Dave Mercer’s voice boomed over the crowd before the first fish was weighed-in. “Finally, the Bassmaster Classic has returned to the great state of Texas after 37 years.” His voice echoed around Minute Maid Park for a moment before the music kicked in. Thirty-seven years … that struck me as too long, and not just for the Bassmaster Classic. After 24-hours, H-Town is already showing its colors as a first-rate convention city, one that should be clearly in the discussion for another one of fishing’s grand stages: ICAST.
This year’s ICAST will mark its fourth consecutive year in Orlando. It will also almost certainly mark a fourth consecutive year of record attendance, due to Florida’s high concentration of independent tackle dealers and Orlando’s accessibility, by plane, from nearly any mid-size and major city in the United States. By all accounts, the show has been a success there, housed within the confines of a 2.1-million square foot exhibit hall at the Orange County Convention Center.
Despite this, attendees regularly wonder when the show will move. Its last foray outside of the Sunshine State was a 2013 appearance in Las Vegas. Ah, Vegas. That brings us to the elephant in the room. The American Sportfishing Association reported ICAST attendance at 9,500 in 2013. That’s significantly lower than the 15,000 reported at last year’s event in Orlando. In my estimation, those statistics are the beginning and the end of any argument for a return to Sin City.
However, they shouldn’t be a handicap to Houston, which deserves some consideration based on a few key observations made at the Bassmaster Classic Expo today:
- 1.9 million square feet. That’s the size of Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center—comparable in size to the exhibit hall in Orlando.
- Walkability. The convention district in Houston is infinitely more walkable than the I-Drive area in Orlando. Most hotels are centered around Discovery Park, making them all a short walking distance from both each other and the convention center.
- Major League Baseball. Minute Maid Park, home of Mercer’s booming voice and the Classic weigh-in stage is primarily the home of the Houston Astros. July is baseball season, which opens up the possibility of after hours company events while enjoying our nation’s pastime.
- $5.00. The cost of renting a bike for several hours just outside of a convention district hotel, which is a great way to cut down on the wear and tear you put on your feet walking to-and-from the convention center at ICAST. (Last year, I logged over 30,000 steps a day on a Garmin Quatix in Orlando.)
- Texans. Easy there, Colorado peeps. Hear me out. Texas is a hotbed for fishing. Of this website’s readers, Dallas and Houston both annually rank in the Top 5 cities for web traffic. That’s an analytic which leads me to believe Texas retailers could be underrated from a trade perspective. Orlando and Miami clock in at numbers 12 and 18 respectively. Tampa and Jacksonville both fall in the 40s.
- Authenticity. Orlando is a fine home for ICAST. Yet, for all its niceties, the city’s identity feels buried in the shadow of Disney. I’ll never forget walking up a stairway on International Drive to find a replica corner of Memphis (my hometown), complete with blues clubs and dive bars and a weird ice luge sponsored by Costa. That was cool, but here’s the thing–none of it was real. It was manufactured. Houston, in contrast, has a real history and a real pulse. The family attractions here—aside from the roller rink outside of the convention center—are the actual command centers for NASA, with real deal rockets that legitimately went to the moon. There’s nothing wrong with Disney, but show me a kid who doesn’t love space and I’ll show you an empty trophy case at Kevin VanDam’s house.
Will ICAST actually pick up and move to Houston? Certainly not because of this column. In fact, the industry’s largest trade show is locked into Orlando until at least 2020. But in the years I’ve been covering the show (only four, granted), I’ve heard a lot of talk about a return to Las Vegas. For reasons backed by numbers, I don’t think that return is likely to happen. But there’s no reason the show can’t come a little further west again.
And if it does, Houston has proven to be worthy of consideration.