New York show dates and the ‘big picture’

NMMA official says Gov. Cuomo wasn’t just rescuing an event but aiding an endangered $5.8B industry

The Progressive Insurance New York Boat Show not only has new dates for its winter show, it is adding a new in-water fall show.

Starting in 2015, the show will move from the immediate post-holiday period to dates later in January — a move organizers say is saving the 109-year-old event from extinction. In addition, the National Marine Manufacturers Association has secured September dates at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan from 2014 to 2019 for a new show with an in-water component on the Hudson River that organizers and local officials think will bring more visitors to the city and more potential customers to the boating industry.

NEW YORK SHOW DATES WINTER AND FALL Year Winter Fall 2014 Jan. 1-5 Sept. 10-14 2015 Jan. 21-25 Sept. 16-20 2016 Jan. 27-31 Sept. 7-11 2017 Jan. 25-29 Sept. 6-10 2018 Jan. 24-28 Sept. 12-16 2019 Jan. 23-27 Sept. 4-8

A fall show with an in-water component is “really exciting,” says NMMA regional show manager Jon Pritko. “We have this opportunity to really create a different and unique event in the Northeast. I feel like it will be truly different than other fall shows. It’s New York. You have a lot of wealth there. I think we might someday be able to have large boats and megayachts. It’s the New York market, and people know the value of the New York market. And New York is a destination city, and fall is a beautiful time of year to be there.”

The announcement to move the January show to better dates, as well as add the fall show, was made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in August. The governor cited the difficulty the state’s $5.8 billion marine industry is facing because of the boat damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. The announcement ruffled the feathers of trade show operators who say the boat show is receiving preferential treatment.

Friends of Javits, a group that represents trade show organizers at the Javits Center, says the decision was unfair. “As you are aware, it is longstanding policy that exhibition dates at the Javits Center are carefully chosen based on tax revenue generation for the city and state of New York, as well as economic opportunity for the New York hotel, restaurant and transportation sectors,” the group said in a letter to Cuomo. “For your administration to give the boat show preferential treatment over more successful and qualified exhibitions stands in steep contrast to this policy.”

Critics point out that attendance had been dropping at the show prior to Sandy. Show officials acknowledge the decline but blame it on the poor dates.

A return to tradition

Pritko argues that the show is finally getting to return to dates it held for nearly a century. “We didn’t get new dates. We’re just going back to our original dates. We were moved to less desirable dates, and attendance dropped. They didn’t work.”

Cuomo says the show will move back to its traditional mid- to late-January pattern for the period from 2015 to 2019.

News reports say Cuomo had met with a marine industry friend and then switched the dates, but Pritko says those accounts misrepresent actual events. “This year we received a five-year date pattern, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” he says. “They were all really early in January. It’s been proven that those dates don’t work. For the guys to come and miss time with families, some said they can’t do it. We had a group that represented about 60 percent of the floor. They said they needed a show in the New York market, but the dealers were saying, ‘We get it, but we just can’t do it anymore.’ ”

Pritko continues: “Long story short, one of the people on that committee there, one of our larger exhibitors, called the governor because he’d met him once at a reception. The timing was right. He got him [on the phone] and explained what was going on.” The dealer told the governor the show was not going to survive, leading Cuomo to meet with exhibitors and organizers.

“I actually have a picture of the New York show history,” Pritko says. “There’s a picture of a boat being pulled in by horses. It’s very impactful. When you see that, you realize that the show is 109 years old. We met with the governor and … gave him the facts. We had those dates for almost 100 years until we started getting moved around 10 years ago. This is a nearly $5.8 billion industry, and this show is going to go away, and that could affect almost 1,900 small businesses and 46,000 boating industry jobs. He’s big on small business. He’s big on the state using natural resources, which is what boating does. We do consider him a friend and an ally. He’s looking at the big picture. We were trying to show that to other administrations, and it just didn’t get through, so we’re very thankful to Gov. Cuomo.”

The New York market

Cuomo liked the idea of a boating event in the fall so attendees could get out on the water. “He’s looking forward to bringing more people into the city, the state of New York, and helping them see how great boating is in New York state,” Pritko says.

Pritko acknowledges that boat shows do not fill hotels the way trade shows do, but he says Cuomo is looking at the overall impact of an industry, not just the impact of the show. “Our sales in New York are declining when they’re up everywhere else, and it’s such an important boating market,” Pritko says. “That’s where we struggle.”

The NMMA, which owns the show, wanted to wait until 2015 to make the move so other exhibitors and the convention center had a chance to regroup. “They have a full calendar and limited time frames,” Pritko says. “They get some massive trade shows in there, and it takes some time to turn around our show. Unlike a trade show that’s two or three days long, the consumer shows are four or five days, and we take up a significant amount of time with setup and breakdown, as well. From a business perspective, consumer shows aren’t as lucrative. People are in and out — they’re not staying for days, and they’re not frequenting the restaurants as much, or hotels.”

But Pritko says boat show organizers understand the problems that unfavorable dates cause and are willing to work with the Javits Center to help accommodate everyone’s needs as well as possible.

“We’re not being bullies. A lot of us have been involved with this challenge for a very long time,” Pritko says. “For me, it’s been almost my whole career at the NMMA. So to see all this incorrect information in the press, I feel like we need to get it out there that we weren’t given better dates. We were just given back the dates we had for a century. You have to give an industry value beyond just how many people the show brings to the state. A $5.79 billion industry is nothing to joke about, and to see this 100-year-old boat show go away — and it was going to — would have been terrible. There was only one year the show was postponed, and that was because of World War II.

“Gov. Cuomo understands that this was our lifeline. People are passionate about the show again. Remember being so excited for Christmas and then not getting the toy you wanted on Christmas morning? That’s what happened to us every year for the last 10 years. Every year we got the dates and said, ‘Oh, come on!’ It had finally gotten to the point where we thought we can’t do it anymore. So we’re very excited.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue.


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