NSCAA Expo: Tradeshow or Flea Market?

By Jim Paglia

The National Soccer Coaching Association of America (NSCAA) annual convention is in Baltimore in mid-January. I renewed my membership to NSCAA after having been away for a few years. Attending the convention in Indianapolis last year reminded how vital the NSCAA is.

High school, college, professional coaches, and club coaching directors know this is the single most significant annual meeting of great soccer minds on the continent. World-class coaches and technical experts provide in-depth workshops, clinics, and training sessions.

NSCAA uses this gathering to present some of the most prestigious awards in the American game. Numerous organizational meetings take place regarding virtually every element of interest to coaches. Anyone looking for a coaching job in this country knows that this is the place to be every January.

My only complaint has to do with the tradeshow that accompanies the convention. What I experienced was a cross among a flea market, beggar's bazaar, and manufacturer's nightmare.

A number of retailers attend the event to sell their outdated inventory. One I know brings truckloads of product from her online/retail business and discounts it to clear her warehouse. She LEAVES at the convention almost as much as she sells since it has no market value to her back home. She contacts a local club to pick up the cases of leftovers to distribute to underprivileged clubs.

The aisles are crammed with youth and amateur coaches, as well as a few professional coaches going from booth to booth seeking free items as if this was some belated Halloween event. I wish I had a dollar for each time I heard a coach try to convince a vendor the club back home would consider a particular product if only they could take home the sample they held in their hands.

I met a fellow who brought a hundred or so handmade soccer ball lamps he intended to sell to attendees. I cannot imagine he generated enough sales to pay for the booth space. Moreover, when I asked if he hoped to connect with people who would buy his product in quantity, he said he didn't have the ability to produce it in quantity.

A former pro player invented a device that resembles a soft visor worn upside down and fits just below the nose. The product concept is you'll become a better dribbler practicing with this since it prevents you from seeing your feet or the ball. Sadly, this fellow sunk his life's savings into this one product. He had no concept that the retailers he was hoping to attract don't attend shows like this, and they likely wouldn't be interested in a line from a supplier that only offers one product. As a consumer, once you bought this product and used it, why would you ever need one again? Large retailers are looking for items that drive customers for repeat visits.

Amid all this, some of the more significant manufacturers are trying to conduct team and club business. Many vendors who are trying to build or advance relationships with clubs, universities, and state soccer associations have to get past the attendees who are just searching for a free set of shin guards.

I would love to see NSCAA design a show that separates the vendors. People who are truly interested in doing business with manufacturers, or meeting the various service providers can do so away from the distraction of the people who are stuffing their goodie bags with trinkets.

Similarly, I would like to see the "one offs," innovative products (upside down visors), novelties, and bargain sellers grouped in areas where they can hawk their wares in an appropriate environment.

I am sure the show promoters would have you believe that they have created "something for everyone." They profit from the fees the vendors pay and are reluctant to discourage anyone from taking a booth.

I think the mishmash this show has become affects vendors and reflects poorly on the NSCAA. One of the largest online retailers in the country had a relatively meager booth and conducted no selling activity at it. I heard all his meaningful business was upstairs in a "by invitation only" private suite. The booth was just "to have a presence." Trade shows that do not do everything possible to promote clear and appropriate selling are doomed. Without a clearly focused tradeshow, I am concerned that this major revenue component of the convention will lose vendors. That could negatively affect the overall appeal of the greatest soccer-learning event in the nation.

Jim Paglia is a nationally recognized brand strategist who lives outside Chicago. He has an extensive background in soccer ranging from the NASL, to NCAA Division I, to World Cup 1994, and 30 years of club administration and coaching. Contact Jim at

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