Fred Bear, the often-described father of bowhunting who passed away in April 1988, is remembered by most as a traditional archer. After all, the legendary bow-bender wore a Borsalino hat, shot a 65-pound recurve, and shot wooden arrows at a variety of big game species all over North America and beyond.
But as Bowhunter magazine noted in an editorial dubbing Bear as the greatest bowhunter of all time, there was far more to the Archery Hall of Famer than that just that familiar hat.
Bear was a businessman after all, the man who started Bear Archery Company as the Great Depression melted into World War II. He was also a writer of books and magazine articles, a filmmaking pioneer who recorded on camera many of his stick-and-string hunting adventures all over the world, a man who understood the concepts of marketing, and one intent on listening to customer wants and needs.
Were he alive today, the hunch here is that Bear would be in Indianapolis, Indiana this week for the 24th edition of the trade show put on each year by the Archery Trade Association. After all, Bear was a man who helped modernize several components of the archer, from broadheads to fiberglass bow backings and to his long-running quest to make the world’s best take-down bow.
As a new year dawns in 2020, Bear might not be in Indy this week for the ATA Show from Jan. 9-11, but his spirit certainly will be amongst the thousands of exhibitors, buyers, and media members walking the show floor at the Indiana Convention Center.
Odds are, he’d be smiling at how far the industry he helped pioneer has come, to a point today where the ATA says that current shows draw more than 600 exhibitors annually who occupy more than 510,00 square feet of exhibit space. In all, ATA info says that its trade shows now attract more than 9,100+ show attendees; 3,200+ buyers; and 400+ media members who descend upon the Midwest to see what’s new in the sports of bowhunting and target archery.
What will be on display at this year’s 2020 version of the ATA Show? Growth and change, and plenty of it. To see evidence of that, simply look at the evolution of bows, arrows, broadheads and other items in the show’s 24-year history. Every year, attendees walk away asking “What will they think of next?”
Or simply look at the show and organizational changes that have taken place over the years since the first such event took place a generation ago when Bill Clinton was still the U.S. President.
While there had been other similar style shows in previous years, the very first ATA Trade Show — then known as the AMO Trade Show — took place in 1997 in Louisville, Ky.
Enthusiasm was high in the fledgling years as the show moved to Columbus in 1998 and 1999, the latter event enduring less than hoped for attendance after a severe cold snap and snowstorm ensnared much of the Midwest. After that, it was Indianapolis in 2000 and 2001 and then a venture south to Nashville in 2002.
In all, Indianapolis has hosted the most ATA Shows to date with 11 such gatherings (2000, 01, 03, 04, 05, 08, 11, 15, 17, 18 and this year’s 2020 show); Columbus has hosted the show five times (1998, 99, 2009, 10, 12); Louisville has hosted four times (1997, 2013, 16, 19); Nashville has hosted twice (2002, 14); and Atlanta has hosted twice (2006, 07).
Incidentally, Indianapolis will host the show again next year from Jan. 8-10, 2021 as the ATA Show celebrates its golden anniversary.
What thousands will see this week when they descend upon downtown Indy actually got its start even further back, back in the days of Fred Bear himself, believe it or not. The genesis for what exists today actually started back in the 1950s when the Archery Manufacturers and Dealers Association (AMADA) got its start. Upon incorporation in Iowa in 1954, Larry Whiffen, Sr. was named the group’s first president.
By 1965, the group was changing to meet the increasing demands of the growing sport, becoming the Archery Manufacturers Organization in 1965. By the 1970s, the AMO was affiliating itself with the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) in West Palm Beach, Fla. as archery and bowhunting continued to grow even more.
By the early 1990s, the past was giving way to the future as the AMO hired Dick Lattimer, a former Bear Archery advertising executive with Bear Archery, who opened an office in Gainesville, Fla. A staff was hired and Lattimer began to raise funds for the Save Out Heritage program war chest in the early 1990s.
On Lattimer’s watch, another name change ensued with the organization becoming known as the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization along with the birth of the AMO Archery Trade Show at the 1997 event in Louisville. At that inaugural show, more than 6,000 attended and more than $548,000 was raised for the Save Our Heritage fund.
Upon Lattimer's retirement in 2002, Jay McAninch took over as president and CEO, opening an office near his home in the Washington, D.C. area. McAninch also closed the Florida office and began rebuilding the organization in various parts of the country including a main business and trade-show office in Salt Lake City.
