Outdoor Retailer Shows Pulling Out of Utah, Colorado Poised to Capitalize

Inside a recent edition of the Outdoor Retailer show.
Inside a recent edition of the Outdoor Retailer show.

Update: Following a teleconference yesterday that connected Utah Governor Gary Herbert with numerous outdoor-related business interests concerned about the state's public-lands policies, Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association has announced that the huge Outdoor Retailer shows that have been taking place twice annually in Salt Lake City during recent years will be seeking a new home. And groups in Colorado hope that home will be here.

Our previous coverage, on view below, lays out criticism that OIA executive director Amy Roberts summarized as " disagreements with the state's leadership — somewhat with the governor, but more with Congressman Rob Bishop — around public policy that's really been focused on federal-land transfer. And right now, the flashpoint is around state takeover — whether the state should take over federal lands and Utah's efforts to get President Trump to issue an executive order rescinding the Bear Ears National Monument," which was approved last year by the Obama administration.

The conversation didn't go well, as is spelled out in an Outdoor Industry Association news release reproduced below in its entirety. The upshot: Outdoor Retailer won't be staying in Utah.

This message was reinforced by remarks from officials at Emerald Expositions, the parent company of Outdoor Retailer and Interbike, an international bicycle-industry show staged in Las Vegas. Emerald Expositions executive vice president Darrell Denny stated, "Emerald Expositions will...not extend the request for proposal to Utah for relocating the Outdoor Retailer trade show."

That's music to the ears of Conservation Colorado. The organization ran advertisements in two Salt Lake City newspapers this week touting Colorado as a great location for Outdoor Retailer. Here's that ad:

Outdoor Retailer Shows Pulling Out of Utah, Colorado Poised to Capitalize (2)
Courtesy of Conservation Colorado

Moving Outdoor Retailer to Colorado could get tricky because of possible conflicts between its winter edition and SIA Snow Show, a Denver-based event that has some contractual protections against potentially overlapping events. We describe that issue below. But first, here's the Outdoor Industry Association release:

Outdoor Industry, Governor Herbert Disagree on Public Lands Protections, Utah’s Recreation Economy

Outdoor Industry Association, representing more than 1200 outdoor businesses nationally, including more than 50 in Utah, today held a call with Utah Governor Gary Herbert in an effort to achieve a common understanding of the value Americans place on our public lands and our right to access those lands for recreation.

OIA was joined on the call by the leadership of Patagonia, The North Face, REI and Outdoor Retailer.

Unfortunately, what we heard from Governor Herbert was more of the same. It is clear that the governor indeed has a different perspective on the protections of public lands from that of our members and the majority of Western state voters, both Republicans and Democrats — that’s bad for our American heritage, and it’s bad for our businesses. We are therefore continuing our search for a new home as soon as possible.

“Over the last 20 years, Outdoor Retailer has been in Salt Lake City, generating more than $45 million in annual economic impact,” said Amy Roberts from Outdoor Industry Association. “Further, the outdoor recreation economy in Utah adds more than $12 billion in direct spending, supports 122,000 jobs in the state, pays $3.6 billion in salaries and wages, and contributes more than $856 million in state and local tax revenue every year. We believe these numbers and our values will be of great interest to other states in the West.”

Roberts continued, “It’s disappointing Governor Herbert and the Utah congressional delegation are in a different place from Republican and Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., and across the country. Both President Trump and Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke have stated their support for keeping public lands public and accessible by all Americans.

“Outdoor Industry Association will continue to support the efforts of Outdoor Retailer to seek a new home for the trade show.”

Roberts concluded stating, “It is important to our membership, and to our bottom line that we partner with states and elected officials who share our views on the truly unique American value of public lands for the people and conserving our outdoor heritage for the next generation.”

For several years, Outdoor Industry Association has worked in good faith with Governor Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation in an attempt to rectify differences in ownership, management and the economic importance of America’s public lands.

