.”

The NMMA and RBFF created a joint campaign centered around a public service announcement to stay safe while enjoying family time on the water.

“Things look really promising now, but we need to keep this momentum going,” said Vatalaro.

During the event, fishing retailers and media cast votes for the 2020 Awards electronically, voting on more than 180 companies’ new products, said Hughes.

“There’s a lot to make sure that goes without a hitch because can’t afford for it to when you open it up and you have more than 3,000 votes coming in for product,” said Hughes. “It had to go smoothly, and it did.”

Retailers and media cast a second vote the following day to choose from the 30 winners from the first round to choose one Best in Show. Johnson Outdoors Watercraft took the prize for its Old Town Sportsman AutoPilot.

Hughes extended his gratitude for exhibitors that stuck with the virtual show, adding that more than half of the companies that usually display at the event chose to do something else.

“I understand it’s not for everybody,” said Hughes. “We are an association, and the trade show is a big part of our revenue — we depend on membership and the trade show. Those folks that stuck with the show … and wanted to support the industry because of the work we do for the industry, I will forever be appreciative of those folks.”


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