The National Rifle Association has been selected to be the next promoter of the Harrisburg outdoor show that's been renamed the Great American Outdoor Show and will take the place of the former Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, which was canceled this year.
“At the end of the day, we wanted to make sure we had the strongest promoter,” said David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, who was on the selection committee for the next promoter.
The NRA was selected because it was the only group capable of bringing the financial and organizational scale to the outdoor show that would not only replace what was lost when this year’s show was canceled, but also would be able to improve and grow the show, Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste said.
The Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show, a 65-year tradition at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, was canceled in January after a vendor boycott of the show. The boycott was a response to former show organizer Reed Exhibitions’ decision to ban semi-automatic firearms sometimes called “modern sporting rifles” or “assault weapons” from the 2013 show after the elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
NRA President David Keene said the NRA was thrilled to be the promoter under the long-term agreement they’ve reached with area officials. The group has been looking to do a large outdoor show for some time, and this presented the best chance. But it was also an opportunity to help the Central Pennsylvania communities and businesses that suffered economically when the outdoor show was canceled in January, Keene said.
“After the tragedy of the cancellation, we began to think of what we could do to help,” Keene said.
When asked if selecting the NRA to run the show could have additional backlash because of the controversy and politics that surrounds the group in its political fights over gun rights and gun control, local officials dismissed it as insignificant.
“Any group could have backlash,” Haste said.
He pointed to former promoter Reed Exhibitions and how its decision to ban semi-automatic guns caused the cancellation of the 2013 show. That was a backlash that hurt the midstate’s economy, he said.
Keene pointed out that the boycott by vendors other than gun shops demonstrated the solidarity among the outdoor community for firearms to have their place at outdoors shows, and he vowed that all legal weapons would be allowed at future shows.
“(The NRA’s) ability to blow this show out of the water outweighs any negatives,” said Mary Smith, president of the Hershey Harrisburg Visitors Bureau.
Smith said she’s particularly excited about the NRA’s plans to expand the outdoor show to include venues and events in midstate communities as well as in the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.
Keene said the NRA plans to invest millions of dollars into the Harrisburg show to expand it.
“If we didn’t move quickly, this show was going somewhere else,” Haste said.
The Great American Outdoor Show will be held Feb. 1-9, 2014. Full details of national music acts, vendors, shows and demonstrations are not yet available.