UPDATE: I’ve clarified a few portions of my story after speaking further with sources close to the situation.
December and the holidays are generally considered the “dead time’ for cons (except for Winter Comiket and other Asian shows because the holiday schedule is different.) While the overstuffing of the con schedule means a few shows have drifted into early December, the time from 12/15 on is usually considered a “no go.” People are busy with family, are spending all their money on presents and just don’t have the time or inclination to stand in line to see Norman Reedus for five seconds.
But some convention organizers just had to test the waters. Such was the idea of an outfit known as Geek Expos with Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve. The idea: Get Stan Lee as main guest, and 40 other celebrities, including Ming Na Wen, Michael Rooker, Kevin Sorbo, Jasen Mewes, Nichelle Nichols and many other A-list nerdlebrities. Rent out the Sheraton Dallas, hold the show for four days from December 29-January 1, schedule a bunch of VIP parties and signings and just watch the money roll in as fans spend a four-day New Years Holiday with “The Man.”
That isn’t what happened.
As usual, the details played out in a Facebook post by a volunteer. I’ve also spoken to a few people close to the situation and here’s what seems to have happened.
• Organizers expected 8000 guests to break even, but only drew about 4000, and this was not enough to cover the hotel guarantee (meaning the con had guaranteed the hotel x amount in bookings.)
Reportedly organizers had promised $75,000 in hotel bookings, but only had $40,000. When not enough rooms were booked, the amount owed skyrocketed as rooms were then billed at a higher rate. When the guarantee wasn’t met the hotel threatened to kick people out of their rooms on Sunday unless organizers paid the difference.
• As with Rewind Con, organizers over-reached: 40 a list guests for a first year show. For slebs of this caliber the guarantees must have been huge, Stan himself made $200,000, half paid up front.
• Geek Expos has already announced they will be going out of business due to six figure losses from the show, and all the company employees were laid off the Sunday morning of the show. Future Geek Expo events – one in Dallas, one in Tulsa – have been cancelled.
• Celebrity guarantees were not met, and even Stan Lee got stiffed for
half about $50,000 of his $200,000 fee. There’s a lot of cross talk about whether stars got all of their autograph fees at the show or whether it was repurposed for other bills. Developing.
• Things got so bad that at 11:45 pm on New Year’s Eve — just as the people who were there and had paid hundreds of dollars for VIP tickets, were in the mood to celebrate a New Year — the hotel
announced that threatened to turn off the room keys for hotel rooms and commons areas, necessitating a scramble to get the cash to pay the hotel bill.
• Although the rooms were settled the hotel did not give out a promised champagne toast. Perhaps the cruelest blow of all. Despite all this the midnight countdown with Stan Lee was a magical moment for some, as was a roast of Stan on an earlier night.
• There was an artist alley at the show but it was on a separate level, with autographs and media vendors on a different floor. I’m told that for vendors and artists the show “sucked like a…” Well, let’s just say it sucked. One artist did not make enough at his table to even cover valet parking expenses.
• As usual with shows where attendance is much lower than expected, the nerdlebrities and volunteers on hand went out of their way to let the fans who were there have a good time. There were no lines for autographs, etc.
• However, one fan says that he paid $500 for a Stan Lee autograph as part of a package and stood in line to get it, only to have Stan’s people remove him before the signings hours were over, probably because of all the other drama. The fan got a presigned autograph but no facetime with Stan.
• It doesn’t help matters that Texas has a TON of media shows, almost one a week. There are two show in Dallas in the next month alone.
More details are unfolding on Nerd Year’s Eve, celebrity non-payment and the overall wreckage. Expect a lot more of this in 2017 as crappy cons just can’t hold their own against shows that invest in their events.
To spell it out a little more, an event like Nerd Year’s Eve *might* have been successful if they had spent as much marketing it as they did to bring in Stan Lee, and making sure everyone knew that this was going to be the party of the year with once in a lifetime excitement and so on. The days when you put up a $1000 FB ad saying “Stan Lee is coming to our con!” and make $1 million are OVER people. Even at his advanced age Stan still does a ton of shows, and so do all the other popular nerdlebrities. Seeing any of them is not a rarity any more. They are all turning into Virgil.
This is not easy money.
ADDED: This seems to be a case of more not running a tight ship than outright malice. It sounds like optimistic projections led the organizers down a primrose path of debt and disappointment.
We’ve reached out to Geek Expos for comment and will update this story as warranted.
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.