While the fly fishing industry typically generates all the corporate bloodletting of your average kitten fight, in recent years we’ve been treated to the spectacle of a meltdown in AFFTA’s trade show decision-making process.

With chainsaw death matches so rare in this industry, frankly, it’s been huge fun.

First AFFTA fired a shot across “The Fly Fishing Show” owner Chuck Furimsky’s bow when they went head-to-head with his Denver consumer show.

That worked about as well expected (#fail), and I thought the matter was settled (#fail X2).

For example, the remnants of AFFTA’s failed consumer show combined with the ISE show, and this year, they’re again going to compete directly (on the same weekend) with Furimky’s Denver show.

AFFTA, apparently, are slow learners.

Now it’s become clear AFFTA’s Fly Fishing Retailer (dealer) show is staggering.

Despite sizable amounts of industry cheerleading (and you know who you are), staying awake through the Fly Fishing Retailer show the last three years has generally required large doses of powerful, illegal stimulants.

In fact, for months now, speculation was rife the ailing FFR show would be combined with the sizable Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, and when the AFFTA Board of Directors voted that idea down, most of us wondered exactly what the hell they had in mind.

Turns out, nothing (at least if we read our press releases correctly).

Adding to the general hilarity, Furimsky clearly hasn’t forgotten the direct assault on his Denver show, and he’s proposing a Florida-based dealer trade show, touting the location’s lower cost.

Now it appears that Nielsen Media – the company that owned and operated the FFR show in the past – may be moving in for the kill.

Simply put, there’s blood in the water, Undergrounders (and we know what that means).

First, AFFTA issued a painfully long-winded press release explaining why they rejected the Outdoor Retailer show option (Warning: powerful stimulants may also be needed to read the following, which sadly includes the phrase “thinking outside the box”):

LOUISVILLE, COLORADO. Since April, 2009, AFFTA has been in discussions with Nielsen Business Media, owner of the FlyFishing Retailer Expo (FFR) to determine how to improve upon future FFR shows. Nielsen shared AFFTA’s desire to improve upon the design and production of future FFR shows.

Thinking outside the box, as the owner of the Outdoor Retailer Show (OR), Nielsen offered to create a “show within a show” by combining FFR with the 2010 Summer OR Show in Salt Lake City. David Loechner, Nielsen Sr. V.P., delivered the “show within a show” proposal to the AFFTA Board at their meeting in September.

According to AFFTA Chairman, Alan Gnann, “When the Outdoor Retailer proposal was first brought to the AFFTA Board’s attention, the Board was interested in the opportunities this combination offered. The thought of having our show within a show the size and caliber of OR was initially felt to be a reasonably good fit.”

Unfortunately, when the AFFTA Board received the final floor space proposal from Nielsen, the total space allocated to the fly fishing industry was grossly insufficient; the separate space to create the “show within a show” concept was not offered nor was space allocated for indoor casting ponds. In addition, many AFFTA members stated that the timing of the OR Show was not a good fit for the fly fishing industry. Therefore, citing these deficiencies, the AFFTA Board of Directors rejected Nielsen’s proposal.

Immediately after the AFFTA Board voted to reject Nielsen’s Outdoor Retailer proposal, AFFTA and Nielsen engaged in good-faith negotiations to allow AFFTA the opportunity to acquire the rights and licenses to the FFR show. Unfortunately, these negotiations were unsuccessful and AFFTA asked Nielsen to either produce a 2010 FFR show or terminate the agreement.

According to Gnann, “Nielsen and their predecessors have been great partners and collaborators for many years. Prior to the downturn in the economy, trade shows nationwide were generally profitable and well attended. However, the current economic climate dictates that AFFTA and Nielsen pursue a different business model. Therefore, as of November 30, 2009, Nielsen released AFFTA from its show production contract. It is now time for AFFTA to move on and determine its next course of action.”

