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John Reitman

By John Reitman

GCSAA's top man, Rhett Evans, discusses GIS and Covid-19


With the Covid-19 pandemic alive and well, naturally many people are beginning to think about next year's Golf Industry Show in Las Vegas.

The GCSAA is currently exploring a handful of options that vary depending on what the conditions are in seven months in Las Vegas and throughout the rest of the country.

Those options include:
> Scenario One (low threat): Business as usual.
> Scenario Two (minimal threat): Live event in Las Vegas with social distancing and large-gathering restrictions in place.
> Scenario Three (moderate threat): Hybrid with a live event in Las Vegas and virtual event options.
> Scenario Four (substantial threat): An all virtual event.
> Scenario Five (significant threat): Event postponed or canceled.

We talked this week with GCSAA chief executive officer Rhett Evans about these various scenarios, the timeline for decision-making and other issues associated with the show ... and the virus.

Q: We have read through your contingency plans for the Golf Industry Show. Are you confident the Golf Industry Show will take place, and if so, in what format?

062620vegas3.jpgA: "I'm confident it's going to happen. In terms of what scenario it takes place in is to be thought through, meaning a physical show as it has been in the past is highly unlikely. That's not going to happen. A physical show with modifications, such as social distancing, the governor of Nevada yesterday in his press conference announced that masks are now mandatory in all public places. They are seeing increased cases for the last four weeks. We have an uphill battle, but fortunately we have seven months, and a lot of things have changed in just the last two months, for good or bad. I'm confident we are going to have a show, but I don't know what that show will look like, and that is why we are working on all five of these scenarios."

Q: We have heard you are polling members in August about their interest and concerns about the show. Is that still your plan?

A: "Yes, and we're probably going to do two of those. Because things change so quickly. We'll do one in August to see where everyone is at with their travel restrictions, or their comfort level; share with them where we're at with the venue, what would be required, I think that's fare to tell everybody you have to wear a mask, or in the classrooms you have to be 6 feet apart, there would be no major social gatherings. Whatever that status is in August, we'd let them know and they'd tell us they were good to go, or were not. And if a vast majority or large group is not going to come, then we'll pull the lever and go into a virtual setting.

"If it's looking like a lot of people are still on the fence, we're going to do a follow-up survey at the end of September, first of October, and that would be kind of our drop-dead time. At that point, we'd have to have a go or no-go decision if we're going to go physical, have a hybrid show or go virtual."

Q: How often have you reached out to vendors, and what is the feedback you have received from them?

A: "We have a group called the Industry Advisory Council made up of a cross section of exhibitors from big to small, and we're taking their pulse on this. Right now, we have some significant companies, including some large ones, such as Bayer for example, that have a global travel ban on their company and have announced that they are not exhibiting in 2020 for the rest of the year. Having said that, as we go into 2021, they are looking into January to reassess that, so were in that window, and since our show is not until February 2021, they are all still moving forward as planned primarily because we have guaranteed that if you get your booth and select it and we do not do a show, everybody will be 100 percent completely refunded, so everyone is moving forward knowing that things could change, and more than likely, they will."

We've got insurance for a natural disaster, but we didn't have insurance in our rider for a pandemic - not many people were thinking there was going to be a global pandemic.

Q: You've said that vendors would be refunded their deposits if the show is canceled, but if under a worst-case scenario it is impossible to hold next year's show, is the GCSAA on the hook to lose any money?

A: "It's a bit of a complicated situation the way that the contract is worded, and the way these things typically get negotiated. If there a reasonable opportunity for us to host the show in Las Vegas, for example meaning there is not a government mandate that you cannot have a group of people over 45, or let's say they move it to 100, or whatever that number is, if those are not in place and we have a history of our event being much larger than that, our attorneys have said that we would have a very good chance of utilizing that as for force majeure, where we would be able to get out of our contract. In talking with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau and the hotels, they are very aware of that and are working diligently to make that work. They certainly want you to keep that event and keep it in the city, even if it is at a later time. That's problematic for us. Once you get past that February window, and get into the golf season, it doesn't work for us, so we would have to cancel the show."

Q: What would a virtual Golf Industry Show look like?

A: "Obviously these things have come a long way. We've watched or participated in a half-dozen to a dozen demonstrations. They are much more complex than a Zoom call, or Skype call. They do a good job of getting you in the moment. Meaning let's take the General Session for example, you're virtually walking into a ballroom or auditorium. It's really a visual virtual production; the curtain opens, in comes your speaker and the session begins.

"The other thing is they've done a good job of creating a community. One of the things we value in those physical settings with our education is for our members not only to learn in a classroom setting, but following that to interact with the instructor to ask questions, to talk to that superintendent sitting next to you. In a virtual setting, you think once it's over, it's over, and I'm not going to be able to experience that, but there are ways to build communities for you and I to interact on that platform. So, we are in the beginning stages of that. We have an RFP out, and we have narrowed it down to four vendors we are looking at, and we believe even if we go physical, this will provide an opportunity for those who still may be in the vulnerable category, or are just never able to attend the show, and we know not all of our members have the means to go, so, we think this in the future will give folks the ability to experience education and even the networking and the tradeshow component as well - there are virtual booths in which you align customers with vendors where they can see product demonstrations and they can have that dialogue with a vendor."

... (W)e have guaranteed that if you get your booth and select it and we do not do a show, everybody will be 100 percent completely refunded. ...

Q: We know the Golf Industry Show is the GCSAA's largest generator of revenue. In a worst-case scenario of a canceled show, how do you make up that kind of lost revenue?

A: "The show is our largest revenue source. Memberships dues are second, and sponsorships is a close third, but the show creates the fuel that feeds our programs, whether it's advocacy, whether it's government affairs, environmental programs, etc., so obviously we've got to figure out a model that produces and fills that void. So, we believe if we cannot have a physical show that the virtual capabilities and the education offerings that we can do on that platform, while they certainly won't be as robust as being physical, but we do believe we'd be able to make up quite a bit of that lost revenue. Having said that, I think we've done a pretty good job over the last decade-plus in our reserve fund, and we and our board of directors, and this was probably 10 years ago, established a rainy day fund … realizing that, hey insurance isn't going to cover everything, we've got insurance for a natural disaster, but we didn't have insurance in our rider for a pandemic - not many people were thinking there was going to be a global pandemic - we went ahead and set aside enough reserve funds to cover a year's worth of show loss. So, worst-case scenario, if we did not do a show, were not able to do a virtual one and could not make up any of the revenue, we would still be able to move forward with all of the services and programs in 2021.

"Now, that would give us another year to figure things out, but if this thing goes in a different direction and we're unable to do a show in San Diego, we'd be having a different discussion."

Edited by John Reitman

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