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Commentary: A Miami Boat Show Wake-Up Call

Despite the daily misery of getting to and from Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key, I’ll miss the annual Miami International Boat Show this year. Despite that I typically know what’s coming—it’s kind of my job—it’s always fun to catch up and swap stories with old and new marine industry friends and speedonthewater.com readers. Despite how expensive it is for my speedonthewater.com colleagues Jason Johnson, Pete Boden, Ryan Johnson and I to be there for just a few days, one of which includes our traditional Friday morning, helicopter-supported photo shoot that feeds our Speed On The Water Year In Review issue, our time spent at the show is productive and efficient.

Cancelled this year, the Miami International Boat Show needs a strong return in 2022 to secure its future. Photo by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

So I’ll miss it. Exactly how much is a great question that requires me to take the Fifth. But the bigger and far more important question is this.

How much will the high-performance marine industry miss it?

Because the number of high-performance marine industry players who told me—all requesting anonymity—they were relieved the annual mid-February event was cancelled was substantial. Their cost of being there makes ours look miniscule. Their to-and-from access nightmares make ours look like sweet dreams. Year-to-year sales and sales leads, they also all said, are hit and miss in Miami.

And yet they don’t dare withdraw from the show for fear of perception.

“If you don’t go to Miami, everyone starts asking what happened to you.”

I didn’t hear that from one relieved boat-builder after the event was cancelled. I heard it almost verbatim from every boat-builder I spoke to after the National Marine Manufacturers Association announced it was scrubbing the 2021 event. And I spoke to a bunch of them.

But what happens if the high-performance marine industry discovers it can do without Miami?

What if small, more-efficient and intimate, happenings such as Super Cat Fest, the Shootout on the Strip exhibit during the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, Desert’s Storm’s Street Party and brand-specific owner rendezvous, which serve as mini-boat shows, fill the void? Those smaller events and others, according to the same go-fast boating industry types I spoke with regarding the Miami show cancellation, drive sales as well as their larger-event siblings.

No matter how well the industry does in 2021 minus Miami, most high-performance companies will return to the event in 2022. But if the organizers of the show are cleared-eyed and realistic—and observant of general downward trends in big consumer shows in other industries (most notably automobile and electronics)—they know they are on notice.

If an industry segment can live without you for one year, it may well be able to live without you forever. As one of my best friends once told me, “The day I stick my arm in a bucket of water and it leaves a hole, I’ll know I’m irreplaceable.” Words of wisdom that can be applied to anyone or anything, including events.

All of which means the Miami International Boat Show needs a home run—a far better experience for attendees and exhibitors, strong sales results and more—in 2022 if it plans to return in 2023 with a healthy contingent of high-performance marine industry exhibitors. There is no other way for the organizers to see this year than as a wake-up call.

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