Can you believe there is another big media/con event launching this weekend? Celebrity Fan Fest is a first time show taking place at the JW Marriot Hotel, in San Antonio, Texas. It’s run by PMX Events, a brand new player on the con scene.
Making it even riskier, the show was announced barely a month ago. Normally this would be a recipe for a disaster or a vapor con, but PMX is a real company with real dough. They decided to go big out of the box with Jason Momoa as a guest – and then they added Ben Affleck, in only his third con appearance, and Ray Fischer, making this a reunion of a Justice League we’ll never even see on screen again.
It’s splashy. It’s also pricey. Affleck is new on the con scene, but already a big draw, and Momoa is surfing to his career defining solo Aquaman movie opening in December. Convention industry insiders tell me that Momoa’s guarantee is about $200,000 for two days and Affleck could be $300k to $500k for one day. So we’re looking at a half million dollar investment.
The event was brought to my attention in an amusing (but now deleted) FB group thread where vendors and agents expressed disbelief that the show was real, given its sudden apperance out of nowhere, and organizer Bob Wills insisting it was happening.
It turned out the show is indeed real, and curious as to how someone would get into this space on what seemed like such short notice – and with such a huge investment – I was able to talk to Wills a few weeks ago to find out the real story.
Reached by phone, Mills was happy to talk. My first question: where did you come from? He explained that he’s the media director for The PM Group, the largest ad agency in the south Texas area. The company is very busy with many projects including their Quarter Moon Productions, which makes commercials and several local TV shows, including Film Flickers and YOLO Texas. They also own the digital PR firm Noisy Trumpet. They’re repped by William Morris and have a lot of show biz connections – and even bigger aspirations.
All of these different parts of the company are coming together for Celebrity Fan Fest, Mills told me. “We knew we had a lot of reach to get out there and talk about things. In August we launched PMX Events, which is designed to use the integration and the power of all our other brands, including those that are B2B, and get more into the B2C (consumer) market.”
They’re well aware of the power of comics and media events to build a brand. “We have been studying comics since 2015 and we looked at potentially partnering with another event here. But after careful research, we chose to do it on our own and get our name ou there.”
Texas is indeed a hot bed of con activity with dozens (if not scores) of shows – it’s a Texas sized market, probably because…it’s Texas. San Antonio just had it’s own big show of the year Alamo City Comic Con (which had some unusual problems) and there is a lot of territoriality and competition.
To rise above the pack, Wills has been studying the comic con market with trips to Wizard World, Denver Comic Con, Comicpalooza, Salt Lake City, Ace Comicon, Star Trek shows and more. It’s fair to say they did their research.
“We’ve been looking at this very closely and we felt that with our background and size (more than 70 employees) and we had the bandwidth. We’ve put on large events, including one with the Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park in San Antonio that brings more than 130,000 people to the park every August.”
PMX Events decided to go big out of the box with Momoa and then added Affleck, who has done only two previous shows (and cancelled one). Since we spoke they added Ray Fischer. Wills noted that local shows hadn’t brought in media guests of this calibre. (Although ACCC had Arnold Schwarzenegger – it seems Texas ia also the hotbed of nerdlebrity competition.) In addition, PMX has partnered with Epic Photos, Growtix and other top line event companies. They’ve also got a ton of local press, and rolled out the show with a live video event which you can see above.
Although the talent is there, the biggest hurdle facing CFF has always been the time frame. The show was only announced in October. I asked Wills if he thought this was a big problem, but they are keeping expectations low. “We felt it could work, and we are purposely keeping it smaller. We’re not calling it a comic con. It’s kind of a boutique event – we’re only looking at 7-8000 people a day max.”
However Wills knows the event is not without risk. “My agent at William Morris said ‘Welcome to the heart attack.’ I said ‘What do you mean by that?’ He said ‘Oh your book a book a top name talent six months out and sales dribble in and three months out they’re still dribbling and two months out they’re still dribbling and one month out you’re about to have a heart attack. Sales aren’t good. But then one week out all of a sudden everything comes pouring in.”
“So I’m in the heart attack business right now,” Wills acknowledges, but he isn’t phased. “We’ve done other heart attack businesses over the years and events and yeah, you learn and you deal.” His agent rightly noted that much of this is because so many top celebrities cancel close to a show – fans often wait to make sure a nerdlebrity isn’t going to flake. In this case the short time frame may not be a hurdle.
The event will be held at the J.W. Marriott Resort in Texas, host of the Texas Open and a more luxurious setting than some fan event attendees may be used to. “Instead of walking around on concrete floors, people are going to walk around on nice carpeted floors,’ Mills enthuses, noting that there is also free parking, which can be a big plus when many shows are held at arenas with pricey parking options.
Another unusual part of the event will be panels. Instead of the usual one hour chat fests Momoa will be doing FIVE presentations on Aquaman in a 1000 seat theater in ONE DAY. They’ve also reached out to local talents, including comedians and a fellow who brings alligators and armadillos. So yeah, not your regular con.
Like many new events we’ve covered in recent years, CFF isn’t really a comic con – there will be a Vendor Village but not a lot of comics artists types. It’s more of a dry run for next years Celebrity Movie Con (the name may change) which will be “a full blown Comic Con” with Hollywood participation, Wills says. It’s planned for Fall 2019.
Although it seems like CFF was rushed out of the gate, Wills say they thought about it for a long time, and this first show is more of a promotional platform. He feels some of the controversy the announcement was met with is part of the competitive Texas con scene, however he is aware that new cons are often greeted with suspicion until they prove they can work. “We’re very cognizant of that and we want our vendor partners to make money. We’re definitely taking that into account.”
They’ve also taken note of how timing for celebrity photo ops can run late and lead to more problems. “We want to make sure that people are engaged and don’t have to struggle [to have fun.]”
No matter what happens with this first show, PMX Events is looking at expanding with more mega shows. “We like what Ace has done going into multiple markets, we will go into other markets as well – we have ambitious plans. A lot of people aren’t interested in a first time con, and people ask ‘Who are you and what have you done?’ But this certainly gives us a launching platform. We’ve already torn down a lot of barriers.”
And how are those barriers doing? The show will be held this weekend, and the ticket page shows Jason Momoa’s ops slowly dwindling (down to 31 as I write this) but others may still be selling slowly. Recently, half price tickets were announced – on sale until tonight so get on it!
I’m guessing that Wills and PMX Events probably planned for this first show to lose some money. Losing money on a first year show comes with the territory. But it is certainly going to put them on the con map one way or another. And if it doesn’t? Well according to their web site, they have another event coming next year:
CARS AS STARS | TOUCH A TRUCK EXPO
PMX Events will be presenting this dual family-friendly show that will feature “celebrity” movie & TV cars and over 100 trucks & specialty vehicles that kids can climb into and explore to their hearts content!
Be it a fire truck, Swat truck, a bucket truck or the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile…kids will have a great time playing with these big-time toys over the four day event!
That’s right, a “celebrity truck and car con” – there is no chance this space is going to slow down any time soon.
Are you going to Celebrity Fan Fest? Let us know how it went in the comments!
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.