Even in the insanely busy run-up to NYCC in two days, we managed to corral ReedPOP’s event director Mike Armstrong to answer a few of our burning questions about the show and its future. Part of our curiosity was stoked by this press release from ShowClix, the ticketing company ,touting new developments in RFID technology for NYCC.
For 2018’s highly-anticipated event, ShowClix has introduced a convenient, integrated method of badging. Anything NYCC attendees purchase through ShowClix or its integrated partners at the event will be tracked on their admission badge; pre-purchased merchandise, autographs, and other add-ons will all live within the attendee’s badge. For fans, this means eliminating the need to carry separate printed proofs-of-purchase on event day which will reduce time spent in on-site queues. For exhibitors, this translates to the collection of valuable attendee data, providing insight into their on-site activities.
In previous years, ShowClix has worked with ReedPOP to be at the forefront of event technology at NYCC. As one of the convention industry’s earliest adopters of RFID admissions, ShowClix vastly improved entry procedures and security at 2013’s New York Comic Con. In 2016, ShowClix introduced a powerful solution for virtually eliminating the unauthorized resale of tickets with its then-unprecedented Fan Verification feature.
Armstrong explains this and more in our chat. Perhaps most importantly, he revealed that there are more and better promoted cosplay changing areas, where people can get dressed up without taking up precious, precious bathroom time. Read on for all of this and thanks to Armstrong for taking the time to talk:
THE BEAT: I know you when you talked to Newsarama you said that 250,000 people were expected which is more than last year. And but as you pointed out that include Anime Fest and all venues?
ARMSTRONG: Yes, essentially last year’s number was 227,000 people, the quarter of a million is NYCC, Hammerstein and Anime Fest and so on, so essentially anybody interacting with the New York Comic Con brand over the course of the weekend is over a quarter million.
THE BEAT: And just to be clear, you count a ticket is one person. I know you guys have been very transparent with your numbers. So if I buy a ticket for Thursday and Sunday that’s two, correct?
THE BEAT: Because, honestly when we see that number we become afraid. It’s a lot of people. [laughter]
ARMSTRONG: I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of! Last year we put the resources, the time and effort that into security in general and making the entrance as efficient as possible for more people. This year, there won’t be any more people at the Javits Center. We’re capped, so we can’t sell any more tickets to New York Comic Con. So I’m expecting the a really positive experience for fans coming into the building, getting through security and having a fun show.
THE BEAT: I’m kidding, but it is crowded with a lot of people who are having a good time. Now the biggest complaint last year that I heard over and over and over again, however, was bathroom lines. Is there anything that can be done about that? I heard people suggesting port-a-potties.
ARMSTRONG: Yeah. So we’re a little bit constrained within the building to flip bathrooms or add bathrooms. Last year in the roadway there was kind of a fancy bathroom trailer, or as fancy as one can be. We’ve replaced that bathroom trailer with port-a-potties so that we can increase the full volume of bathrooms in the show. We are really willing to have an appropriate amount of gender neutral restroom, also, so certainly there’s a good quantity of bathrooms that we allocate to that.
The one thing for people to consider is that if you’re coming in cosplay and getting changed into a costume, we have cosplay changing rooms and we always had cosplay changing rooms. We’ve added a few more and we’re publicizing it a bit more because what ends up happening, especially in the ladies rooms, is the reason why the line is so long is because people are taking up so much space changing into cosplay. We want to mitigate that as much as possible. So we have more of places around the show for people to change.
THE BEAT: Awesome! Where will they be?
ARMSTRONG: We’ve added a cosplay area in the Riverside Pavilion, so that’s new for this year. We created an entire Cosplay central area. In the past, the Riverside Pavilion was only open to professionals, press and exhibitors. Now there’s a section of it that’s going to be open for cosplay.
THE BEAT: Ok, but there will still be a press room up there, she said selfishly?
ARMSTRONG: Oh yes.
THE BEAT: I think that might very well be my headline out of this. People using bathrooms for changing has been a continuing line-lengthener. So that’s a huge improvement, definitely. OK now moving to the future, I believe Torsten had a story about the expansion [of the Javits Center] and it was sad. It will not be finished until 2021?
ARMSTRONG: Yes. We’re targeting 2021 or 2022. We’ve got a long ways to go before we get any more space, at least in the Javits. Even when the Javits expands we’re going to pick up three or four more floors of meeting room space, ballroom space, activation space and show floor. We’re super excited for that. But one of our continuing goals is to get great content outside of the Javits Center. We’ve planted our flag in the ground with both MSG, adding a third day because the content was so good, and Hammerstein. So that evolution and growth outside is never going to change. But what will happen when we get back more space within Javits Center is we’ll probably have some additional panel rooms. We have some additional space opening up. And hopefully it will be a chance to sell some more tickets to get in to the Javits. We’ve been capped for a couple of years within the building and all of our growth is driven by outside venues. We’re hopeful that the core of New York Comic Con can grow in 2021 or 2022 or whenever the construction is finished.
