Skip to main content

Our Overwhelming 36-Hour Visit to ISPO, the World’s Largest Sports Trade Show

When I say that ISPO is a massive event, I’m hardly doing it justice. What is ISPO? Why, it’s the world’s largest sporting goods and apparel trade show, and it takes place annually in Munich, Germany’s Neue Messe München exhibition center, a facility that occupies 16 warehouse-sized buildings and multiple acres of outdoor space.

The numbers here are almost too large to compute, like when someone tries to grasp an astronomical unit, but let’s try it anyway: the indoor capacity of this exhibition center is just over 1,973,503 square feet. A 7,000-square-foot home is considered a spacious mansion my most anyone’s metric. So, to break it down: You could fit more than 280 7,000-square-foot-mansions into the indoor space of this facility.

ispo 2018 sup

But in the case of ISPO (in English the acronym translates to the International Trade Fair for Sporting Goods and Sportswear, and it’s pronounced iss-poe, in case you were wondering), instead of residences, the halls are packed with brands showing off everything from the latest hiking packs to cutting-edge insulation materials to the finest soccer balls to stan- up paddle boards to some newfangled hologram projection technology (which Adidas was showing off; not sure what it had to do with sporting goods or apparel, but it was still cool). Nearly 3,000 different exhibitors set up booths, some of which are the size of a walk-in closet, others that are large enough to contain an entire swimming pool. We’ll get to that later, but in short, if you want to see basically anything and everything related to sporting goods and apparel, you will see it at ISPO. The only problem is that you have almost no chance to see all of it unless you walk nonstop up and down past the countless booths during the entirety of the four-day trade show. I even jogged at times, and I still barely scratched the surface in my two days.

ISPO Munich 2018 | Summary of Tobias Groeber (Englisch)

I attended ISPO as a guest of Columbia Sportswear primarily on the occasion of the company’s venerable chairwoman, Gert Boyle, receiving the ISPO Cup award in recognition of her and Columbia’s inestimable contributions to the world of sports, both through the innovative products offered by the company itself as well as for the personal contributions Gert and her associates have made to organizations like the Paralympics. Gert, who is 93 at the time of this writing, still goes to work every day, by the way. Though she decided not to travel from her home base of Portland, Oregon, to Munich to receive the award, her son and grandson, CEO Tim Boyle and Columbia President Joe Boyle respectively, were on hand for the ceremony. (One more thing to point out here: Yhis award has never gone to a non-athlete before. Gert, the “Tough Mother” as she is known following a wildly successful advertising campaign that launched in the later years of the 20th century, broke yet another barrier when she earned it.)

Thus, after a redeye flight, a minor hotel debacle, and a few trips around Munich via taxi and Uber, I ended up at the Neue Messe München convention center late on a Monday afternoon. I was tired, a bit disoriented, and immediately overwhelmed by the immensity of the ISPO trade fair. Even with repeated directions from event staff, it still took me a while to find the Columbia booth — a booth that was the size of a standard single family home, by the way, to again nail the point home: this is a very large convention.

That booth would become my safe haven amidst a nonstop rush of foot traffic that was periodically punctuated by people zipping past on bikes, skates, scooters, and these weird things that looked sort of like skis with pneumatic wheels at each end. Mountain blades, I guess? One of the things you quickly learn while walking the halls at ISPO is that many of the people whooshing by on wheels are testing the gear out for the first time and are far from expert users. Things get even more interesting around four or five in the afternoon, as many booths start to serve booze around then.

Anyway, that first day, I spent a while strolling about aimlessly and snapping pictures of things that caught my eye. These included a massive pool set up in the middle of one hall in which paddle boarders and surfers were trying out new gear. Near that pool was a full-sized half pipe in which a few skilled skateboarders were doing tricks alongside a few less-than-skilled skaters who were bruising themselves before a throng of gawkers. I saw familiar brands like Osprey and Black Diamond alongside companies I would come to know as major players in the European market despite having relatively little penetration in the States, like Jack Wolfskin, a German outdoor apparel brand that enjoys the same level of prestige and customer awareness as Columbia has on this side of the pond.

That night? Beer and sausages. I was in Munich, after all.

ispo 2018 sup

The next day, I woke up at 5 a.m., which really made no sense at all, given the fact that, in my home time zone, it was before midnight and as I had gone to bed at around 11:30 p.m. local time the night before. (And after maybe three hours of sleep on a plane. Oh well.) I killed a few hours reading, fielding some emails, and drinking coffee, then put on my game face and headed to the Columbia booth, pretending I wasn’t jet-lagged and semi-delirious. That morning, after all, I was slated to interview Tim Boyle, the aforementioned CEO of the Columbia Sportswear company. Fortunately, Tim turned out to be one of the more affable and approachable CEOs of billion-dollar global brands I have yet to meet.

