AFFTA President: There ‘will be’ a fly fishing show in the US next year
There are few subjects in fly fishing more likely to divide opinion than AFFTA’s annual show for the industry, formerly known as the Denver Fly Show, IFTD and, as of this year, the Confluence.
The 2023 Confluence in Salt Lake only served to fuel the debate. The size of the reimagined event – both in terms of exhibitor and visitor numbers – could kindly be described as modest. A significant number of the bigger players were not fully represented, some opting for sponsorship as a means of being present. Others attended in person to see what the new-style gathering looked and felt like.
Despite the Confluence’s mixed reception, AFFTA is not ready to call it a day on a decades-old event. On the contrary, it sees this year as a valuable step on the learning curve to arriving at a concept that the industry will value and support.
Earlier this year, the Association’s Executive Director Lucas Bissett, told Angling International that this year would likely be the first of several stages in getting it right. That remains the case, he confirms, while at the same time quashing any thoughts in the industry that the show had breathed its last breath.
“There will be a show, it will be in the Fall, it will be very different and it will be in another place,” he revealed. “We will develop the parts of this year’s event that were successful, like the TrackFly data and the outdoor element. Trackfly educated retailers on the opportunity to go home and better their businesses immediately. The demand for the outdoor experience was greater than we anticipated and we could definitely tweak some components of that.
“Getting out of the convention centre for a time was really successful and we will take that into the next event. Also, more people went to the seminars because we located them more conveniently in the body of the show. At the same time, we are not going to bang our heads against a wall with things that were not as popular. There is no demand for a booth-style show in the traditional sense. Product is still important but it does not have to be the focal point. People don’t have to be stuck in a booth. The outdoor element is an opportunity to actually show visitors how to use the product.”
AFFTA plans to announce both the 2024 and 2025 events together once dates and locations are finalised. The venue will be in a different place every year to give representation to the entire country.
Despite the Association’s determination to find a successful formula, the question is hanging in the air over whether the fly fishing industry wants a show badly enough to more fully support it. However, Bissett (main image) believes the onus is on AFFTA. “It’s a fair assessment that the industry doesn’t support it well enough,” he says. “So we have to ask if there were enough components of the show that convinced people to be there.
“AFFTA needs to do a better job of explaining why people need to attend and what having a trade association really means. We are ready to continue building something that people see value in, not just at a company level but at an industry level. We want the industry to be able to better itself through this event.
On a wider scale, Bissett sees a fundamental shift in the way AFFTA does things for its membership. The show is just one component of that, he says. “We have to remind ourselves and our members that the Confluence is only one of numerous things that AFFTA does during the year. We can focus too much on this event and it’s time to realise that, as the representative body of the fly fishing community, we have other important issues that demand our attention.”
A post-Confluence survey conducted in the media said that if changes were made to the content of the show, 65% of responders would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ attend, while another 25% said they would think about it. But Bissett doesn’t put much store in the findings. “It represented only a small proportion of the industry,” he says. “And the key question is, when presented with a hypothetical, utopian concept, why only 38% said they would definitely go. So not even half the industry could be convinced to go to the perfect event.
“Looking at this year’s Confluence, the bottom line for me is that everyone learns from experience – and we are no different. We will continue to move forward and we will get it right, although the definition of what is right may change along the way.”