Despite Utah’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, elected officials in Utah, from Governor Herbert and the state legislature to its congressional delegation, most notably Representative Bishop, the Chairman of the House Resources Committee, have all actively embraced the idea of transferring America’s public lands to the state. A move, that in many states, has already resulted in the outright sale or restricted access to the very public lands that have provided hunting, angling, hiking, skiing, and camping to generations of people seeking to skirt the urban hustle for the outdoors – a uniquely American experience.

It’s a move that has been widely rejected by voters of all stripes. Public lands have defined America and serve as the backbone of the outdoor recreation economy. For the hundreds of outdoor merchandisers, retailers, guides, outfitters and other recreation service providers, the transfer or sale of America’s public lands is the loss of the very infrastructure that supports our industry.


In addition to the issues outlined below, there is a long history of anti-public land sentiment and action stemming from Utah’s state and congressional officials that has led to this discussion, including votes in Congress to support transferring federal lands to states, pursuit of a lawsuit to try to force the transfer of federal lands to Utah, and most recently a resolution passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Herbert asking President Trump to overturn the Bears Ears National Monument by Executive Order.

In the call with Governor Herbert, the Outdoor Industry Association requested that his administration reverse its position on four items that have been the source of conflict for OIA members.

First, OIA requested that he revoke any support for the sale or transfer of America’s public lands to the states and cease legal action to that effect. This was in response to legislative efforts that had passed in the state house and had been championed by Rep. Chaffetz in Washington, D.C., that would have cleared the way or made it easier for states to acquire public lands.

Second, cease on any effort to nullify the Antiquities Act, an authority that grants Congress the ability to designate public lands, such would be the case if President Trump were to exercise through Executive Order the removal of existing public lands.

Third, we provided an opportunity for Governor Herbert to make good on this commitment by halting any support to rescind the designation of the Bears Ears area as a National Monument, a proposal that enjoyed wide bipartisan support from Utah voters and the outdoor industry.

Lastly, the outdoor industry requested that the governor embrace and actively support the outdoor recreation economy’s role in the state by supporting the public lands that provide the backbone of the industry’s sales. OIA shared its belief that Utah has the opportunity to change course and grow the outdoor recreation economy for the benefit of the Utah tax base and the locally based businesses that call Utah home.

These requests of the governor were delivered in good faith on behalf of OIA and its membership and represent the values of the overwhelming majority of Americans on all sides of the political aisle.

Outside a previous winter version of the Outdoor Retailer show.
Outside a previous winter version of the Outdoor Retailer show.

Original post, 6:59 a.m. February 16: Today, February 16, executives from the booming outdoor-goods industry are scheduled to take part in a conference call with Utah Governor Gary Herbert over the future of the Outdoor Retailer trade shows, huge gatherings that take place twice per year in Salt Lake City. The execs are so angry over Utah's public-lands policies that they've threatened to move the events — and the estimated $45 million they generate annually — out of state, and companies such as Patagonia have already announced a boycott. Meanwhile, a group from the local conservation community, echoed by Governor John Hickenlooper, is lobbying hard for Colorado to become the new Outdoor Retailer destination.

Amy Roberts, executive director of the Boulder-based Outdoor Industry Association, the title sponsor of the shows, sets up the conflict.

"The show's been in Utah for a long time," says Roberts, "and over that period, we've had disagreements with the state's leadership — somewhat with the governor, but more with Congressman Rob Bishop — around public policy that's really been focused on federal-land transfer. And right now, the flashpoint is around state takeover — whether the state should take over federal lands and Utah's efforts to get President Trump to issue an executive order rescinding the Bear Ears National Monument," which the Obama administration authorized last year.

"Last month, the Utah legislature passed a resolution asking for the president to rescind Bear Ears," Roberts continues. "It doesn't have any legal impact; only the president can choose to do that. But it's a finger in the eye to our industry, which is really dependent on public lands. And one of the things we found most ironic is that this week, while the governor and Congressman Bishop and these other politicians in Utah have made it clear they want Bear Ears rescinded, the state tourism office has actually created a page on its website promoting Bear Ears — promoting people in Utah and outside Utah to come visit. That's admitting there's a lot of recreational value in that area."

