Ever have a surly exhibitor who thinks you should run your trade show their way instead of yours? If so, you can take heart from a ruling from a U.S. District Court in Massachusetts that was handed down recently.

The case was filed in October 1997 by Granby, Mass.-based Suzuki of Western Mass. Inc., which does business under the name Allpower. The firm based its case against Chicopee, Mass.-based exhibition firm Outdoor Sports Exposition Group on OSEG’s having restricted the display of a specific boat line to just one retail dealer, with dealers who displayed that line the previous year getting priority. In this case, Allpower alleged that retail boat dealer Suburban Marine, Meriden, Conn., and OSEG conspired to restrain trade by following this rule between 1988 and 1994, thus violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Seems that Suburban Marine had displayed a certain brand of boats at OSEG’s 1993 show at the West Springfield, Mass., Eastern States Exposition Centter, and so got priority to display the same line again the following year. Allpower said that this went outside the show’s "priority dealer rule," and edged into a conspiracy to restrain Allpower’s trade.

The federal court mulled it over, concluding this past January that the boat show’s priority dealer rule "was unliaterally adopted by OSEG, and, therefore, was not the product of a conspiracy in restraint of trade." The court said that OSEG’s rule had been adopted four years prior earlier, and that OSEG had made the rule known to exhibitors before the 1994 exhibition. "When the only act specified in the complaint amounted to saying that the trader had exercised his right to determine those with whom he would deal, and to announce the circumstances under which he would refuse to sell, no Sherman Act violation is made out," said the court in its ruling.

OSEG said throughout the case that it didn’t receive any profit from a particular exhibitor selling a particular line of boats (it makes its money off ticket sales to the public and sale of exhibit space). It needed to impose the rule because it wanted to include as many exhibitors as possible, while also providing the variety of lines that would make the show attractive to the public. In the case, OSEG said, its priority rule was a "reasonable attempt" to strike that balance. Because there is a gag order in place, OSEG co-owner Doug Sousa could not comment on the case.

While this was a consumer boat show aimed at the general public and so was an extreme case, associations can rest easier knowing that, should they have to institute a similar policy on their expos, or just want assurance that, in Massachusetts, anyway, they can run their own show, at their own preferred level of quality, under their own rules, the court is behind them.