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Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show Event Not Held!

Yesterday, Reed Exhibitions announced it was "postponing" the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. Originally scheduled to begin on February 2 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the nine day show is the country's largest outdoor show, and regularly attracts as many as 200,000 outdoor enthusiasts. It also puts an estimated $44 million in direct revenues into the region's economy.


Here is how we arrived at the most-recent announcement:

(courtesy of Shelly Stallsmith | [email protected]

• Jan. 16: Within 24 hours of the decision to ban tactical rifles, which Reed initially said would only involve less than a dozen of the more than 1,200 vendors, hundreds of people post to the show’s Facebook page, saying they wouldn’t be attending.

• Jan. 20: Cabela’s Inc., one of the show’s signature sponsors, pulls out and is hailed as champions of gun-rights advocates by many of the more than 600 commenters on PennLive.

• Jan. 21: Lee and Tiffany Lakosky, hosts of the Outdoor Channel’s show “The Crush” announce they are boycotting the show. The couple say it was a hard decision, but in the end they “couldn’t support a show that doesn’t completely support the Second Amendment.” … Nonprofits such as LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve are worried about how a proposed boycott will hurt their ability to raise funds for their programs.

• Jan. 22: The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, which began the show in the 1950s, threatens to pull out of the show, saying “Upon hearing of this decision, we worked closely with the [NRA] and industry representatives, who were in discussions with Reed’s upper management. We hoped that through continued discussions, we would be able to convince them to reverse their position.” It was the federation that turned the running of the show over to Reed when it became too big for it to handle.

• Jan. 23: A website promoting the boycott lists more than 200 vendors who say they wouldn’t be attending the show. Vendors who have nothing to do with guns say they are in a “lose-lose situation” because they will be thought of as anti-gun if they attend. … Sportsmans Liquidation, a 19-store retail chain that sells discounted hunting, fishing and outdoor brands, announces it’s dropping out of the show. … The Nat’l Wild Turkey Federation pulls out of the show, taking its popular turkey-calling contest with it. … The National Rifle Association joins the growing list of “sorry, but we will respectfully decline your invitation” groups.

• Jan. 24: Olympic gold medalist Jamie Gray announces she will not be making a scheduled appearance at the show. The Lebanon native, who won 3x20 rifle in the London Games, makes her announcement on her Facebook page.

• Jan. 25: The loss of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, because really, who expects it to be rescheduled, will mean a projected $43 million loss to the region.


Some hoteliers and restaurants say this decision will "make for a very long winter" in their area. Many of the more than 1,000 exhibitors come from out of the region and provide a huge boost to a slow season during the nine-day event.

Reed kicked off a controversy when managers announced their decision not to allow any presence of the AR-rifle platform at the Eastern Show. That prohibition even extended to images of the rifle used to solicit raffle ticket sales. In other words, the AR (initially, they called it an "assault rifle") was a non-starter at what Reed considered a pure hunting and fishing show.

"Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event's historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families," said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas. "In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day. "

It was seen by the industry as anything but a product decision.

Major sponsor Cabela's was the first to announce a pullout. Others, including Smith & Wesson, Ruger, Trijicon, and Crimson Trace followed along with organizations including the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Dozens of small exhibitors, many with products unrelated to the modern sporting rifle, pulled out in support of gun rights.

The small exhibitors' decisions not to attend were especially impactful. Many of them depend on sales at the Eastern Show's for a majority of their annual income. Recognizing their sacrifice, several in the industry reached out to these vendors with the support they needed by purchasing products from them.

At that point, observers realized this had the potential to become a watershed moment in the fight to preserve gun rights.

The tipping-point may have been the National Rifle Association's announcement that it, too, was pulling out. At that point, the matter moved from a widespread ad-hoc protest to a full-out Second Amendment fight.

Now every small exhibitor is faced with the same problem: finding a way to provide without the benefit of the Eastern Show. With Reed's announcing a postponement rather than a cancellation of the event, there are operational questions still unanswered. For example, does a postponement entitle exhibitors to refunds, or freeze money until a show IS held?

Not cancelling the show is probably the right call at this point. Historically, few shows ever cancelled return to their previous levels of attendance or participation.

Meanwhile, other shows across the country are working to get the word out they are not banning any type of firearms from their shows. The Portland Sportsman's Show, the second largest consumer sportsman's show in the country, contacted us with word that they have "no intention of outlawing any legal sporting product from their exhibit floor-and wants the entire industry to know that."

We've learned that at least one other exhibition company is attempting to acquire the Eastern Show from Reed Exhibitions.

And what of Reed's future in the outdoor industry? That's being discussed at the highest levels of the industry. Can a company that has taken (for whatever the reason) a stand against the most popular firearm in America continue to profit from that industry?

The NSSF's SHOT Show is the marquee event in the industry, and Reed is their longtime management partner.

The NSSF's statement on the Eastern Show made it very clear that their "intense, frank discussions" with Reed management in an attempt to change their minds were unsuccessful.

With their refusal to reconsider their policy, Reed essentially, rendered itself toxic in the outdoor industry. That's the reason the NSSF is "considering all options regarding the management of future SHOT events."

Ending the Reed relationship and finding a new SHOT Show management company, despite the difficulties that will cause, seems the only real option at this point.

This controversy has distracted many of the industry's leaders at a critical time in the battle to defeat Congressional efforts to institute restrictive new gun laws. With that legislation now formally having been introduced, the scene shifts from this skirmish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to a full-blown, set-piece political engagement in Washington, D.C.

Hopefully, many of the anti-gun legislators have taken note of the fact that the outdoor community- across the board- has made their position known when it comes to any restrictions on the modern sporting rifle.

As always, we'll keep you posted.

--Jim Shepherd

EDITOR'S NOTE: Our request for an interview with Mr. Burchett was declined. The company, we're told, will have "no further comment on the matter."

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