Outdoor Retailer (Officially) Moves to Denver

Good news for Colorado, not so much for Utah

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What long has been rumored—and expected—was officially announced with handshakes, hugs and speeches by politicians in Denver City Park on Thursday: the massive trio of Outdoor Retailer shows are relocating from Salt Lake City to Denver. City officials estimate the move will draw upwards of 85,000 people to Denver annually and pump $110 million into the local economy each year.

It was not an easy process. Emerald Expositions, parent company of Outdoor Retailer, was propositioned by many cities and states bragging about their outdoor cred. And the city of Denver, which lobbied hard to secure the show, had to have tricky conversations with organizations hosting other events, to move them out of the way for Outdoor Retailer to get the dates it needed.

But if you ask the city and state government teams from Denver and Colorado, they’ll tell you it was worth it. They’ve secured a 5-year contract with Emerald Expositions to host Outdoor Retailer’s three annual shows. And they’re working on infrastructure to support the trade show long-term, so that Denver will ultimately replace Salt Lake City as the shows’ semi-permanent home.

The competition to host the lucrative OR shows was a heated battle between longtime rivals Colorado and Utah, with powerful politicians and business leaders in full combat mode. The two states have long fought over skier visits, often poking each other in the ribs. (Some Colorado skiers might remember the t-shirt: “Eat, Drink and be Merry for Tomorrow You Could be in Utah.”) 

However, the breakup with Salt Lake City, which hosted the shows for more than two decades, was anything but good natured, representing millions of dollars of lost—or found—revenue, depending on your perspective. And the fuse that ignited the relocation to Colorado might have been sparked by, of all things, a controversial political move.

Segments of the powerful outdoors industry in Utah lobbied hard against the Trump administration’s recommendation to shrink the 1.3-million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. When Utah state officials didn’t join the fight against downsizing Bear Ears, the door appeared to open for the OR shows to find a new host city. 

Colorado saw the opportunity, and fully mobilized. It was one of the first states to offer itself as a host for the summer and winter shows.

The Denver skyline looks to be brighter with the news that Outdoor Retailer will be holding several annual shows in Denver, to the tune of a five-year contract and an estimated $110 million in annual revenue, attracting 85,000 people to the city each year.Courtesy of Keith Burton

Denver and Colorado are in this for the long haul, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday morning.

“The entire state of Colorado wins with this announcement,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Thursday morning at a press conference filled with industry stakeholders. “We’re grateful for that.”

Marisa Nicholson, Outdoor Retailer’s show director, makes the official announcement that the trade shows will move to Denver. Behind her and to the left, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (in the pink shirt) congratulate each other.Louisa Albanese

Denver has long appeared to be the industry favorite for relocation. Gear companies and environmental non-profits based in Colorado published a full-page ad in the Denver Post earlier this year stating their support for public lands and not-so-subtly asserting their desire for the show.