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Stories of cons gone bad are irresistible, and last weekend’s Fandom Fest in Louisville, KY had all the classics: disappointed vendors, cancelled celebrities and a last-minute venue change. But there are some new wrinkles of scammery that are a cautionary tale to those seeking celebrity autographs, in particular. And the new venue is one of the eeriest sites I’ve ever seen for a con: an abandoned Macys at a local mall.  It seems fans just ASSUMED the con would be thrown at the local Expo Center, but with just two weeks to go, the Macy’s location was announced, surprising many.

UPDATE: Apparently the show was originally  advertised as taking place at the Expo Center and vendors were first told this is where it would take place. See accompanying graphic:

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Also, although I haven’t confirmed this, one message board has some gossip that’s too hilarious not to pass along: an animal had died in the Macy’s leaving a lingering smell that vendors complained about. On a less macabre notes the bathrooms were never cleaned. 

Empty mall spaces are actually a common venue for cons these days, and good shows can certainly be thrown in such places. But it sounds like Fandom Fest had a lot of problems besides the venue.

Local con-goer Kentucky Geek Girl has haunting photos – supplied by an anonymous source –  of load in and set-up:

 

 

 

While the oddball locale would be enough to make Fandom Fest 2017 stand out in the annals of comic cons, the real problem is the nerdlebrity exodus that also took place a few weeks out.  Among the notables who cancelled, everyone from headliner Weird Al Yankovic to Burt Ward to several Beauty and the Beast cast members. On a convention industry message board, one booker reports that hotel rooms and flights weren’t paid for up front, which led to celebs suddenly developing “shooting” or “personal reasons” to cancel. And the lack of accommodations was confirmed by at least one guest:

And perhaps between line readers could figure out the rest:


Among those who did show up: some Stranger Things kids, Matthew Lillard, Sting the wrestler, Sean Gunn and so on. NOt entirely awful. The comics guest list didn’t have a lot of bold faced names, but it’s the week after Comic-Con, what did you expect.

However, attendees had already shelled out hundreds of dollars for autographs. And as the con’s website made clear, there would be no refunds. This made people so mad, it made the local paper:

“It makes you want to pull your hair out and just scream at somebody. It should never have gotten this bad,” Jeffrey Thompson said. Thompson said he’s out at least $600 after buying tickets to see celebrities that will no longer be at the show. More than half of the celebrities originally on the list cancelled and, as stated clearly on the website, there are no refunds.

A law suit is even being planned. It’s common for celebrities to cancel on cons, and REPUTABLE CONS refund photo ops and autographs which are paid for in advance. Even Wizard says this in its website FAQ:

What happens if a Celebrity cancels, and I bought a VIP Admission, Photo Op or Autograph?

A – These are automatically refunded and you do not have to do anything. For VIP Admissions refunds, if you still want to attend the show, you must re-purchase new Admissions or VIP Admissions!

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE: It seems the fire marshal had some concerns about packing “30,000” people into Macy’s and would only allow 1700 in at a time:

Fandom Fest, which starts today, may be facing more problems than just the fact that more than half of its celebrity guests have canceled within the past week. The pop-culture convention, which in past years has grown to attract up to 30,000 attendees some years, has only been approved to host 1,700 attendees at a time at its new venue at the vacant Macy’s in the Jefferson Mall.

WAVE 3 TV spoke to Okolona Fire Marshal Mike Allendorf, who said: “They’ll have people posted with a little clicking device. So, when they hit 17 (hundred), that’s it — no one else can go in until someone decides to come out.”

Co-showrunner Myra Daniels has some United Airlines-like customer relations in response to claims that the celebs never had contracts and complaints about not getting refunds:

“I am not going to say that everything I have done… that I have no made mistakes. Absolutely I have made mistakes. Has there been a time maybe flights weren’t done on time that they had wanted? Maybe they said they wanted them by 30, 40, 50 days out and they weren’t done at that exact time. But did they have flights? Did they have hotels? Yes they did,” Daniels said.

When asked if she felt bad about the fans who were left without any celebrities that they wanted to see she said, “”No, I don’t feel bad about that, we’ve done nothing to rip anybody off. They knew that when they signed up. They even had to click a box saying I understand this.”

Making matters worse: this isn’t the first time Fandom Fest has come under fire. For the 2013 show, fans also complained of disorganization:

We woke up Saturday and downloaded the program to my iPad. Immediately we were confused. We looked under the “events” page to see what was going on and while rooms and times were listed, we didn’t know which building. It’s great that the Masquerade Ball is in “Grand Ballroom A” but is that the convention center or the Galt House? No matter, we knew our first task was to buy Claire’s fiance a photo op with the Boondock Saints. This was where the disaster started. No one in a staff shirt knew where the line was. Or what each line was. Or sometimes even what you were asking. Our strategy ended up being Claire stands in line, go to the front to ask what the line is for and move as appropriate.

