Visiting The (Virtual) PGA Merchandise Show 2021
Because my day job is high school teacher, I have never had the opportunity to attend the legendary PGA Merchandise Show in Florida. It simply falls in the wrong place on the calendar. Teachers don’t get to choose their own vacation days.
In 2021, however, the pandemic forced the PGA Merchandise Show to go virtual. That meant that once my teaching duties were done for the day, I could surf on over to the show to see what was going on.
The virtual show was basically a website with a lot of interior pages. From my “dashboard,” I could click on the name of an exhibitor and be whisked away to their “booth.” All of the booths had photos to scroll through, videos to watch, and a list of contacts. Some had downloadable catalogs. If interested, a visitor could schedule a live video meeting with one of the exhibitor’s representatives.
I had a very nice meeting with Andrew Mikowski of Moonshine Golf. I noticed their interesting name in the exhibitors list and upon paying their booth a visit, found I really liked the vibe. Their apparel is described as “country casual,” and their spring line features polos with a dash of camouflage, appealing to the golfing-hunting-fishing crowd, of which there are many in Michigan.
Moonshine is a brand new company, having formed last summer to launch their product line at the PGA Merchandise Show. Their site only has t-shirts up at this point, but more apparel is coming.
Brave folk, to launch a new business in the middle of a pandemic. Good luck to them.
In addition to the more or less static pages, the show had a great many live events scheduled. To access these, virtual attendees clicked on a link at the proper time to join the meeting. In these virtual meeting rooms, the sidebar had tabs where attendees could type in questions and chat.
It was pretty much exactly what I use every day to run my virtual Google Classroom.
I attended live sessions from FootJoy, BloqUV, Cobra and the Greg Norman Collection, among others. On demand presentations were available if you missed a live one.
Some sessions, such as the one from FootJoy, were very slick, with professionally produced videos that were really long-form advertisements. FootJoy also had live feeds from its staff players testifying to the utility and style of their product.
Other companies were more casual, with company representatives pulling samples from racks and waving them in front of the camera.
The Greg Norman Collection’s presentation was squarely in-between, with representative talking about the spring collection, and then launching video as needed. Those videos were less slick — more authentic, perhaps — composed mostly of average looking folk modeling various bits of apparel.
I also “attended” a “Trend Panel & Virtual Fashion Show” hosted by Bailey Mosier Chamblee, Brittany Romano (Associate Editor at Golf Digest),
Kenneth “KP” Patterson (Editor of TRENDYGOLF) and Tisha Alyn (Social Media and Golf Media Personality). The upshot of the panel for me was “wear whatever you want; there are no rules any more.”
That sentiment doesn’t really sound all that different from what we were saying in the 1970s when we wanted to wear jeans and t-shirts to school in the face of dress codes.
Of (humorous) interest to me in the panel and show was how many of the outfits would have fit right in with what players were wearing in the 1970s and 1980s: loud patterns and clashing colors. They were just a sansabelt away from going full-on Doug Sanders. I saw a couple of pieces that put me in mind of the notorious 1999 Ryder Cup shirts.
For PGA of America members, there were numerous online classes to meet their continuing education credits.
In all, the PGA of America says that some 11,000 people attended the virtual show:
More than 11,000 attendees from 78 countries, including some 6,500 PGA Professionals, connected online to source thousands of products from nearly 400 participating golf brands. PGA Professionals, golf buyers and industry professionals were able to take part in 192 live and on-demand exhibitor, industry and education presentations. In total, virtual presentations hosted nearly 25,000 participants, with numerous single presentations exceeding 400 participants. The virtual platform facilitated nearly 5,000 attendee-exhibitor meetings and logged nearly 300,000 interactions, views and connections by PGA Professionals and industry attendees.
As the 2021 show was the PGA’s first foray into the virtual world, I thought it worked pretty well. I would have liked to go to more of the sessions and schedule a bunch of one-on-one meetings, but teaching of course takes precedent.
A couple of suggestions for a future virtual show. First, they need to figure out a way to enable closed captioning. Aside from the fact that it’s ADA required, closed captioning would be of use to the hard of hearing, including what is likely many older PGA members whose hearing isn’t what it used to be.
Second, each of the virtual booths should have a built-in chat function. Lots of commercial websites have this. You show up to the site and a little chat window opens in the lower right. That would make the virtual experience a lot more like showing up at a show booth and chatting up the people who are there.
And finally, in a related function, the virtual booths should have a live video feed. Again, making the virtual experience more nearly match the live show, a visitor could show up, click on a button and immediately see a vendor representative on the other side. Companies would have people manning the booths during the length of the show; they could have a selection of people manning the virtual booths for the same period.
Which leaves me with the ultimate question: Will the PGA Merchandise Show be in person next year?
I am sure that the PGA of America is anxious to return to the old days. But even with the vaccine, I am not so sure it is possible. I think that a great many things in life will not go back to “normal” one this pandemic is over. A live PGA Merchandise Show may be one of the casualties.
A perhaps more likely scenario is that the show comes back, but in a greatly diminished capacity.
One factor may be in the degree to which companies measure a change in sales from previous years. If you can go virtual, and still successfully launch a product line, maybe you don’t need to spend all of the money associated with physically shows: travel, lodging, food, fancy booth designs and so on.
A longtime ski industry insider once told me that as much as $40 of the cost of items such as pants and jackets was directly attributable to the costs of shows and similar marketing (and this was 15 years ago). If the costs are similar in the golf industry, then a company might have to think long and hard about the return on investment. It’s one thing to go to a show because everyone else is doing it. What happens when not everyone else is doing it?
For me, a conspicuous absence from this year’s show was Wilson Golf. Also missing were Tour Edge, Honma and Big Max, three other companies I have occasional encounters with. I don’t know whether those four had been at previous shows. But if they were — and they skipped this one — that could be a sign of things to come.