October 8, 2014

Tree City Comic Con Sniff Test

We are essentially a week out from the Tree City Comic Con, which I predicted last June would be an Epic Fail. I've been loosely following the comings and goings as I could just being a local boy. Now in the interest of fairness I do have a couple friends who have  run another convention here in the Treasure Valley and gotten some general insight from them and I have another friend out of state who has much more business-side experience running larger conventions. That person has been insightful as well.

Now aside from some personal bristling when I read something to the effect of us "finally" getting a multi-faceted/genre convention here in the valley, I've been staying away from what I've heard is a bit of Facebook drama and other bits of fandom in-fighting. Outside of notion I seem to have that running a convention is running a business and the need to treat things thusly (allegedly some of the bickering was between this con and some people who hold positions of power within other fandom groups) I don't really care who said what to whom and how dare they! Interpersonal stuff (drama) isn't interesting, but allegations of unethical or illegal business behavior...interesting.

My original post caught me some heat and I'm sure I've simply been written off as one of the naysayers by the Con Staff. To be honest...they should write me off as a naysayer because in their position they have to focus on the positive. They cannot afford to be negative because then it will be self-fulfilling. I still think they should listen and make some changes, but they have their thing to do and I do mine. Not much is going to happen in a week.....

Now I will fully admit that I could have been biased when I heard the initial word about the con and subsequent viewing of the website. Even with that though, this didn't pass the sniff test for me. Now I'm not saying things are rotten here, but I do think I have some quite valid points, or at least will have.

Now because of some of my connections, not necessarily the ones even my friends would be able to make, I've heard some pretty outlandish stuff. Things like Tree City Comic Con was expecting 400K visitors...and this was the figure they were pitching to potential sponsors. In one of my previous posts comments I looked at the population of the Treasure Valley (600K and change) and assumed this was just a miss-quote...until you look at this tidbit from the Sponsor package: "Each annual event reaches over 400,000 people in the Treasure Valley, and year over year and increase in attendance to the event."

OK, that has to be a typo, or puffery or something. You know maybe they meant to say that word about the con reaches 400K, but that bullet point does mention attendance.....

You know, this is obviously false on the surface because there is no way that a 1st time event can have an attendance figure, much less one that encompasses 2/3 of the area's population. This cannot even be pre-sales of event tickets (that would be like $20M in weekend passes!!!!). Even though this jives with what I've heard from an outside source and clearly been pushed to potential sponsors, I'll chalk it off to a mistake.

Now since I'm re-visiting this "smell test" I'm going to set a standard or two. 1st, no "insider information" or hearsay. I'll play devil's advocate and make all the assumptions I can against my initial, or gut, feelings on this convention. I'll only source information anyone with a computer can get easily online, and as much as I can I'll avoid anything else I've commented on or had commented on before. So Kevin, whatever you did in the past (or did not do)....we'll just ignore that for now.

Let's just continue to look at the Sponsor Packet, shall we? The Sponsor Packet webpage isn't linked to on the main site any longer, but it is still there to be found with a quick Google search. You can also just go over to the Scribd page for a better view....

OK, so if they sell out of all the sponsorship packets that is a nice $187.5K....I don't know what to do with that information so I'll just leave it alone. I'm sure someone better experienced knows how much of that is "profit" to be used to pay for the convention.

Now looking at the artist alley application and the program guide (or at least the map in the guide) there looks to be 78 artist booths. That is $100 for 20 of those booths and $200 for the next 58, for another $13,600. Now I doubt that Vendor Booths, or Food trucks are cheaper than the smaller artist alley booths (I've actually heard much higher numbers), but I have to go against myself and assume they are the same price, which adds in another $20,200 (6 food trucks and 95 vendor booths at $200 each).

So now, assuming my math holds, we are looking at $221,300 income, not including ticket sales. Again, I can't do too much with these numbers, but I've done the math in case someone can. I also don't know the expenses and I'm sure they are a lot to bring in all those names. Just renting the Expo Idaho is roughly $7500 a day....so for a two day con, figure double that for set-up & tear-down, tripling it for Devil's Advocate and the Expos costs the convention $45,000....

