The Freedom of ICAST Online

I attended my first ICAST Online webinar from the emptiness of The Great Salt Lake Desert. Parked beside the remnants of an abandoned U.S. Army Air Field, I streamed the debut of St. Croix’s new freshwater rods. Ironically, there are perhaps few places in America further from freshwater I was on Monday—but that’s the beauty of ICAST Online, isn’t it?

A quick check of professionals across the industry confirmed my suspicions: I wasn’t the only one taking in ICAST from the field.A manufacturer at one of the largest lure company’s in the industry was putting his house on the market and preparing to move. In between, he was keeping up with the show. A marketing member at major electronics powerhouse was fishing. Pro-staffers across the board were on the water. Most of the media members I know personally had a rod in hand as well. And nobody was feeling guilty about making this year’s show work for them.

Who can blame this industry, of all industries, for being outside and on the water right now?

If you think I’m angling at low turnout figures for ICAST Online, think again. Truthfully, I’ve got no idea how many people are attending the show in real-time. The ASA has not released those numbers. However, I can tell you from experience that—aside from voting for the New Product Showcase—the real-time figures don’t matter that much. At least, they aren’t as meaningful as turnstile numbers at a convention center. In the digital world, success isn’t usually built in one day or even three. A massive portion of web traffic is accrued steadily over time. In many cases, more than half of all online traffic for major news websites is tallied up via search results.

It’s for that reason that I am a fan of ICAST Online. A traditional ICAST has more wow factor, sure. But it is gone in a flash.

ICAST Online has the potential for longer staying power.

For the first and likely only time, our industry is able to absorb ICAST at our own pace. ICAST On Demand would have been at least as apt a name as ICAST Online. Think about it…the business seminars are on demand, the New Product Showcase galleries are on demand, and even the booths are browsable on demand. No matter what you make of this year’s show—I happen to think the ASA deserves massive credit for pivoting towards a highly detailed, digital model in about 10 weeks—you can’t deny that there’s value in housing all of that information in one place.

Ultimately, the widespread availability of product information should translate to an educated base of store owners and sales people who will be knowledgeable about the new products that will eventually make their way onto shelves.

Does that mean ICAST Online is perfect? No. No show is. It’s especially true that our industry is a tactile one. We need to feel products and use them. We need to see them first hand. We want to stretch soft plastics, bend rod tips and crank reels. We want to interact with new products in a way that no virtual show could ever allow, not even a show hosted on Oculus Rift.

But this virtual show, this ICAST Online, ticks boxes for being fairly easy to grasp and navigate. That it was built in the blink of an eye is a testament to the hard work done behind-the-scenes by the ASA and its show staff.

People seem to universally agree that electronic voting for the New Product Showcase is a good thing. But I’m willing to bet that, in the long haul, there are more positives to be found from this trade show experiment.

Do I believe ICAST Online should replace the real deal? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s never been more clear to me just how important shaking hands and seeing familiar, smiling faces real is to the world of sportfishing. Everyday, I’m getting calls and texts and emails from people I’d normally see in person. Many want to talk about new products; others simply want to chat, because somehow it’s just not ICAST without our industry friends.

Still, there’s a beauty in the freedom we all have this week.

If we miss a seminar, we can stream it online in the evening. If we want to learn more about a particular new product, we can probably find a virtual demo of it at their booth. And in six months, if we want to look that demo up again, we know where to go.

So…where will you be ICASTing from today?