Class-at-ASR started attracting more brands than ASR. This was becoming the place to be.

After 29 years, Action Sports Retailer Trade Show has folded. We%uFFFDve covered this show for years and seen it go through a variety of phases (do a keyword search %uFFFDASR%uFFFD for all of our stories on this show), and we%uFFFDre sad to hear the news.

However the show had been struggling as was evidence in the last year with larger surf and skate brands pulling out, the rise of Class@ASR, and the growth of more grassroots shows such as Agenda.

But as stories of ASR’s demise have come out, so too have organizations across action sports all explaining their position, thoughts on why the show had to close, and plans for the future, including the possibility of re-creating a new west coast show for the industry.

In a letter to the industry, Andy Tompkins, ASR Show Director and VP of Nielsen Sports Group, explained the decision for the Nielsen-owned show to fold as “the result of recent consolidation among major brands and even meaningful changes in the retail environment has significantly altered the landscape. As a direct reflection of the marketplace, the ASR shows have experienced the cause and effect of these market shifts. We have worked diligently to evolve the format of each show to keep ASR, the industries largest west coast trade shows, ahead of the changing economic environment while also meeting the evolving needs of this industry.

“Although this has been a particularly challenging period of adjustment for the market, we are confident the industry will thrive and continue to evolve for years to come. The action sports lifestyle has huge consumer appeal and favorable youth demographics along with leading, creative and successful brands and retailers. However, given the competition among key brands and the consolidation among retail shops, it appears for now, to be mostly a market share battle for floor space. This dynamic, combined with tight credit markets, has been hard on the new, smaller or up-and-coming brands as well as many independent surf, skate and boutique retailers. We expect this consolidated and competitive situation to continue to characterize the action sports industry in California for some time to come. Given these fundamental changes, it has proven to be increasingly difficult for the ASR shows in San Diego to serve the new needs of the action sports marketplace. Therefore, we are indefinitely suspending these events.”

The changes in the marketplace of action sports has been significant and we’ve been outlining via varrious data reports and stories from Label Networks’ Global Youth Culture Studies for years. Not only has there been a growing divide between surf and skate, which is clear with the tension at the show between the two no matter how much IASC and SIMA and BRA say they’re all bros, but the influx and dynamics of streetwear, music merch, freestyle motoX, MMA, also took it’s toll on the so-called “core” of action sports.

Significant changes in youth culture preferences and action sports started taking place in 2005, which we noticed based on the changing lifestyle of 13-25-year-olds across North America and who the target marketplace considered cool brands and why, plus what they thought actually were “action sports.” In October, 2009, after being asked to present at ASR, we ran another profile, “The Decline of Action Sports Lifestyle -A Wake-up Call to an Industry that Still Thinks It’s Hot,” which went into detail on where the marketplace was taking the greatest hit, and how the industry must evolve (plus brands that actually had successfully made the leap).

From Label Networks%uFFFD Exclusive Profile Report on changes in the marketplace–declines and new opportunities. Photo by Label Networks of Shaun White.

Obviously there are strong lifestyle aspects of action sports that attract youth culture, and many other industries continue to try and incorporate such elements to gain their own credibility, but there were many brands that simply missed the mark, over and over again, as we saw percentages for youth preferences for such brands continue to get older or simply drop off the radar altogether. Or, brands made new plans to seek new markets in Europe and Asia, where action sports still has an American-rebellion reputation as a new independent lifestyle culture, as the USA was no longer generating the necessary growth needed to please stockholders of publically traded companies. Meanwhile, various other lifestyle brands were able to fill the new gaps being created in the USA which are attracting a completely new generation -young people who have “always” seen snowboarding in the Olympics and recognize Shaun White far more than they do Kelly Slater. Action sports itself evolved yet again to include a greater crossover of sports based on changes in the youth culture marketplace and young active people trying new things -trading tricks from one sport to another, and creating altogether new sports and new ideas of what they consider to be their lifestyle sport.

