While 2014 already feels far behind us, we’re right about the half-way point between December’s Fan Fest, and Phoenix Comicon (which is already picking up steam with fantastic guests like Summer Glau, Jason Momoa, Edward James Olmos, Alyson Hannigan, and others)! So we’re taking one more look at Fan Fest 2014, Phoenix Comicon’s first Winter event, and to do that I had another conversation with convention director Matt Solberg about how the first Fan Fest went, and what it meant for the future of Phoenix Comicon!
The most important question was will there be another Fan Fest, and the answer was solid yes, though some of the logistics, aren’t as set in stone. This first time around the organization only had about three months to put the event together, resulting in an experience that was almost unexpectedly outstanding, and at the start of the interview had Matt exclaiming:
“I can’t believe that we put together a show in three and a half months and somehow pulled it off…”
He expanded on what a feat this was, saying:
“when we announced it…we’d just signed the contracts like three days prior… the reaction was strong… but we were almost flying by the seat of our pants.”
It all came together fantastically though, in a way that Matt described as “surreal” given the time constraints. We then discussed some of the more technical aspects that Matt and others were looking for, during the event, to determine if, when and how Fan Fest would be run again. One of the biggest things outsiders look at is attendance, but that’s not the only factor at play.
“We got good guests, we put on a good show… Guests had a great time… attendees had a good time. Vendors made money… and when you look at any metric for the event it was successful. It was a well run show.”
When talking about the event’s success, Matt also hit on one low point, which may present room for changes in the future, especially considering his past experience vending at cons, before running them.
“Sadly not all the artists made money, and I think that was the result of a three month turnaround time and it was two weeks before Christmas… I know that are some artists didn’t make back their table fee and that’s always regrettable. Having been a vendor myself, and having made my living for a number of years attending conventions much like this, ah my goal is to put on a show that people make a lot of money at… and two weeks from Christmas was tough… some of the actors and artists weren’t doing well, but what we hear from some of the vendors was that it turned into Christmas shopping… and that was driving sales.”
This year though, there’s more time for planning, and some room for changes, in part because Phoenix Comicon, like other major conventions has been shifting from an event that primarily draws locals, to one that is pulling people from all over the country who are now prioritizing and planning for it. Part of this happening is the expectation of attendees is growing, and that expectation carried, and will carry over to Fan Fest.
“We went from a spontaneous event, per se, to one that people plan for. You look at the turnaround time [for Fan Fest] and you know we didn’t really have guests announced until really two months out.”
When it comes to timing though, it may not be as regular as Phoenix Comicon. One of the primary factors is the NFL schedule, which is not released until April (yes we nerds must now taking into account Foosball, and other sportsing matters), being that Fan Fest will remain at the University of Phoenix, aka Cardinals Stadium.
“There are a lot of positive factors doing it at the stadium, at that facility…”
One certainty though is that it will remain a winter event, providing attendees (especially cosplayers) a much cooler environment to geek out in. Whether or not it will always be in December is up in the air.
“I’m not sure that we really want to do two weeks before Christmas. I don’t think that would really be an ideal time. Some time mid-October, maybe early November, probably would work a little bit better, maybe even early January.”
As of this publication the Phoenix Comicon site lists Fan Fest as “Winter 2015”, but clearly late Fall would still be nicer for attendees than the heat of Summer.
Moving on to a few of the smaller details, the Fast Passes offered in 2015 will be coming back. When announced, there was some push back on social media (something that was expected), but dozens were purchased, and things went smoothly. When I directly discussed some of the concerns that attendees had Matt expressed that he wasn’t surprised by the push back, after having discussed the possibility with other conventions.
“When we announced it and saw the feedback, I read and responded to as many as I could, at least on Facebook and there’s a sense that it’s going to make the lines so much longer… but that’s not necessarily going to happen. It’s something that we’re going to monitor.”
He elaborated though on his response to the push back, taking into account the number of Fast Passes being sold (500), and what effect, if any they’ll have.
“You look at the thousands of people through the weekend getting autographs, 500 is really a small number… Because it’s only good for autographs and actor photos, those are people already waiting in line. It’s not 500 new people… they’re already waiting in line… now it’s just a little more noticeable. I saw one comment ‘could all the people who buy fast passes all suddenly wait in one line?’ Well sure, but I don’t think 500 people are all going to be doing the same thing at the same time. Even if we do sell all five hundred, we’ll have a handful waiting for an actor over here, and over there, and some waiting for a photo op and it’ll be spread around.”
Matt also pointed out the positive side of Fast Passes, and mentioning that they’ve actually been requested by some attendees for a number of years. And for the dozens of Fast Passes sold, there were no known hiccups. That being said, he acknowledged that with Fan Fest not being at capacity, and Fast Passes not being sold out, there’s not a way to tell if it was the most accurate measurement of what impact Fast Passes may have.
What will be a better indicator of their impact though will be when Fast Passes are sold for Phoenix Comicon, and at that point they can see how much, if at all the Fast Passes affect the lines.
In addition to the Fast Passes, there were a few other opportunities that Fan Fest presented in terms of trying new things. For example, Fan Fest was the first time Phoenix Comicon hosted a “cashless” event for badge purchases, and some of the key players, such as the Directors of Operations were new to their specific positions, and were able to ease into their roles, and get to know their teams for Fan Fest.
Finally, it was inevitable that comparisons would be made between Phoenix Comicon and Fan Fest, in terms of attendee expectations and experience, so we discussed some of the important differences, how each event will remain unique and yet provide the same level of service, and the same opportunity to find and indulge your inner geek!
While Fan Fest may never grow to the size and splendor that is Phoenix Comicon, there’s a lot that it offers as an additional event, and Matt gave me some thoughts on why it may stay smaller, but still be worth attending every year
“Some of it’s the facility… the stadium is a great facility for Fan Fest, but it doesn’t have the convention space that the [Phoenix] Convention Center does…When I look at the factors that allow Phoenix Comicon to be as large, those same factors really won’t allow Fan Fest to be as large. In order for us to get the same amount of space for Fan Fest… we’d have to move downtown to the Convention Center. And there are some challenges inherent to that.”
Those challenges, happen to occur because winter in Phoenix isn’t just desirable for cosplayers and fellow nerds, but it’s a desirable time of year for just about anyone who’d want to visit the valley of the sun, and that contributes to considerably higher hotel costs, as well as, more traffic and congestion down town, comparatively, because there’s much less business during the summer.
The good news though is that, according to Matt,
“Fan Fest can truly be… its own unique event. And that’s one of the benefits of doing it.. at the stadium, and it can grow into its own event with sort of its own theme to it, whatever that ends up being… There’s room to grow at the stadium, and having the Renaissance right across the parking lot opens up possibilities for us.”
Some of those possibilities could be “evening programming” as well as “more space for guests”.
One of the other benefits of just having an event like Fan Fest, is while neither Phoenix Comicon or Fan Fest is anticipated to ever become “genre specific” (i.e. primarily comics and cosplay, vs. media and pop culture, or anime vs. super heroes), it is likely that the events may be considered “activity specific”.
If anything, Phoenix Comicon is really kind of that signature event that we do, and we want to make that special… like the nature of the programming. But some stuff we did at Fan Fest, was things like the inflatable slides for the kids, that’s something we’d talked about for Comicon, but couldn’t really do… or the five page comic book… but we could do at Fan Fest… Both [Phoenix Comicon and Fan Fest] can grow naturally and organically based on the people involved.
So nerds, if you hadn’t attended Fan Fest, you’ll definitely want to this coming winter, and Phoenix Comicon will remain a signature event here in the Southwest, where everyone can find their inner geek!