Staff hiring’s, industry summit meetings, new strategies, and sorting through the industry’s growth from infancy to adolescence to adulthood became McAninch’s charge earlier this century.
Change began to become increasingly common as the organization moved into the 21st Century. In 2002, a watershed year for the organization by most accounts, the AMO became the Archery Trade Association and assumed full control and operation of the management of its trade show that same year.
As the organization continued its transformation into what it is today, that period in the early 2000s was critical according to former ATA Board of Directors chair Scott Schulz. After several years of being managed through private contractors, the show’s future was uncertain amidst debt and other issues when McAninch took over in 2000.
“Over the next couple of years, Jay resolved the industry’s excise-tax issues, paid off its debts, and resolved its legal issues,” Schulz is quoted as saying in a 2016 ATA news release that celebrated the show’s 20th anniversary.
“After that, he took full control of the ATA Show,” Schulz continued. “Ever since, the Show has helped fund ATA initiatives that promote and grow archery and bowhunting in every state. Thanks to the Show, the ATA has $5 million in the bank (as of 2016) reserved to protect, promote and fund projects for our awesome sports.”
In another ATA news release a year later in 2017, former board member Randy Phillips echoed such sentiment as McAninch retired from an organization that he left in much better shape than he found.
“In 2000, the AMO was in chaos,” said Phillips. “Our Board meetings were like the WWF (World Wrestling Federation). I thought Jay had to be desperate to want that job, but I soon learned that he took it because he was so passionate about archery and bowhunting. It’s been an honor these past 17 years to see what Jay has done. He turned all that chaos into a well-tuned machine.”
That well-tuned machine has continued to flourish in recent years with the show fully operated by ATA staff and volunteers each January. And under McAninch’s final years of leadership, the ATA Show’s current office was relocated to New Ulm, Minn. in 2013.
Much of the work there in Minnesota — and in other parts of the country where various staff members reside — centers around the yearly production of the ATA Show. While not as big as the SHOT Show each year in Las Vegas, the current version of the ATA Show is indeed big, giving host cities sizable financial rewards through such things as booth construction and services, travel into and out of the region, hotel bookings, meals, and tourist purchases.
“Everyone who works on the Show understands it’s the life-blood of our industry,” McAninch said in 2016. “We got off to a rough start in those early years, but once the Show was ours to own and operate, it became a great fundraising mechanism that benefits every ATA member, whether they’re retailers, manufacturers, buyers, distributors, media, or sales and service.
“It’s a no-frills event. Everything is geared toward business and efficiency to maximize the net proceeds that help grow archery and bowhunting.”
The show continues on strongly now that a new year and decade have dawned, with even more change happening to benefit the bowhunting and archery industry. After McAninch’s retirement at the end of 2017, Marietta, Ga. resident Matt Kormann took over the reins of the organization as it continues to evolve and grow into the future.
A target archer, an increasingly enthusiastic bowhunter, and a longtime corporate world businessman with nearly two decades of experience, Kormann is now leading the charge as the ATA and its members move on into the future of the sport.
At least two such changes will be evident to show goers this year. One of those changes will be on the first day of the show, a day now exclusively reserved for buyers and exhibitors to do business on the show floor. Another change for the show is the ATA making the move from the lengthy printed show guides — which have become increasingly unused recycling material in recent years — to an all-digital show guide format in 2020.
“Our goal is to grow your businesses, promote conservation efforts, and to keep growing and evolving the ATA,” said Kormann to his organization’s members back in 2017 when he took over as CEO.
As Kormann steers the ship forward in coming years and builds upon the shoulders of those industry giants who have pioneered and grown bowhunting and archery over the years, the passionate archer CEO appears to understand the sentiment that the legendary Fred Bear once communicated when he said, "Nothing clears a troubled mind like shooting a bow."
This week in downtown Indianapolis, as the bowhunting and archery world get together to see what’s new and where the sport is going, it would seem as if Kormann, his ATA organization, and thousands of modern-day stick-and-string enthusiasts most certainly agree.
Bowhunting and archery have had a bumpy ride at times from the industry’s infancy on into its youth. Now firmly in the pastime’s adulthood years, the future seems bright as an age-old sport continues to lure thousands of participants to the hunting fields and target ranges across North America, even if the modern world whirls by at the speed of light.