When we presented at the Action Sports Retailer trade show and the reason we ran the story was because one topic we touched on seemed to resonate the most which was where and why certain demographics in youth culture in North America are simply not that into action sports and the lifestyle. First, it should be noted that we’ve been saying there’s a decline in specific demographics in action sports for the last 7 years. In addition, it’s only those in the action sports industry that calls action sports “action sports.” You ask 13-25-year-olds today about sports, they don’t necessarily say “I like action sports” or even see it differentiated that way, or even see their activity as a “sport.” Skateboarding, for example, is just something that they may do. Not everyone even thinks of it as a sport.

Ironically, at another conference in Canada were we presented on the state of action sports and youth culture, we pointed out some of real competitors action sports brands had based on our data on youth culture consumer preferences. Many people told us the presentation was a wake-up call. Even a top Quiksilver manager commented that until he saw the charts and graphs, he “never really thought of H&M as a more fierce competitor than Billabong.”

What seems to chap many people in action sports, and thus prompting many organizations to fire off press releases proving the strength of this industry and their roles in its future, is that the industry changed drastically but not necessarily slowly -it was happening for years. Combined with an entirely new generation that sees things differently, many got caught behind the times. ASR’s letter states some significant facts to this notion. And ASR got caught too. No matter how much they tried to revitalize, and it was clear that they put in significant effort, it was already too late.

However, to read various statements from many organizations in action sports, they claim there’s a hole now for a more improved ASR in the future. What they still don’t seem to realize is that hole got filled, years ago, and it’s called Agenda.

Front entrance into Agenda at the Fall show, 2010.

Now Agenda is tapping into the open vacuum created from SIA moving from Vegas to Denver with its own Agenda Snow debut January 6-7, 2011. (Their most recent viral video shows Olympic silver snowboard medalist and Grenade Gloves and Grenade Motocross founder, Danny Kass, and The Dingo, on skis.)  Snowboarding brands and freeskiing brands are already booked.

Meanwhile, Agenda, once scarcely covered by action sports media even though it took place at the same time and was clearly the new location of up-and-coming and cool brands, continued to grow its credibility. Created in a space without the confines of union-paid workers and restrictions, it was able to provide less expensive booths, and it attracted a cache of cool -from decent DJ’s to food to significant street artists–while still being a working show. It’s significant to note, for example, that Hurley left ASR altogether and went to Agenda. That brands such as Vans, while showing at ASR, also showed at Agenda. Same with Volcom, and the list goes on.

On Tompkins Facebook page there was a hint that more attention would be spent with attracting action sports brands to Outdoor Retailer (which is also owned by Nielsen). While it’s true that some top action sports brands do show there, it’s unlikely that crossover streetwear brands, up-and-coming upper urban brands, or an entire collection of sneaker brands would even consider OR. That show has a completely different vibe -a vibe that works for outdoor enthusiasts and retailers (and it’s location), but it’s not youth focused. (Although they are trying and graciously invited us to come present after seeing our presentation at ASR.)  OR could become a new location for certain kinds of action sports brands (mainly large ones) and there is room for more youth culture elements, but it will be a different kind.

Trade shows are a roller coaster ride and after covering on average some 20 a year for the last 15 years, those of us at Label Networks can tell you for a fact that the old model of doing trade show business is gone and must change in order to attract a new way of thinking. Look at what’s going on with Bread & Butter Berlin and Bright. MAGIC and Project and Capsule and S.L.A.T.E., and Pool, and Workroom. Then there’s the evolution of shows within shows becoming their own, such as the Goth area of Streetwear in MAGIC that people still refer to as “The Edge” vs. the up-and-coming trade show London Edge. Evolution can be seen also with shows such as Thread, a grassroots show if ever there was one, and shows such as Surface to Air’s online version LeNew Black.

The thing about action sports and the chatter about a new west coast show is what would it be for? To bring together the “core” sports such as surf, skate, snow when clearly they have all three gone their separate ways?

Sometimes, getting the band back together just doesn’t work.