“Since April, the Board of Directors has been working diligently with Nielsen to consider a wide range of options and combinations for FFR,” said AFFTA President Gary Berlin. “Because of confidentiality and non-compete provisions in the Nielsen agreement, the AFFTA Board has been unable to notify the industry of the on-going discussions or issue a press release on the status of the show. Now that AFFTA and Nielsen are no longer contractually obligated, the AFFTA Board is considering multiple options for a 2010 fly fishing industry trade show, including hosting a standalone show or combining with an existing show.”

Berlin promises to keep the fly fishing industry up-to-date on AFFTA’s plans for a 2010 fly fishing industry trade show.

Sure, it’s whiny. Sure, it’s clear AFFTA is lost, and like men everywhere, they’re refusing to stop and ask for directions.

And yes, am I the only person in the whole industry amused by the thought that AFFTA will keep us “up-to-date” on their plans for next year’s trade show?

(AFFTA is to fly fishing bloggers what Dan Quayle was to comedians – a dependable source of material.)

Blood in the Water, Fins On The Surface

Meanwhile, Furimsky’s dealer show is still on the table.

And yes – based on an email received from Outdoor Retailer’s PR agency – we can now plainly see a shark’s fin (a rare Nielsen’s shark) as it knifes through the water, heading directly for AFFTA’s leaking, dangerously overloaded lifeboat.

First, SOAR Communication’s Maura Lansford opens fire with:

In the letter, Haroutunian invites members of the fly fishing industry to join Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in 2010, as the FlyFishing Retailer Show will no longer take place in its current format. The conclusion that the fly fishing industry cannot sustain a stand-alone event in the current marketplace follows months of discussions with members of the fly fishing industry.

As part of its Summer Market event, Outdoor Retailer has offered to provide a new venue and demo experience for FlyFishing Retailer participants, along with an opportunity to grow the fly fishing category into other segments in the outdoor recreation market.

The in the press release portion of the email, former FFR show director (and current Outdoor Retailer show director) Kenji Haroutunian lights ’em up with:

Fly Fishing Industry and Outdoor Retailer to Join Forces in 2010
From our 30 years of experience producing scores of specialty-sports tradeshows including 11 years producing FlyFishing Retailer, it is clear that the fly fishing marketplace will be better served now and in the future by expanding its reach to include the overall outdoor specialty marketplace. We are convinced that the best opportunity to grow as a market, and build on the core strength inherent in the fly fishing market, is to be connected to a larger collection of relevant businesses at Outdoor Retailer. Therefore, the entire fly fishing industry is invited to join Outdoor Retailer Summer Market Trade Show in 2010 as the FlyFishing Retailer Trade Expo will no longer be held in Denver

A Winning Opportunity
More than 25 percent of FlyFishing Retailer companies already exhibit at Outdoor Retailer, and those that haven’t are now invited to participate in the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2010 Trade Show. For more than 27 years Outdoor Retailer has provided a specialty wholesale watersports culture that thrives on a national and international level. At OR, consistently more than 20,000 professional participants advance the sales process not only in their own category but across multiple lifestyle segments within the overall specialty outdoor market. Please visit www.outdoorretailer.com now for more information about participating in Outdoor Retailer Summer Market.

Ahh, my Undergrounders – it’s the classic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl” love story. Only with trade shows. (See how we make this stuff clear for you?)

First Nielsen sends AFFTA on its merry way, then circles back and does the trade show equivalent of hitting on the attractive women in the group, suggesting they come over to Nielsen’s place for margaritas and chips while leaving their useless, beer-swilling, farting boyfriends behind.

Given AFFTA’s track record, I’d book a flight for Salt Lake City.

***UPDATE: Angling Trade (industry blog) says AFFTA sources have said there will be an “AFFTA-endorsed trade show sometime in 2010.”

That’s not the same as saying it will be standalone fly fishing show, though you’d assume that would be AFFTA’s goal.

The site also revealed AFFTA revenues and attendance figures from the last few years of FFR:

According to sources, gross income for the 2009 event was somewhere @ $460,000, in 2007, gross income was over $700,000… exhibitor numbers went from 234 in 2007 to 146 in 2009

Note that these are “gross” numbers – not net. It’s not clear to us if Nielsen was losing money on the show, but a 1/3 decline in exhibitors speaks volumes about the shows viability in its current state.