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Imagine giant arenas filled with the latest and greatest in your industry. Vendors performing exciting demos, over-the-top exhibitions, and throngs of people eager to learn and see. That’s exactly what you’ll find at a sports trade show!

Sports trade shows are exhibitions that bring buyers and sellers together, whether you’re a manufacturer looking promote your product or service or a buyer looking for the right products to stock at your retail establishment. They can be exciting, adrenaline-pumping adventures, but they can also be incredibly time-consuming and expensive.

How do you know if they’re right for you? We’re spilling all the details and insider secrets below to help you decide if attending a sports trade show is right for you, whether you’re an exhibitor with something to sell or a buyer.

Top Sports Trade Shows

If you can think of an industry or product niche, there’s probably a trade show for it. The sports industry, wide and varied as it is, is no exception. Some of the top USA shows include the Licensing Expo, held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada, the Diving Equipment Manufacturers Association (DEMA), the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT Show), and ASD Market Week.

The Licensing Expo

Originally conceived and held in New York, The Licensing Expo has been in business since 1980. At its heart, it’s a trade show designed to help leverage properties and brand equity for merchandisers. Each year, the sports trade show brings in over 500 exhibitors and over 7,000 brands.

Industries range from sports, to fashion, to automotive, to entertainment, and more. A typical attendee might be a licensee, manufacturer, retailer, distributor, or advertising professional from one of more than ninety countries.

Held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center the exhibits will fill the nearly 38,000 square feet of exhibit space for a truly epic experience!


DEMA is also held annually, but its location varies year to year. It is the largest single trade event in the world for scuba-diving, ocean sports, and diving and adventure travel industries. In addition to partnering its hundreds of exhibitors with thousands of industry professionals, DEMA also provides extensive learning and training opportunities for sports trade show attendees.


SHOT is another mammoth event, despite the fact that it’s not open to the public. It is a sports trade show for those in the shooting, hunting, and firearms industry, including commercial buyers and military, law enforcement, and tactical product sellers. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has sponsored the show since 1979 and holds it in various locations across the US.

Despite its restricted attendance, over 60,000 people attend each year.

ASD Market Week

The ASD show is held biannually at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It prides itself on being a “comprehensive” trade show, so while it’s not strictly a sports trade show, it is the place to be for sports product sellers or buyers. It primarily supports small to large retailers, distributors, or importers, and also contains the SourceDirect Trade Show that allows the buying of wholesale goods overseas.

Market Week typically sees more than 45,000 buyers and thousands of exhibitors.

What You Need to Know If You’re a Vendor

Especially if you’re going to one of the national shows we just mentioned, registration fees alone for exhibiting at a sports trade show can easily reach into the thousands–and that’s without considering the cost of travel, accommodations, and booth setup. If you’re planning on being a vendor at a trade show, here are our top tips for making sure you’re successful:

1. Start Small and Do Your Homework

Before committing to a national show, try attending a small, local show first. Even better, attend as a participant only. Obviously, you’ll need to prepare well in advance for this to work, but that’s the name of the game in the sports trade exhibition world–planning.

Watch what other booths do. See who gets the most buzz and find out why. Talk to people (people at trade shows love to chat!) and learn what works well for others and what mistakes people have made in the past. Make friends with the people putting on the show and find out what they recommend (remember, they’ve seen it all over the years!).

Starting small can help you spend your money much more wisely–and be more successful overall–when you finally do exhibit at a major show.

2. See This as a Chance to Test the Market

It can take years of exhibiting to begin to see reliable returns, but if you have a brand new business (even if you haven’t yet begun production yet!) sports trade shows can be invaluable opportunities to test the market. For the cost of the show and the setup, you’ll have access to thousands of top buyers. If you’re willing to be open to constructive criticism, you’ll get. If you’re smart, you’ll be able to use that feedback to build an even better product.

3. Don’t Won’t till the Actual Show

As soon as you get the vendor list, start reaching out to people you’d like to meet. You can shoot potential partners, reps, or buyers an email with your booth number and a request to meet. You can also use the vendor list to make a detailed plan for the show, itself. Don’t just wait for people to come to you; get out there and be proactive!

4. Plan for the Long Term

As we’ve already mentioned, your investment in regular show attendance usually takes years to pay off. Be patient, and be consistent, and you’ll start to see regular returns. Keep in mind, as well, that it’s not just about finding a buyer for your product. Shows are great opportunities to connect with other individuals in the industry, whether that’s a fellow exhibitor, a consultant, a rep, a factory, or somebody else. Keep in mind that you should offer to help as much as you’d like others to help you, and you’ll be well on your way to building strong relationships.

5. A Good Booth Speaks Volumes

Your booth is your first chance to make a first impression, so don’t blow it! If you can, demo your product in an exciting way. Keep in mind that less is more inside your booth and that you want it to be as open and accessible to people as possible. Bring enough help; you never want your booth to be unmanned.

What You Need to Know If You’re a Buyer

If you’re looking to stock a retail establishment or online store, a sports trade show can be an incredible opportunity to build an inventory that delights your customers and keeps them coming back for more. It can also be plain ‘old convenient–tons of vendors, ready to demo and sell to you? Yes, please!

Keep in mind, however, that while vendors have one goal (to sell!), you have two: you are buying AND you’re selling (though the last one happens after the show ends). Here are some tips to make sure you have a great experience:

1. Do Your Research

Know your budget, and the kind of margins that work for you. Have very clear data about what has worked in the past, and what hasn’t. There will be lots of great people, fun products, and bright lights to sway your emotions, so having the numbers on hand will help you stick to your goals.

Don’t just research your own needs–research the other vendors. Reach out and make connections before the show, and plan meetings and demos ahead of time. This will help you use your time effectively while you’re at the show.

2. Don’t Overbuy

Vendors have their own set of terms, and it’s tempting to agree to larger minimums than you’d like just to make the sale. That’s not always a wise decision, however. If the terms don’t work for your store, they’re ultimately not going to work for your customer, and that’s your bottom line.

Not all vendors will negotiate, but some will. Most often, the things that can be adjusted are the order minimum, the receipt of payment, or the cost of shipping. Even finding flexibility on just one of these can be extremely helpful.

3. Take Care of Yourself

You will likely be walking a ton, so plan your day carefully with lots of stops for hydration and snacks. Wear comfortable walking shoes and take time to recharge in a quiet spot for a few minutes if you need to. Taking good care of yourself will help you make the smartest decisions.

Sports trade shows are fantastic opportunities. Now that you know how to rock them as a buyer or a vendor, all that’s left is to book your next show!

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