Just a few days ago I was predicting some consolidation in the crowded convention business in 2016, and like clockwork I learned that there have been layoffs at the convention company Wizard World, following the most recent financial statements that revealed a slowdown in convention revenue. I reached out to a WW spokesman for confirmation and was told “We are working to run the shows as efficiently as possible.”
According to various statements, WW put on 26 events in 2015. The list for 2016 thus far includes 17 announced shows:
New Orleans Jan 8-10
Atlanta Jan 22-24
Portland, Feb 19-21
Cleveland Feb 26-28
Las Vegas Mar. 18-20
St Louis April 1-3
Madison April 8-10
Minneapolis May 6-8
Des Moines May 13-15
Philadelphia June 2-5
Sacramento Jun 17-19
Albuquerque June 24-26
Chicago August 18-21
Richmond Sept. 9-11
Austin Sept. 23-25
Tulsa Oct. 21-23
Pittsburgh Nov. 4-6
With three more on hold until 2017.
Raleigh July 21-23, 2017
Nashville Sept. 8-10, 2017
Reno Nov. 17-18, 2017
According to SEC filing, in 2015, Wizard held “profitable live events in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Columbus, Portland, Nashville, Austin, Sacramento, Louisville, Minneapolis, Tulsa, Reno and St. Louis” which suggests that some of the other cities named were not profitable.
While it unquestionable that many people go to Wizard shows and have a great time, I’ve also heard that the enthusiasm is being spread a bit thin with so many events, and the high prices for autographs and VIP experiences leave little to be spent other traditional convention wares. For instance, a VIP pass for Norman Reedus which includes an autograph, a photo op, early admittance and some exclusive merchandise, goes for $349. Rick Flair is $225, Ben McKenzie (Gotham) is $219.99 and Bruce Campbell is $199. If you’re on a budget, autographs alone are much cheaper: Reeds is $80, the others $50.
Even with attendance surging at many conventions around the world, there is an overall feeling that the US market is saturated. Thus, Wizard is pivoting a bit in their focus, recently announcing the 2016 Wizard World Gaming tour, a series of a nine scheduled events focused on all facets of gaming, which launches with the Atlanta show. According to the PR:
Attendees will participate in video and table gaming tournaments and eSports competitions, meet top celebrities, executives, developers and brands, participate in live demonstrations and interact with fans across the Southeast, demonstrating their love of gaming with Wizard World.
“We wanted to create an exciting, new type of convention for fans who love all kinds of gaming,” said John Macaluso, Wizard World CEO. “Gaming is a growing part of all Wizard World shows, and we feel Atlanta is the perfect place to roll out this kind of celebration.”
Guests to attend Wizard World Gaming Atlanta will include Billy Mitchell (The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters), Walter Day (founder, Twin Galaxies), voice actors Yuri Lowenthal (Ben 10, Fallout 4, Skylanders) and Tara Platt (Pillars of Eternity, Skylanders, Sailor Moon Crystal) and more to be announced shortly.
Other shows with gaming tie-ins include Portland, Ore. (Feb. 19-21); St. Louis (April 1-3); Minneapolis (May 6-8); Philadelphia (June 2-5); Sacramento, Calif. (June 17-19); Orlando, Fla. (August 5-7); Chicago (August 18-21); and Austin, Texas (September 23-25).
This sounds a bit like a PAX-type show to me, but having never been to a PAX, I could be dead wrong. But it does seem smart to try to expand to a new fan base as the old one matures.
At a panel on the future of comic cons that I moderated at NYCC this year, panelists predicted that shows will get more niche oriented as it becomes harder to throw a huge show outside of the “super cons.” I think we’ll see a lot more pivoting towards niche shows in the next 12 months.
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.