The History and Evolution of the Nashville Boat Show


The Nashville Boat Show is an annual event that draws in boat enthusiasts by the thousands. The show is also known as the Progressive Insurance Nashville Boat Show. It’s the biggest boating extravaganza in the state of Tennessee. The Boat Show is in its 34th year since it made its debut in 1986. Although there’s not a lot of information about the early beginnings of the show, we were able to find a few treasures in the archives to provide you with a sense of how the show has evolved since it first launched.

Who sponsors the Nashville Boat Show?

The Progressive Insurance Nashville Boat & Sportshow is always skillfully organized by the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association, also known as the NMMA, according to MPF Strategic Communications. The organization is responsible for producing boat shows around the world. It is among the top promoters in the recreational boating industry. Companies with membership in the NMMA are responsible for over 80 percent of all engines, boats, trailers, gear, and accessories intended for boater and angler use, in North America. The association has the single goal of promoting growth within these industries. One of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to bring manufacturers and vendors within the boating and angling industry together in one place for a multi-day event that grants them exposure to one another. The association also collects market statistics, conducts market research, tracks product quality assurance, and promotes a boating lifestyle to all show attendees. Progressive Insurance is a company that provides auto, truck, motorcycle, boat, and recreational vehicle insurance policies. Other official sponsors of the show include State Farm Insurance, Geico Insurance, Paradise Grills, Discover Boating, and Leaf & Filter Gutter Protection. This changes from year to year as some sponsors drop off and others take their place.

The advertisements weren’t as descriptive

At present, there are multiple internet pages dedicated to the Nashville Boat Show. You can find dozens that report about the details of the past, current, and upcoming shows. The first advertisements appeared in the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville as a simple ad that provided the date of the event and a few sparse details about vendors and activities. Still, the show was a success b because it brought vendors and boaters together for a few days for attendees to learn about the latest boat models available, along with vendors selling useful accessories and angling supplies.

Archives from 2006

NMMA advertisements for the 2005-6 Nashville Boat Show provides us with a glimpse of into the history of the event. It wasn’t held at Music City at that time. Instead, the venue was the Nashville Convention Center. It was billed as the 20th Nashville Boat and Sportshow held from January 11th through the 15th. The information provided about the event wasn’t as detailed as the more current media releases.

We found more recent archives from the Tennesean that revealed the evolution of the massive show from 2015 forward. The Tennessean Newspaper continued coverage of the event that had become much more than a show for the locals. It was a show that people visiting from other states incorporated into their tourist itineraries. This was the year that the 29th annual Nashville Boat & Sportshow was held. The organizers of the event expected a turnout of around 20,000 attendees. It ran from Thursday through Sunday to make the boat show available to more people. Each year new attractions were added with more vendors and bigger crowds. The show offered something for everyone who walked through the gates, both young and old. The two main themes were boating and fishing with other water attractions featured as secondary drawing cards.

Examples of the activities from the 2015 Nashville Boat Show

  • -Trout fishing ponds for kids 12 and under

  • -Boost your boating IQ

  • -Water skiing squirrel

  • -Introductions to all water sports

  • -15,000-gallon diver pool with instructors providing free scuba diving lessons

  • -Wake zone trampoline wall for wakeboarding stunt exhibitions

  • -150 vendors selling motorboats, pontoons, canoes, jet skis, kayaks, and other watercraft and gear

  • -Customized watercraft sales

  • -Daily theme with something new

  • -Discounts on admission

  • -Free gear for the first attendees while supplies last


The 2017 show featured a display of more than 300 boats for sale, along with a Fish Lipz Grill serving catfish dinners and beverages, Live musicians on Friday and Saturday night, a catch and release trout pond, courses on fine-tuning boat engines, and a new Paddlesports 101 course. Boater certification courses were also offered to the public. In addition to all of these fun activities, people of all ages could try out the virtual fishing program with a power squadron boating simulator sponsored by Progressive Insurance. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency provided education about boating, fishing, and the outdoors in addition to certification opportunities for boater education. Kids under age 15 got in free.

2018 Nashville Boat Show

For several years now, the Nashville Boat Show has been held annually at the Music City Center location. A total of 99 vendors registered to be present for this event in booths, bringing over 300 boats to display, along with other accessories, gear, and watersports equipment. A new addition that w observed for this year’s event was a “Create-A-Boat: Kid’s Toy Building booth. Special guest Kendall Newson of the Miami Dolphins turned pro angler was available to conduct a fishing clinic for kids. This was to raise funds for donation to the Teach a Child to Fish Foundation that he endorsed. There were also courses related to how your prop affects a boat’s performance and a hands-on practice docking pool. Several other informational and educational courses were offered along with a free boating safety course. Service techs were also standing by for one-on-one consultations.

