Layoffs and changes at Wizard World

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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.

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A photo posted by norman reedus (@bigbaldhead) on


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.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Wizard World Chicago has also had the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival the last two years and it is great! The last one had an anniversary showing of the original “Fright Night” and a q+a with the director.

    The comic programming at many of these shows seems pretty poor but the celebrity/pop culture stuff is fairly varied and interesting.

    Trying to hold a major convention essentially every other weekend was probably too much and I can’t imagine doing Minneapolis and Des Moines back to back will work out.

    The cost has gotten crazy but, on the other hand, since the VIP package thing has taken off, I’ve noticed the crowds in Chicago are a lot more manageable.

    Mike

  2. Wizard World has turned into utter garbage unless your life revolves around spending well earned cash to spend three seconds with a celebrity and being treated like cattle. It’s highly overpriced just in admission alone and once you are inside, realize nothing there warrants the high price of admission. Here’s hoping more reasonably priced conventions that cater more towards fans and not to the people who collect creepy glamour shots of themselves with d-list celebrities for their living room pop up like the Atlantic city con put on right after wizard’s philly show.

  3. Don’t be surprised if ReedPOP gets into the gaming market as well.
    They already run the myriad PAX shows.
    Twitch, the Amazon subsidiary which streams people playing videogames, sponsored the livestream at New York Comic Con this year.
    Video game companies already exhibit at ReedPOP shows.

    Given those two sponsorships, Reed could easily create a franchise of gaming events around the country, possibly culminating in a championship event. They could rotate the championships… Chicago hosts Fallout, Orlando hosts Star Wars Battlefront… and they could even add cosplay tournaments as well to bolster that championship.

    They could even add a developer workshop during each show, for people who want to learn how-to.

  4. As for niche shows…
    You mean like a comics-only convention? }]

    I’m already seeing this in smaller markets like Omaha, which is once again hosting Britishfest, for those who enjoy British pop culture. But that sort of thing has been going on ever since Star Trek went off the air…

    Over in New Jersey, there’s Jeff Mach Events, hosting steampunk and renfaire shows.
    And, of course, the granddaddy of niche shows: Creation Entertainment.

    Of course, many smaller shows can grow bigger, if run well.

    There are also thousands of shows which take place in hotels and fellowship halls. Usually, they are “big tent” shows like science fiction conventions, which invite in a multitude of fandoms and tribes to achieve profitability.

    I attended the Atlantic City Boardwalk Con, an event which was swinging for the fences, and which might have beaned itself with the ball. And then there are shows like the New Jersey Comic Expo.

    What wouldn’t surprise me? If county and state fairs start adding geeky events to their schedules.
    Think about it… you’ve already got the big music headliners scheduled to get people to buy tickets.
    You’ve got people competing in various skill events, like quilting, baking, hog calling, beard growing, cornholing…
    http://www.iowastatefair.org/fair-attractions/contests/
    …so why not cosplay, or crafting, or art?
    Especially to draw in the urban population to what many consider a rural experience!
    Add a few celebrity appearances sponsored by the local TV stations…
    After that, the fairgrounds could even run a comic con in the off season, like I suggested here with Big Fun in Sacramento:
    http://www.comicsbeat.com/wondering-about-wandering-wondercon/

  5. I hope those slimy bastards at Wizard World and their conventions crash and burn. They still owe me $700 from their last Wizard Big Apple show six/seven years ago. Only because Mike Carbonaro is a man of honor did I get anything when he paid me out of his own pocket which was not his responsibility.

    I wonder how many hundreds of hard working convention folks have been screwed over by them? How many at the magazine? How many customers of their website?

    But tell us Allan “how do you really feel?’

  6. At what point do people stop hating on Wizard. Being one of the people that lost their 20 bucks on the subscription it’s not worth it, and if you would stop being negative you might enjoy yourself at one of their events.

    Sure there ticket price may be higher then some shows but ive been to a wide range of events and I still feel that I get my money’s worth. At least with them you get a decent guest list, lacking a little on comic guest side but has a good artist alley. Decent exhibit floor, sure they don’t have big publishers or companies but very few shows do. And you’re guaranteed a good programming schedule with variety unlike the a lot of shows.

    Regarding d list guests, those days are gone. When you have Chris Evans and the majority of the cast of Civil War attending their New Orleans show its hard to use that argument. Sure they may be expensive but if your complaining about it you’re not the person they are targeting. Who are we to say that one fans dream of meeting their favorite person for even threes seconds is somehow a negative. Besides, EVERY convention does this including NYCC., and even SDCC to a degree. Why does Wizard get all the hostility about this?

    On a personal note, It’s easy to trash a company like Wizard when you don’t know the people behind it. All the staff I’ve had the chance to get to know over the last couple of years has been friendly, hard working and love the industry they are in, and like anyone else would, they take the negative articles and comments very personal. I just wish more people that had positive things to say would post.

    Not a shill for Wizard like most will think, just a fan that loves Comic Cons.

  7. curious about the layoffs. They just dumped most of their ConTV stake so it would be expected there, but if it’s in another department that’s interesting.

  8. Brian J: Sorry I didn’t make myself clearer. I was running Artist Allay for both Big Apple Wizard shows and after the second show (which was very well run by everyone involved) Wizard turned around and didn’t pay many of us. They ignored our invoices, emails and phone calls. The have a long history of unprofessionally conduct to their full and part time employees.

    Please don’t apologize for an organization you clear know very little of it’s backroom goings on.

  9. Allan, thanks for the clarification and it sounds like you have a legitimate complaint,. Since your time and dealings with them they had a whole new regime change. Honest question, do you hold the new people accountable for the companies past mistakes? And what would they need to do to fix things if you do?

  10. Allan, thanks for the clarification and it sounds like you have a legitimate complaint. Not pretending to know about the back room dealing. Honest question, since your experience they have had a whole regime change due to the past mistakes. At what point will you stop holding the new accountable for the old?

  11. Wizard World has gotten out of control. They oversell VIP tickets for guests they know will draw a huge crowd. At the WW Philadelphia show a couple of years ago, my sister had a VIP pass for a guest, and still ended up waiting almost 4 hours just to get her autograph. It’s a total cattle call, and then they rush you through the line. I have no problem spending the money on VIP passes for someone I really want to meet, but when everyone is a VIP, no one is a VIP, your just general admission with a better badge.

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