Apparently the 2013 con was so badly organized that on his panel, John Barrowman, a man who knows his way around a con, told fans who didn’t get photos to ask for their money back. Kentucky Geek Girl also had a brutal take down., including some snarky tweets from Barrowman:

And British actor Colin Baker:

If the idea of a former Doctor Who sitting in his hotel room, forgotten, watching CSI to pass the dreary hours, does not break your heart, nothing will.

And yet people keep coming back, and many on social media had a good time with the guests who were there for the 2017 show. A gallery of cosplayers set among the empty Macy’s display cases shows where there’s a will there’s a way. People go to comic cons to have a good time, and you don’t need Weird Al to do that. But some people have a lot of complaints, as well. 

But a couple of things set this “When a con is crap” story apart in my mind. #1, local news media was ALL OVER THIS. There are numerous stories from all the Louisville papers and TV stations. Reporters did a little digging and found all kinds of issues, like the fire marshal problem, and the threats of a lawsuit. When the local media starts getting beyond “Hey people dress up at cons!” stories and actually report, you’ll see a show’s reputation take a hit. (Needless to say, negative remarks have been removed from the Fandom Fest Facebook page.)

#2, this show has really upset a lot of people. There’s a private FB groups devoted to talking about the show’s problems with hundreds of members. Announcing guests you have no intention of paying to come to the show and then not refunding VIP packages is clearly a shady way to run a con and brings the whole industry down.

Will the word get out about Fandom Fest enough to either make the show runners improve or make fans to decide not to go? I’m not really sure, but I’ll be checking back to see.

 

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Nobody “It seems fans just ASSUMED the con would be thrown at the local Expo Center, and with just two weeks to go, the Macy’s location was announced, surprising many.” It was advertised as such up until at least late April of this year. If you look here: https://scontent-ort2-2.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/17799370_1431987286872548_1715067601101322374_n.jpg?oh=ae45bcdebe8d1a597db39237026fa85f&oe=59FAABED that comes directly from their facebook page as of April 4th 2017. These people have been scamming for years and somehow they keep looking like the victim of internet trolls.

  2. Holy crap. That has to be one of the worst convention stories I’ve ever heard. The only worse one I’ve ever heard is the convention some years back in NYC when the promoter cancelled the show a couple of days before it was to be held.

  3. @james Smith for a better nightmare story for you. 2014:Shockpop con in ft. Lauderdale fla-billed as a huge con with way too many celeb guests and not enough people going due to parking issues at the time as you had to show i.d. Before making it to the parking garage,since port everglades ran out of the same entrance as the lot (fixed since then as the security checkpoint to the port was moved further back).it was also done on Valentine’s day weekend (with many people parking,then leaving their cars to go on cruises for valentines day). Due to very low attendance,the moment it was time to make final payment to all the guests,the promoter literally ghosted as everyone was looking to get paid:from the celebs (via guaranteed contracts),to the hotels where guests stayed (Not paid for any rooms,celebs having to dish out of their own pockets to pay in full-one guest even trashed the hotel room in a drunken rage,resulting in his arrest),to even the convention center itself.eventually when he was found it was days later,and his lawyer friend steppedin,stating said promoter had no funds to PAY anyone due to low attendance,resulting in his filing chapter 11 to save his ass from any suits.nice con with the guests,but worst one ever for nonpayment to guests,as well as timing date

  4. They also changed the prizes for the Cosplay Contest without notice, The judges were told the winners there was to be the usual cash prize and on Sunday it was ended up being gift cards to the damn comic shop the SCAMMERS own themselves that had little to offer…also the winners from last year NEVER got their Free passes for this year and had to PAY for this year’s SCAMDOMFEST. On top of the shit prize of a gift card they said winners will receive free passes to next year’s mess, assuming there is even one but would still NOT refund the passes that were SUPPOSED TO BE FREE from winning last year. These owners deserve to be in jail for the “CON” they ran on everyone. I hop this lawsuit with the Kentucky Attorney General goes through to prevent another disaster for both the fans and guests who braved the confides of an abandoned mall for a weekend.

  5. I was at the 2013 show. This was the first show I had ever attended where you were absolutely not allowed to take pictures at the table you had to buy a photo op. A lot of us con goers found out later that the same person that runs the convention also owns the photo op company. Not to mention the lines really were a complete disaster, we ended up waiting in line for 6 hours and missed the John Barrowman panel because of it. Shady doesn’t begin to cover this conventions business practices.

  6. Not just in America… Oz Comic Con in Melbourne in 2012 was so bad they were still selling tix at tne door when the fire marshalls weren’t letting prepaid ticket holders in. Apparently the organisers didn’t realise that having both Stan Lee AND Patrick Stewart there might mean big crowds. https://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/07/what-happened-at-oz-comic-con/ Since then it’s been taken over by ReedPop and is mildly better organised.

