Earlier this week The Beat highlighted the three way con crush of Planet Comicon Kansas City, C2E2 and WonderCon, all planned for the same weekend, March 29-31, in 2019. It’s rumored that Silicon Valley Comicon will also be the same weekend, which means a lot of decisions for guests and attendees alike.
We reached out to Planet Comicon Kansas City’s showrunner Chris Jackson to find out more about what goes into picking show dates and how a con deals with this kind of conflict. Jackson is a much respected member of the community and I hear nothing but good things about his show, which I hope to attend one of these years.
I also investigated the whole situation a little, and despite what some drama loving fans might think, this date conflict is in no way intentional on anyone’s part. There is no Con War going on…it’s just that there are only a limited number of dates available, and comic cons, for reasons I’ll get to, often get last pick of the dates available.
Jackson’s event has an attendance of about 50,000 he told us, putting it firmly in the Top 25 shows nationwide. It’s also the largest consumer show at the venue (Kansas City MO’s Bartle Hall).
Despite this, as we surmised, because of the hotel room conundrum they are only given a few dates to choose from. It’s why the show is moving from February this year to the end of March next year.
It’s not a situation Jackson chose deliberately. “People think we choose out dates, but the reality is we are offered dates by the facility and have to choose from those,” he told The Beat.
Venues offer dates about 18 months in advance, he says, and for 2019 they were given a choice of two dates, March 29-31 and Easter. “We do need better communication between bigger shows,” Jackson said. “But it’s not clear that would have changed anything this time. We had only two dates to choose from.”
Easter is a date that comic cons are often given by venues, as no meeting or B-2-B (business to business) event wants to be on a huge holiday. WonderCon has been held on Easter several times, and Awesome Con got the slot this year. But it’s not a preferred date, especially in states with a stronger church going contingent. Showrunners try to avoid it whenever possible.
Jackson decided against the Easter slot, based on all the information he’s been given on how a show performs on that date. At that time, he was unaware of the conflicting cons. But he emphasizes there’s no animosity at play. “I know some of the people at SD and ReedPop and we all get along fine. We all wish we weren’t all on the same dates, and I know that from talking to them.”
Jackson hopes that some means of communicating among larger shows will be established so that these kinds of conflicts can be managed in the future.
But an even larger problem is the “hotel room paradox” which prevents comic cons from being given preferred dates no matter how many cosplayers and fans show up, said Jackson. “Despite the popularity of our show, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau controls availability of dates 18 months out. It’s only within 18 months that the convention center itself has control of the facility. The CVB by mandate is instructed to rent based on how many hotel rooms are sold. So every event that surpasses a certain level of hotel room sales has priority over my event in selecting dates.”
In addition, since Planet Comicon requires the entire facility, if another show is using even a small part of Bartle Center, they get priority.
Thus, “by the time they get to the point where I can select dates there’s very few left,” says Jackson. “I’m usually offered 3-5 dates. All of which usually includes Easter.” Other dates Jackson avoids are the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City and Free Comic Book Day. But that leaves few suitable dates.
There are two things that can be done to avoid this in the future.
One, as noted, is more communication among showrunners. “But even so, we’re still at the mercy of the convention centers,” he said. “I did talk to Mike [Armstrong, showrunner of C2E2] the last few days. We’re going to try to avoid this happening again. Whether this works or not, I don’t know.”
Still with all the entities putting on shows – Comic-Con International, ReedPOP, Informa, Wizard World, Ace Comic Con, Leftfield, Walker Stalker and Fandemic – sorting it out is no easy matter and conflicts are inevitable and due to the competitive nature of the business, there is often secrecy surrounding schedules.
“Shows have always been protective of future dates and virtually no show wants to let those out,” said Jackson. “The dates are not known until the current show is done. But I hope we can all can get to a point where they are willing to share a little more. I don’t see why my dates for 2020 and 2021 would be a big secret. I’d rather that ReedPOP and Informa know those dates so they at least have the option.”
The other problem that needs to be solved – and a rare example of an ongoing stigma against fan/consumer type shows – is getting facilities to break the hotel room mandate a bit. Even though comic cons are reshaping the way people experience pop culture around the world, if fans don’t rent hotel rooms, they don’t matter to a CVB.
Hotel rooms were part of the issue with San Diego Comic-Con getting preferred treatment from the San Diego Convention Center and remain a problem with many other cons. Even with the huge, overflow crowds for conventions that we’ve been tracking here for years, they are often attended by local fans who don’t book hotel rooms. It’s one of the reasons cons are trying to get larger and draw more fans from outside the region.
Jackson hopes that the Kansas City CVB will try to work with him more in the future. “They do acknowledge that we are the biggest consumer show in the KC area. The food vendors say we are the largest show for them. We have hungry fans! The city does recognize that we do bring money into the city but there are restrictions as to what the city and CVB can do because of the hotel nights situation.”
But it’s still an ongoing discussion.
We investigated this a bit, and the Kansas City CVB’s annual report makes it clear just how important hotel rooms are. Take a look at the top shows for the region:
As you can see, it doesn’t take too many hotel rooms to make the list, but Planet Comic Con is no where to be seen, alas. (Also, man some event plans a long time in advance!)
This is a fruitful area for study (Oh Torsten???) to see if cities acknowledge their biggest consumer shows. For years I would highlight the San Diego CVB report which didn’t even mention Comic-Con, something that has changed quite a bit in recent years.
But I DID decide to pick a random example, to see how things stacked up. Here’s a page from the Baltimore Vistitor’s bureau annual report 2016-2017.
Interestingly, Otakon is the second biggest event in the city, but still has fewer hotel rooms. Darn those kids who bunk up to save money. Otakon is also one of the biggest anime shows on the East Coast and does draw a lot of people from outside the region, it should be noted. (However, they’ve since moved to Washington DC, after issues with the Baltimore facility.)
So, hotels vs fans is an area to do some investigation in. And still the cause of some date overlaps.
Jackson still feels that his show will manage just fine in 2019. It’s the 20th anniversary of his event, and “I feel that there are plenty of guests to go around, both creator guests and celebrity guests. We all have a good selection and good shows. I love WonderCon and C2E2 nd I’m disappointed I won’t be able to go to them. But for one year we can co-exist peacefully and successfully.”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.