The 2019 Nashville Boat Show

The 2019 annual event kicked off in advance of the boating season with the same fun, activities, and educational offerings as the previous year. Entertainment was provided by Walker Hayes, an aspiring new country star. The waterskiing squirrel was still a featured attraction. By 2019, the age for free admission was dropped and now only kids age 12 and under were allowed in for free. Everyone age 13 and up had to pay the full admission charge of $12 per person.

The 2020 Nashville Boat Show

Williams Herald reported that a new change would be added to the admission schedule. Anyone in the military would be allowed free admission to the show on Thursday. The event was billed as a “one-stop-shop” to prepare for summer fun on the water with a fleet of more than 300 boats available for viewing, along with the boating, fishing, and educational opportunities that were presented the previous year. Each year the show welcomes new vendors bringing the latest technologies and innovations in fishing, boating, and other outdoor accessories and it guarantees fun and information for attendees of all ages. Everyone buying a ticket online and in advance received a discount of $2 off the cost, plus a special rate of $5 for those who attended on Thursday after 5 pm.

Ups and downs in attendance

The Nashville Boat Show for 2020 was held a few months before the Covid-19 pandemic closed most of the country down. The timing was just right or the show would have likely been canceled or postponed for the year. Although some years have seen stronger attendance than others, this is a yearly event that many look forward to and plan their calendars around.

According to Boating Industry, the Nashville boat show saw a dip in attendance in 2018. There was a reported 15,701 persons in attendance. This was down approximately one percent of the average assessed for the previous three years. Since 2015, the average number in attendance averaged 14,927.

What draws the big crowds to the Nashville Boat Show?

The organizers could not have chosen a better time of year to hold this event. It’s scheduled without fail in January, always after New Years’. After months of winter weather, people are ready to start thinking about what they want to do when the temperature warms. They dream of the time when they can get outdoors and enjoy recreational activities. Timing is everything. Since the event is coming up on its 35th consecutive year in 2021, the boat show is something that the locals have become accustomed to attending. Going to the boat show has become somewhat of a ritual. It gives them something to look forward to because it breaks up the doldrums of winter. This show isn’t an event that is easy to forget about or to miss. It’s is due to the broad advertisement through the media. There are constant reminders of the dates, times, and new attractions. It’s one of the most appealing shows for anyone who wants to get outside and dream of warm summer days and fun with friends and family. The NMMA has done well in promoting water activities. Impressively, this event remains centered around that goal.

How the Nashville Boat Show has evolved

The first trend that we noticed bout the Nashville Boat Show is that it is much better advertised than the events held in the 1980s and 1990s. There was very little information in the archives about the event, so it’s difficult to assess what it was like. That’s no longer an issue. From the information that we were able to gather, the numbers of attendees have picked up since the 1986 boat show that started this grand community event. The number of vendors has increased along with the crowds that are ready to put a close to winter and welcome the springtime. The organizers have made sure to include activities that will appeal to every member of the family to make it an interesting visit that will encourage an annual return for the latest news and inventions relating to water sports and activities. We’ve seen this show grow in its reach to the public about safety, identifying and fixing common boating problems, and offering one-on-one consultation for attendees who have questions.

The offerings have expanded to include more information on a broad range of topics with fun activities to give the public a taste of how the products that vendors represent can make their lives more fun, interesting, and safe. Plans are already set for the 2021 Nashville Boat Show, and everyone is keeping their fingers crossed for a downswing in the pandemic numbers. We’re all looking forward to getting out and enjoying a peek at what boat and watersport dealers have to offer us for the upcoming summer.

Final thoughts

The Nashville Boat Show has been an annual event held for the past 35 years. Although the venue has changed from the Convention Center at the Fairgrounds, it appears that the show has found its new permanent home at Music City in Nashville. It’s an exciting show for anyone ready to get out of the house and get a preview of the possibilities that will be available for the new year. From all appearances, the 2021 boat how will be just as spectacular as the previous years, if not more so.

Covid-19 has not yet interfered with the commencement of the show, and it’s on schedule, so far, without interruption for another grand performance. If you’ve not yet attended this event, it might be something you want to consider. You’re sure to find the latest in fishing, boating, and water sports technology. It’s fun to see the new gadgets that the vendors show up with. You’ll also find plenty of food and beverage options available. It’s a family-friendly environment that the kids won’t soon forget.

The History and Evolution of the Nashville Boat Show The History and Evolution of the Nashville Boat Show Reviewed by TechCO on 10/23/2020 Rating: 5

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