THE BEAT: I noticed for the program this year there’s a really strong focus on diversity and representation. Was this a focus for the show?
ARMSTRONG: I think if you look back at the past couple of years it’s been a focus for us. We’re very cognizant of the diversity panel side and we’re in great communication with most of our panelists and most of panel organizers to make sure that they’re aware of our desire to have all types of people on their standard publishing panels and cosplay panels. We want to make sure that everyone is represented on the stage.
THE BEAT: Another thing that just crossed my desk this morning was a press release from ShowClix about the badges and I know you’ve been alluding to the fact that the RFID (radio frequency identification) badges are going to do a lot more this year than just get you into the show.
ARMSTRONG: Correct. We started with our RFID badges five years ago primarily for access control – we’d had a big quantity of fake badges out there that were hard to tell by the naked eye. But once we put that RFID chip in, that was a lot easier for us to identify. Now we’re really starting to take the training wheels off the technology. Badges not only give you access to the show but also can be used for active lead retrieval, so that if you want to reach out further with an exhibitor after the show, they’ll have your information. They’ve also helped with virtual queuing. We had a test of the virtual queueing last year. Now you can walk up to the Star Wars booth, tap your badge and the screen will say “come back to the experience at 11:45” – which gives you an hour to walk the show floor, or many other experiences, rather than having to wait in line.
It’s hard to give everyone a personal experience when there’s thousands of people in the building in a given moment. So we’re hopeful that over the next couple of years the technology within the badges is going to help us give fans a little more personal experience that they can enjoy.
THE BEAT: I guess this is part of the reason you urge people to register their badge?
ARMSTRONG: People can use the technology to craft their own experience. We’re encouraging everyone to activate it, and the people who do take advantage of that and the technology can have a much smoother experience and they’re going to have fewer delays at the door. Yet again, it’s just a much better experience for everybody.
THE BEAT: Right. So looking forward a little bit, probably even next year, the Hudson Yards development is going up very quickly, much quicker than a convention center. Do you foresee other venues that are going to be available that you’ll be able to take advantage of as this area develops?
ARMSTRONG: That’s a good question. Even today when I was driving in to the building I looked around and thought to myself that when I started doing this 10 years ago, it was a big hole in the ground.
There are a couple things in development that we may be able to take advantage of next year. The whole area around the Javits is opening up, whereas 10 years ago, it was kind of a wasteland. Now restaurants are popping up, corner delis everywhere. The 7 line has certainly helped them. There are going to be new areas for activations that will allow not only New York Comic Con content to grow, but it’s going to provide experiences outside of the Javits. There are already loft venues in the area that we’re going to take advantage of. But even in the late teens and early 20s, before the Javits construction is finished, there are still opportunities for expansion.
THE BEAT: We’re starting to see more activations spring up outside the con itself, as there are in San Diego. It is kind of curtailed because there’s still so much construction going on, and a lot of places are literally still holes in the ground, but they’re getting built up a bit. Do you think we’ll see more outside activations this year?
ARMSTRONG: Yeah, I’m hopeful. You’d be amazed at how much stuff is still happening, the negotiations are still underway. There are things that will happen that haven’t been 100% finalized yet and we’re talking at 3:15 on Monday. So yeah I’m hopeful there will be more exciting stuff. And even if there’s stuff that’s happening that we don’t know about! Honestly, we like to be in the loop when it comes to activations, and we partner with many, but I’m sure there’s going to be stuff that we don’t even know about but is going to add to a fuller experience.
THE BEAT: It will be exciting to see when we arrive on Wednesday or Thursday morning! Also it is amazing how all of my local friends who aren’t into comics are talking about it. “Oh it’s Comic Con next week!” A friend was at the gym with a T-shirt that had some kind of comics related thing. And someone came up to them and started talking about going to Comic Con. The awareness is huge right now.
ARMSTRONG: We made a big effort through our marketing campaign this year to expose the brand to an audience of new people. I think it’s important for us to do the show because the industry needs to continue to grow. People need to be reading more comics, to be going to comic book stores, and that’s what will keep these shows sustainable. I would guess that out of the quarter million people that are going to the show this year that maybe 15% go to a comic book store every week. We need to continue to encourage the kind of readership and people going to the movies and promoting the content that’s coming out of shows like that. So we created a marketing campaign that put a more personal experience behind our cosplayers. If you’ve been on the subway this week you’ll see we made a big investment in explaining to nonfans what New York Comic Con is.
You’re right, though. Now I’m seeing to my friends and family come out of the woodwork much more than they did. [general laughter] But that’s the goal. These shows are an overall part of the strength and success of the industry. So we’re going to continue to do what we can to give it the exposure it needs.
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.