  7. The organizers have been doing this stuff for years, although this seems like the worst instance I can remember. Before this event was called Fandom Fest, it was known as FrightNight Film Fest. I had a booth there in 2010. It was at a run-down hotel, in an unattached convention hall that I believe was under renovation.

    The show was in August, and the AC did’t work. It was miserable – hands-down my worst convention experience ever. People would walk in the door, take five steps, and then just turn around and walk back out. It was actually hotter inside the building, than outside. The vendors were livid, because unlike the attendees, we were stuck there! The only business anybody did was selling to other vendors.

    The irony is, I used to be acquaintances with the organizers, and they would complain about unscrupulous conventions who advertise certain guests just to sell tickets, and then cancel those guests at the last minute.

  8. “Among those who did show up: some Stranger Things kids, Matthew Lillard, Sting the wrestler, Sean Gunn and so on. The comics guest list didn’t have a lot of bold faced names, but it’s the week after Comic-Con, what did you expect.”

    Uh..those are good guests. Who all but Sting (who might have been?) were at SDCC anyway. Maybe try not to knock the guests because the con was shitty. That’s not on their fault, and you look kind of lame acting like Sean Gunn and The Stranger Things Kids are Z-level guests. Even Lillard has a signing at the WB Booth at SDCC.

  9. People can dispute the ticket charges regardless of the no refund policy. The con didn’t deliver on it’s promises. Call your card companies and report it, file claims.

  10. I organize MGA CON, a small pop culture/comic convention in GA. I started with no experience and continue to learn something new every year. We struggle with raising funds for big name guests and serious advertising actions and mostly operate ongrass roots efforts. We’ve had a share of minor issues but this is just ghastly. I’m not sure how you allow a convention to get that bad and not make corrective actions. This is the type of convention I literally have nightmares about.

  11. The sad part of this whole soap opera is that the same fools who are whining today will be back next year buying the same over-priced tickets for the same bait-&-switch con again.

  12. Even if I went and somehow had a good time, I’d probably never go to another one after this disaster. Those problems are huge and unforgiveable and I would never give such incompetent organizers any of my money.

  13. not counting that as of 4pm on Friday, you could still purchase photo ops for celebs that had been cancelled days before. I checked it out and it let me purchase Burt Ward, Tori and Dean, the scream “duo” when there was only one scream guy. I did not finalize the purchase but it allowed me to get to the pay screen. wonder how many unsuspecting people bought those? And did you see the pictures of the rest rooms?? it’s a wonder people did not catch some deadly disease just by walking by them. oh the poor vendors who were stationed next to them. the stench was smelt wayyyy out there.

  14. We went to 2016 fandom fest in Louisville . It was at the convention expo center. We commented then what a disorganized mess it was. We almost missed Stan lee because the the staff kept directing us wrong and shows were not in rooms that we were told. Nobody in staff shirts knew what they were doing. We paid for VIP passes and felt like we were jipped because there was nothing special about it. At one point we were at front of line then when they switched the line around all at front ended up in back. We love comicons but we swore we’d never go back to fandomfest in Louisville. They shouldn’t even have the option to defame these great events.

  15. I was a vendor at fandomfest 2017 and this article does touch nicely and things but it was nothing to how bad it really was.
    “gossip that’s too hilarious not to pass along: an animal had died in the Macy’s” … Not an actual dead animal. This was a joke started. Y the vendors who arrived early to setup. The store clearly hadn’t been cleaned and there was a pile of trash that someone took a pic of on their phone from outside that later was decided looked very similar to a dead animal. The. Holding was decrepit and likely rubbish.

    The smell was again part of the former store being in ruin. (And the fact that over 3 days I never saw a single trash can) Well, and the bathrooms. Dear God, that smell was worse than a porta-potty at a July chili cook off in Texas. I mean @&#*! It was so bad! Between the lack of cleaning and the giant pile of trash that people left behind after given up their trash can quest… it was how I imagine a tape worm’s anus would smell like.

    Oh and the ticket counter? The fire Marshall left after day 1 when only a few hundred people showed up. By day 2 the staff was unconcerned with badges, counting tickets, or being there in general.

    Only highlight to the weekend? Matt Lillard. He was absolutely the nicest guy ever. And he started just signing things and taking pics with anyone who asked by Sunday because who the %^k cared right?

    I’ve been to this con for the past 3 years (Never having to pay for a badge mind you) and it’s just gotten worse every year. There’s a class action suit in the making, their reputation is utterly ruined for any future guests, and attendees have been scammed for the last time.
    I’m certain that if the owners have the balls to organize the con again in 2018 they’ll have just enough attendees to afford the pen they’ll need to sign for bankruptcy.

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