Outdoor Retailer Headed Back to Utah Despite Boycotts, Industry Protests

“Salt Lake City is our hometown, and we’re going back with a commitment to effecting meaningful change,” said Emerald X, the company that owns Outdoor Retailer, the Godzilla of outdoor industry trade shows, in a statement released today. The event has been held in Denver for the past five years, moving out of Utah, where the trade show first began, after state politicians supported the federal government’s stripping of protections from national monuments in the state.

The decision comes after some of the biggest outdoor brands in the world—Patagonia, The North Face, and REI, among many others—vocally promised to boycott the event if it returned to Utah.

As we reported last month when it was clear Emerald was strongly considering the re-relocation:

“Represented by the Conservation Alliance, at least two dozen brands have indicated that if OR returns to Salt Lake, they won’t be part of it. Big brands. The heavy hitters are REI, Patagonia, and the North Face, but the list is a who’s who in the outdoor industry. Brands such as NEMO, Keen, Oboz, Smartwool, Therm-A-Rest, and many others have signed on to express they’ll boycott a Utah-based OR as long as the state’s lawsuit against the feds is in play.”

For their part, Emerald is trying to assure wary brands that this isn’t simply a business decision, but one that will make meaningful changes to address the concerns of brands who don’t want to support what they consider a hostile state government. Emerald has pledged to do the following:

• Commit revenue over the next three years from Outdoor Retailer events in Utah to fund programs to support outdoor recreation and protect public lands;
• Form the Business with Purpose initiative in partnership with Visit Salt Lake to bring city, county, state and federal officials, public lands and outdoor recreation leaders, and industry stakeholders together for biannual meetings focused on addressing challenges, influencing policy, assisting advocacy efforts, and directing resources into protecting natural and cultural spaces and improving access;
• Provide increased opportunities for the industry, local communities, and media to participate in panel discussions, educational activities, and volunteer projects.

Interestingly all of this comes at a time when many brands, employees, and industry insiders have begun seriously questioning the point of in-person trade shows. At AJ, we haven’t attended since the pandemic began and we can’t say we really miss going. The people, sure, that was always a blast. But flying to another state, renting a vehicle, spending on hotels, etc., makes a lot less sense than it did even five years ago. Brands now put together excellent video presentations of new products and host virtual get-togethers to learn just as much as you do in person.

We’ve reached out to brands like Patagonia for comment and will update this story with anything we hear.

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