The Harrisburg Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show, the nation's largest annual gathering of sporting outfitters, hunters, sportsman, shooters and others, has been postponed indefinitely after facing massive backlash over a new policy banning the display and sale of "modern sporting rifles." The policy was implemented Monday and just five days later, the show has been cancelled after being scheduled to take place February 2-10 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"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 [modern sporting rifles] 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 has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment. It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing. ESS has long been proud to participate in the preservation and promotion of hunting and fishing traditions, and we hope that as the national debate clarifies, we will have an opportunity to consider rescheduling the event when the time is right to focus on the themes it celebrates."
Although Reed's statement attempts to pin the show cancellation on disgruntled exhibitors and an "emotionally charged atmosphere," the company sealed it's own fate by caving to anti-gun political pressure. The "modern sporting rifles" policy prompted a boycott of the show by companies, celebrities, conservation groups, outdoor media and outfitters including Cabela's, Rough Country Outfitters, Ruger Firearms, Rough Country Outfitters, Ruger Firearms, International Bowhunting Organization, IScope, J & M Traditions, Katahdin’s Shadow Outfitters, Keystone Country Store, Major League Bowhunter, Masterpiece Outdoors, Inc. and hundreds more. The policy was implemented after thousands of people and businesses registered and paid admission fees for the show.
"This is a major major thing, this is the largest show anywhere in the region, in the country and it's fallen apart because of this," Tony Ruggeri, owner of the hunting consulting company Trophyseekers Worldwide tells Townhall. "I paid $3000 for a double booth. I won't be going, I'll be eating that. I'm not supporting any company that does not support the Second Amendment completely."
Ruggeri wrote an email to Reed Exhibitions' Group Sales Director Steve LaRoche earlier this week explaining his decision to pull out of the show.
"Here’s the deal. According to Dave Nagy [Reed Exhibitor's sales director] you already had 47 exhibitors who have cancelled, including Cabelas, Lancaster Archery and other large hunting retailers. Your celebrity speakers…The Crush, Driven TV, Larry Weishun, Fred Eichler, Triple Mag and others have also cancelled. The reason for the cancellations according to Dave is a change in venue which now restricts display and sale of semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines. Prior to my payment of the balance due on my booth of $1545.00 you approved my new partner Matthew Carr (Chester County Archery) to display in my booth. Only now, he cannot display or sell part of his product line," Ruggeri wrote. "All of the above makes it clear that this edition of the Harrisburg Show will be nothing like what we as exhibitors were promised. In addition, the word is that protests are being organized that will most likely result in at least hundreds, possibly thousands of picketers outside the Farm Show Complex (daily) protesting RE’s infringement on our 2nd Amendment rights. As a result my guess is that the 47 exhibitor cancellations you currently have is nothing compared to what it will be in the near future. The Harrisburg Show usually accounts for about 1/3 of my annual revenue, so it is at significant personal cost that I must inform you that the only ethical course of action for me at this point is to withdraw Trophyseekers Worldwide Inc. from the Harrisburg Show and demand a full refund of all booth rental fees previously paid to RE. I urge you to re-think your position on this issue. If that position changes and RE removes the show ban on semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines, issues a written apology to all sportsmen and gun owners and wins back its major exhibitors and celebrity speakers, as owner of Trophyseekers Worldwide Inc. I will re-think the position described above."
The National Rifle Association, a major sponsor, put the final nail in the coffin for the show.
"Due to Reed Exhibitions' refusal to reconsider their decision to ban Modern Sporting Rifles from the February 2-10 Eastern Sports Show in Harrisburg, PA, the National Rifle Association has decided to withdraw from the show. We had called on Reed Exhibitions to reconsider their decision; unfortunately they have steadfastly refused to do so. As a result, the NRA will not be participating in the upcoming show in Harrisburg or in any other shows hosted by Reed Exhibitions that maintain this policy. We are disappointed that Reed Exhibitions has ignored the concerns expressed by attendees, the outdoor industry and the NRA in not reconsidering their position to ban the display of Modern Sporting Rifles," the NRA stated Tuesday.
Originally, show organizers refused to refund exhibitor fees, but reversed their decision this morning after the show was cancelled.
"Refunds will be provided for all fees paid to date (January 24, 2013) to Reed Exhibitions for the 2013 Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. We will detail the refund process on our web site and in an additional email by January 31, 2013," Reed Exhibitions wrote in an email to exhibitors Thursday.
The decision by Reed Exhibitions to cancel the show rather than reverse their recently implemented modern sporting rifles policy will have a significant and damaging impact not only the exhibitors who planned to attend, but on the local economy which would have benefited from millions of dollars in stimulus.
Steve LaRoche and Dave Nagy of Reed Exhibitions did not return calls for comment.
UPDATE: In light of the show cancellation and refunding of fees by Reed, Tom McConnell of MyNortheastOutdoors.com will hold a "virtual show" from Feb. 2-10 in order to give vendors an opportunity to make up for what they have lost.
This now will allow the vendors to sell their products online through this common market place, without the fret of having to make up huge monetary losses due to REED Exhibitions stance on weapons bans at the show.
We as their supporters must still realize, we must continue to support these vendors, they count on the sales for huge portions of their annual sales, and if they don’t meet sales goals on MyNEODClasifieds.com then it is still a drain on their wallet, just not so large anymore.
We will launch the Virtual Sports Show on Feb 2nd and run through Feb 10th, 2013. Only vendors who have boycotted the show will be permitted to have products on the website during this time.
After this show ends we will open the page up to any vendors who wish to list their items for sale on the site, and it will remain online as a common market place for all, and as a ‘landmark of our victory here in PA’
UPDATE II: According to local ABC 27 News, Pennsylvania will lose $80 million in potential revenue.