Another image from a past Outdoor Retailer show.
Another image from a past Outdoor Retailer show.

This matter has convinced a number of major retailers to pull out of Outdoor Retailer, with Patagonia being arguably the most vocal of the bunch. Here's an excerpt from a Patagonia post headlined "Does Utah Love the Outdoor Industry?:"

The outdoor industry creates three times the amount of jobs than the fossil fuels industry, yet the Governor has spent most of his time in office trying to rip taxpayer-owned lands out from under us and hand them over to drilling and mining companies. And just a few days ago, the state announced plans to sue the federal government to reverse the recent protection of Bears Ears, a site containing thousands of years of Native American archeological treasures and craggy red rocks beloved by climbers from all over the world. Politicians in the state don’t seem to get that the outdoor industry — and their own state economy — depend on access to public lands for recreation.

I say enough is enough. If Governor Herbert doesn’t need us, we can find a more welcoming home.

Meanwhile, Outdoor Retailer "has announced an RFP [Request For Proposal] process," Roberts points out. "They haven't said what cities or states are going to receive invitations to bid. That's a confidential process. But there's a lot of speculation that Colorado is one of those, and it's a pretty obvious alternative."

Indeed, Governor Hickenlooper publicly called for Outdoor Retailer to settle in Colorado last month, and this week, Conservation Colorado ran advertisements in two major Salt Lake newspapers making the same point.

"They're cheeky," says Conservation Colorado spokeswoman Jessica Goad about the ads. "They mention stronger beer and taller mountains. But they also talk about our love for public lands, and that's where the real concept comes in.... We believe the industry is looking for a place that echoes their values, and there's no better place in terms of that than Colorado, which embraces and has a deep value for stewardship of our parks and public lands."

A scene from last year's SIA Snow Show, taken from our slideshow "Ski Dealers Give the Heads-Up on Next Year’s Gear at the 2016 SIA Snow Show."EXPAND
A scene from last year's SIA Snow Show, taken from our slideshow "Ski Dealers Give the Heads-Up on Next Year’s Gear at the 2016 SIA Snow Show."
Photo by Brandon Marshall

Such a move couldn't take place immediately. Outdoor Retailer is under contract to stay in Utah through the summer of 2018. That's one reason that Roberts is discouraging other companies from pulling out now, Patagonia style. "We've had quite a few brands understand that we can't move the show in such a short time frame," she notes. "And quite a few have taken the position that it's actually better to come to Utah this summer and stay unified as an industry, so we can really make our voices heard in terms of public-land issues.

There's another complication, too. SIA Snow Show, which happens in Denver each January, around when the winter version of Outdoor Retailer takes place, has what Visit Denver president and CEO Richard Scharf refers to as "a non-complete contractual agreement for any show that has a good portion of overlap."

As such, some kind of accommodation between SIA and Outdoor Retailer would have to be brokered, and Scharf has heard rumblings about this prospect.

"There are always consolidations and a lot of variables in industries these days," Scharf says. "We see it with almost every customer we're working with, especially on the association side. And there has been talk about maybe merging the shows and working together. They're just rumors at this point, but if that happened, the date overlap wouldn't be an issue."

Colorado isn't the only state eager to welcome the Outdoor Retailer shows. OIA's Roberts reveals that groups associated with Tennessee and Oregon have reached out to her organization.

"I think a lot of states would love to have the show," she says, "because we're a growing industry, and people want to showcase their public lands. There's also a huge economic impact. But I think it's more about the halo effect of having Outdoor Retailer in their state. It's basically bringing out the great natural attributes any state has, and it shines a huge spotlight on the state twice a year. It's not quite hosting the Olympics, but it has a similar impact."

Which only makes today's conference call that much more important.

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