I’ll relay the details of that interview in a subsequent article, but suffice it to say, my time talking with Tim and later with his son, Joe, was illuminating, and not only in regards to their brand. What I came to understand more fully during my time at ISPO is just how international a phenomenon sports really are. I saw Chinese textile vendors in meetings with American apparel brands. I saw European athletes trying out Pakistani soccer balls. I saw Indian track and field hardware designers, Canadian ice skate makers, an Italian boot company, and everything in between. If you have ever wondered what globalization looks like, it looks like ISPO. In a matter of a few days, many of the goods and apparel that athletes, adventurers, and outdoor enthusiasts use find their way onto the retail market, or even come into existence, thanks to the meetings and the discoveries the men and women of the sporting industry make there in an industrial suburb of Munich.

ISPO is massive and exiting and overwhelming, and if you love sports and the outdoors, you simply have to go at least once.

Feature image courtesy of ISPO/Facebook. All other photos by Steven John/The Manual.

Steven John
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
How many clubs are in a golf bag? What you need to know
There is a rule to how many clubs go in a golf bag every player should know
A golfer carrying their bag on the course.

Learning how to play any sport takes time and patience to nail down the ins and outs. Then there are rules to the game you wouldn't even think of until you are in it, like how to pack your golf bag for tee time. If you think you can toss some irons in and be on your way to the green, put the clubs down for a second. Knowing how many clubs go in a golf bag won't only help separate you from the newbies but will prevent you from earning penalties while playing. Step up your golf knowledge with the rundown on golf club etiquette.
How many clubs can go in a golf bag?

The straight answer — 14 golf clubs is the limit for your golf bag. It gets more nuanced, but 14 of your favorite sticks is the max. This number won't vary from club to club or course to course. Fourteen is the number provided by the USGA (United States Golf Association) and the R&A (The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews), so the powers that be are all in agreement.
The exact rule to follow
For those who love to know the specific rules, there is one for the golf clubs. In The Player's Equipment USGA Rules of Golf, check out Rule 4 in the book, which tells players, "You must not start a round with more than 14 clubs or have more than 14 clubs during the round." From start to finish, every round must begin and end with the player having a total of 14 golf clubs. No wiggle room in there.
Why there is a limit on the number of clubs
From uniforms to the number of players on the field or court to the dimensions of equipment used — we follow the rules in sports. When it comes to the number of golf clubs in your bag, nobody knows why 14 was picked. But if you like the lore behind the law, it was in 1936 when John Jackson, the USGA President at the time, proposed the ruling in response to a player rolling into the 1935 U.S. Open with 32 clubs. It took two years for the rule to stick but has been the standard ever since. We're sure caddies everywhere are thankful.
What clubs to pack in a golf bag

Read more
Want to climb to the top of the world? Here’s how long it takes to climb Mount Everest
How long does an ascent of Mount Everest really take?
Mount Everest with prayer flags in the foreground

The prospect of standing on top of the world has lured thousands of mountain climbers to Mount Everest since the first successful attempt by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay 70 years ago. Commercial expeditions began in the 1990s, and since then — not counting the 2015 season disrupted by the catastrophic earthquake or the recent Covid-affected seasons — the number of climbers has increased dramatically.

Climbing Mount Everest may be popular, but the difficulty of reaching the highest point on earth should not be underplayed. Ignoring the hefty price tag associated with an Everest expedition, there's the sheer physical exertion of climbing to that altitude. Unless you plan to recreate Killian Jornet's feat of summiting twice in one week without supplementary oxygen — don't try this — then you'll need to set aside serious time for your ascent to the top of the world. So exactly, how long does it take to climb Mount Everest?
Mount Everest climbing timeline

Read more
What does par mean in golf?
What does par mean in golf? Better understand golf lingo to up your game
A person taking a swing on the golf course.

Trying to keep score in sports like basketball is pretty simple. There are only a few ways to score, and it's all number-based, so keeping track of what shot gets you what points isn't hard to remember. But in a sport like golf, not only is the scoring a little different, the points aren't always tracked in numbers. Get a birdie? Have a handicap? What about par? What does par mean in golf? Here's how to understand this golf term so you can focus on your swing.
What does par means in golf

In its most basic definition, par is the predetermined number of strokes it will take a player with a zero handicap to finish a hole, round, or course, with room for two strokes on the putting green. To completely understand it, you need to know what a handicap in golf is.
Handicap rundown
A handicap is simply the number of strokes a golfer will take over or under the par number. If the 18-hole round you are playing is a 72-par course, and it takes you 85 swings to finish, subtract 85 from 72, and you are left with a 13 handicap.

Read more