Exclusive: Arizona Convention Directors Speak About Current State of Conventions Page 1

Question #1 – What do you see as the biggest challenge to your convention in this rapidly changing industry?


Mike Olivares – Tucson Comic-Con: Getting guests and industry creators would be my biggest challenge. With the con explosion from the past 5 years there are more shows opening up in the backyards of these creators so weighing a weekend away from home and current projects is definitely something I know they might consider when being asked to attend an out of state show.

Game On Expo Moves To Downtown Phoenix and the Phoenix Convention Center in 2017

John Lester – Game On Expo: Game On Expo is still a fairly young con (going on year three), so for us our biggest challenge is getting the word out about our show, and letting people know about it.  It is a very unique experience compared to other pop culture cons in the market. Gaming; whether it’s tabletop or video game related, appeals to so many people of all ages.  

Another challenge we are facing this year is expanding and moving to the Phoenix Convention Center. This is a big leap for us, and our expenses are significantly higher with the upgrade.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the debate of paid staff vs. volunteers. Most of us are aware of what PCC recently did with the decision to pay their staff. I give big kudos to Matt and his team for making this decision, as I’m sure it wasn’t an easy one.  Something that Game On Expo has to weigh is whether we will pay our staff or seek volunteers as we’ve done our first two years.  Whatever we decide it most likely won’t please everyone since there are strong opinions on both sides.

Matt Solberg – Phoenix Comicon: Managing expectations.  Everyone has an opinion and expectation of what their experience will be at Phoenix Comicon and our job, in as much as possible, is to exceed those expectations.   And they change too:  based on other shows someone attends or which other celebrities a show announces will impact what our attendees come to expect.  It’s a balance act between expectations and what can be delivered in an affordable manner. 

Michael Spadafore – Taiyou Con: I believe that the biggest challenges to Taiyou Con in this rapidly changing industry is really our social media reach and the way that we utilize social media. We are currently reworking our social media approach.  Some don’t believe that social media plays a big part in promoting in conventions. 

Hal Astell – LepreCon43/Westercon 70:
LepreCon and the other smaller sci-fi cons have a number of common challenges. There’s the challenge of financing small non-profit cons, the challenge of burnout when the people who run them have been doing so in their spare time for decades and the challenge of remaining relevant when compared to cons with thousands or even tens of thousands of attendees.

Mostly though, I think our biggest challenge is to make people aware that we exist and that there’s value in the different experience that we offer.

It’s been a struggle during the rise of the big cons but word is getting out there through community sites like Legion of Sand, Nerdvana and The Geekian Report, each of which covers a wide range of cons. Building a history of Arizona conventions at the Arizona Penny Dreadfuls site has helped too by showing fans just how much has happened here in state over the last half century and how much is still happening.

Greg Fennell – Saboten Con: The exciting part is the industries we focus on, Japanese Pop-Culture and Furry, are both growing more in popularity yearly.  Our challenge is going to be staying up with the rapid growth and not get stuck in a yearly loop of just doing the same thing.  I challenge each of my Convention Managers yearly on what are we going to do different or bigger this year compared to last.  How do we give our attendees something new to see and enjoy so their experience yearly grows with each of our events?  Example: Saboten Con has a fundamental goal of being the big con with the little con feel.  This means that while we focus on getting the guests and events you see at the huge shows like AX or Otakon, we stay in a hotel environment where it feels more intimate and not just another cookie cutter convention at a convention center.

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