One thing that I enjoy about Phoenix Comicon’s Facebook page is the openness of the convention director Matt Solberg. I think this is the third or fourth post I’ve made that’s dedicated to comments, which are always worth a read, made on the Phxcc FB page.
The latest one is a rather lengthy post explaining the “whys” behind Phoenix Comicon such as “why is it June?”, “why can’t you get [insert guest name here]?”.
“Why does it have to be in June? Why have the con when you know the temps will be in the 100s?” “When you choose the convention dates do you take into consideration other comic book conventions dates? This year Dallas has their event during the same weekend. How did this effect recruiting guests?”
We are in June because it is more affordable for us to do so. We get better pricing from the hotels on rooms and from the Convention Center on space. And the savings means we can invest more in our show, and for attendees, have a lower priced membership than if we were when it was cooler. It’s cheaper simply because it is hotter and most corporate and travel groups won’t do a show in May or June. Supply and demand. As the demand goes down in summer the supply goes up and as such pricing goes down.
We used to book our convention one year at a time, so as the show would wrap up for one year we’d book for the next year. In 2013 as we grew and took over more of the convention center, we signed contracts for 2014, 2015, and 2016. We now have contracts signed till 2019 with a hold on dates till 2022. Because we use 85% of the convention center, and all four of the main downtown hotels, we have to lock in dates early to get everything we need.
There was a time when a pop culture convention would have a weekend to itself. That time has passed. It’s not just that Dallas Comic Con is on the same weekend as us, but so is Wizard World Philadelphia, Awesome Con, and Niagara Falls Con and we’re all going for the same guests. (Plus a handful of even smaller shows are on the same weekend for something like seven or eight shows). This is true of almost any weekend available.
Sometime in 2013 or 2014 we conflicted on the same weekend with Dallas. I know the organizers of their parent company, reached out to share our dates to avoid a conflict, and wouldn’t you know it, they’re on the same weekend as us last year and this year. And next year their Orlando show will be on our same weekend. I’d like to think they have the same situation we do: limited dates and availability and better pricing on certain weekends. But it does make you go hmmmm.
We’ll be negotiating contracts soon for 2020 and possibly 2021. Most other conventions do not have dates selected this far out, so for us, it’s a case of saying “Within Phoenix what else is going on and do these dates give us the space and pricing we need to successfully organize an affordable and profitable show.”
It should give comfort that we feel strongly about our event and market that we are willing to commit to contracts three to five years out. Five years in a business cycle is a really long time.
A comparison on pricing is that we are paying more for convention center rental per square footage for Keen Halloween in September or Fan Fest in October than we do for Phoenix Comicon in June.
Having multiple shows on the same weekend does make it much more challenging to recruit guests. Wizard World puts on over twenty shows a year and will do multiple show contracts with actors, so a booking manager typically gives them first pick.
Informa, which owns Fan Expo, Dallas, and Mega Con in Orlando, puts on five shows (and counting a year). A booking manager gives Informa next pick, before offering talent to the rest of us.
If we find an actor to be too expensive for us, we have no room to negotiate given there is always another show the same weekend who will book them. And know that the booking managers pit us all against each other.
I had lunch with the President and VP of Informa at San Diego Comic Con last summer. We’re talking shop and they wanted to somehow team up because they were tired of the booking managers putting Informa against Wizard. I laughed and had to tell them that, “Well, from where I sit we have the booking managers pitting Wizard AND your shows against us, so I think you’re doing better than you think you are.” It’s all relative, right?
I think the booking managers also know that in the last couple of years attendees have become more competitive with guest announcements too. “Hey Phoenix get with it! Dallas has 18 actors while you have 14!” “This guest line up isn’t as good as Salt Lake.” “…Philadelphia.” “…Dallas.” And they’ll use that to their benefit too that if we don’t book this guest (who we may feel is priced to high for our market) than another show will get the benefit.
At this point there will always be another show on the same weekend as us, simply because there are so many shows across the country. For us it’s about putting on the best show we can for our attendees, knowing that there will be limitations regardless of our dates.