...again, not a lot I can do with those numbers. Where did I get these cost figures? You can find them on the Expo Idaho website. They have some excellent rate cards with all these figures. Now you have to assume there will be some "hidden" costs as well, so really this expense and cost bit is really a moot point for most anyone reading this or even attending the convention. Though if we could use that 400K attendence....daaaaaayyyuuuummm that is a lot of scratch.

My favorite Fridge Magnet
You know what isn't a moot point for people, especially people attending this convention? Safety. This is where my Spidey-Sense really kicked in, or for me my Deadpool sense.

If we can go back to the Sponsor Packet for a minute and look at the planned attendance figures again....no, not the 400K figure as we've already ruled that one out, but a more "reasonable" 100K visitors, which is still something like a metric butt-ton of people at this convention.

Hmmm....over 10,000 people expected to average over 14 hours for the event. Well, with Devil's Advocate math here we have to use 10,000 people and 14 hours exactly. Now according to the convention materials the convention is open for 9 hours on Friday and 10 hours on Saturday. Now VIPs get in an hour early each day so we have to assume everyone is registered as a VIP. That means we have 21 hours of operation for 10,000 people who will there for 14 hours. This means at any given moment 2/3 of the attendees will be at the convention (14 hours of 21 hours is 2/3). This means the average hourly attendance is 6,666 attendees. 

Now we know that there are guests, con staff, and vendors, as well as the common-sense approach that attendee distribution will not be so evenly distributed means there will undoubtedly be more people at this event at some point. Since we don't have numbers for this and because it would work in favor of my initial arguments we'll discard it...for now. I have to be able to point back to this and say, "my math works even when you discredit these .....factors".

Anyway, we have a lot of attendees at the Con happily visiting the artist alleys, the vendor booths, waiting in line for pictures and autographs, and even attending some panels. What was that bit about safety again?

Well the con is being held at Expo Idaho. By the map they are using the entire "main" Expo building, which is actually three buildings: North, Center, and Expo. That building has a maximum occupancy of 5,095 in about 75,000 feet of space. Hey, not bad....everyone should get about 14 square feet to themselves.....

Hey wait a second......that is less that 4' x 4'. Not quite standing room only.

You know...I completely forgot about the other building...there is another building on the map. That is most likely the "Premium Building". That is next door and the next largest rent-able space that is available at the Expo center. That building has a maximum occupancy rate of about 500 and is roughly 7,200 square feet of space. 

Sweet....this extra space brings out totals to 82,200 feet of con space and a maximum occupancy of 5595. Everyone gets 14.69 square feet, not quite 4' on a side. That doesn't seem too bad....until you factor that a) it isn't enough occupancy to let all of our guests in and b) doesn't factor in the stages, hallways, waiting lines, vendor booths, and artist alleys. Hell, just the tables and booths themselves take up 7,250 square feet (15 square foot per 6' x 30" table and 8' x 8' booth)! That brings the attendee floor space down a bit more than a foot....assuming we stay legal with the maximum occupancy.

If we say "screw effen fire codes!" and let all 6,666 hourly attendees in and kick out the staff, the guests, the vendors, and even let the attendees stand in booths and on tables everyone will have a nice little square 3 1/2' on a side to stand in....

...and do nothing.

That's it...I'm done here....

Now remember that I used the numbers freely given and made some horrible choices and omissions that were not in my favor and things still came out "wonky". I hope this exercise in absurdity points out just one reason that the things I've heard and seen about Tree City Comic Con doesn't pass the sniff test for me. If attendance comes even close to expectations this thing is going to be a zoo. A dangerous, fire-code breaking zoo. Something has got to give and honestly I expect it to be attendance because the alternative seem quite worse. While I do actually hope the event goes well some of these blatant issues could have been mitigated by proper planning. How would you feel if you paid $50 to be crammed in asshole-to-elbow at the Expos center? How would you justify possibly spending tens of thousands of your company's dollars on supporting a con because you were led to believe that there would be 400,000 people in attendance? What if you were a guest?

Would you be so willing to attend or sponsor another convention here in the Treasure Valley after a bad Tree City Comic Con experience?

I really hope that I'm proven so wrong on this one, for the sake of everyone who isn't Tree City Comic Con staff. After all, they won't be the ones left holding the bag....

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