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Discover Boating Chicago Boat Show Returns to McCormick Place After a Two-Year Hiatus

photo from the Chicago Boat Show floor in 2019

CHICAGO — After a two-year hiatus, Discover Boating Chicago Boat Show is returning to McCormick Place Jan. 11-15, bringing the nautical world to the show floor in the fully rebranded 2023 edition. 

Owned and produced by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), in partnership with Progressive Insurance, the Discover Boating Chicago Boat Show creates a sales-driven boating marketplace where visitors can test out products, take part in educational experiences and enjoy entertainment inside the convention center. 

“The look of the show is going to be very different, with all new branding and signage,” NMMA Show Manager Keith Ogulnick said. “We’re bringing in a feature called the Discover Boating Beach Club, which is designed to get people more involved and interactive at the event. In addition to coming to the show to see the boats, we always felt it’s important to entertain and educate.” 

Next month’s show will be the first edition in Chicago with the new branding, which is a combination of the Chicago Boat Show and the NMMA’s Discover Boating consumer awareness campaign. The inaugural Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show in February 2022 was the first of NMMA’s shows to integrate the Discover Boating brand. The rebranding comes at a time where the boating industry is seeing a demographic shift, with there being more women, younger people and people of color becoming boaters than ever before.

In an effort to appeal to the changing demographics and attract new groups to the industry, the NMMA conducted thorough marketing research with groups and utilized social media more than with previous editions of the show.  

Related. The Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show Sails to Success 

In its article “Changes in the Boating Customer Impact Marine Marketing”, the NMMA predicts the next generation of boaters will be more diverse and less likely to come from boat-owning families. The marketing, signage and graphics for the show have been designed with these demographic shifts in mind to reflect the changes being seen. On par with the increasing experiential and Millennial spending trends, the signage and graphics for this year’s show focus on the lifestyle and experiences of boating rather than just the products.  

“The challenge we’ve had is that the success the boating industry had during the pandemic has actually hindered shows,” Ogulnick said. “When the pandemic hit, and everyone was forced to stay home, they were looking for things to do with their time, money and families. Things like boats, RVs and bicycles all saw sales go through the roof. The recreational boating industry saw sales that hadn’t been seen since well before the recession. Over the course of the last couple years, more than 800,000 new power boaters, or recreational boaters, came into the marketplace.” 

Illinois consumers alone spent an estimated $612.8 million on new powerboats, outboard engines, boat trailers and aftermarket accessories in 2021, an increase of 10% from 2020. 

While that is good news for the boating industry as a whole, the extremely high demand and production challenges have left manufacturers with less products to showcase at shows such as the Discover Boating Chicago Boat Show. Ogulnick said that while the show will be about a third smaller than the 2020 edition, all the major brands will still be exhibiting.  

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Despite exhibitors having a smaller footprint at the 2023 show, there will be a plethora of activities for all ages to enjoy. New to the show will be the Discover Boating Beach Club, where on-water demos and tastings by Chicago-based chefs and mixologists will be offered, along with a paddleboard pool that allows attendees the chance to try out the water activity. Also new, the FlowRider Surf Simulator allows attendees to try their hand at wakeboarding on an indoor simulator.  

Making a comeback after two years presents its own challenges, including changing contracts and businesses and individuals that previously worked on the show not being in business anymore. “You just have to rely on your team, the people you work with and the knowledge and experience that you have,” Ogulnick said. “You have to double down on the communication you do and be really open with your communications and expectations.

“Overall, we are doing a lot to change the look of the show. It’s the first time back in two years, and we want people leaving just having an amazing experience.”

Reach Keith Ogulnick at (312) 946-6242 or 

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