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When a con is crap: Even Stan Lee was not enough to save Marvelous Nerd Years Eve

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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.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s a general rule for business people attending a fan convention:
    Is the event “annual”, or is it “inaugural”?
    That is, do the organizers have a history of staging shows, specifically the show to which you’ve been invited/paid?
    (Warning sign: inaugural convention in a convention center.)

    Second rule: How big is the show, and in what venue is it being held? Most hotels publicly post their meeting space dimensions and capacities. Ask for a layout of the show, so you know in which room your booth/table will be located, and where the panel rooms will be.

    As for Texas… there’s even a Mexican company (ConComics) which staged a few shows there. It’s big, like California, so like Southwest Airlines, you could easily only stage shows in Texas without cannibalizing markets, as Austin is nowhere near Dallas is nowhere near Houston is nowhere near El Paso. (Unless you’re a diehard fan, and don’t mind the road trip.)

    My advice to nascent convention planners? Start small. Use the science fiction convention model.
    Bring in ONE guest for each fan community (artist, writer, gamer, media, costuming, blogger). Rent out a small hotel with meeting space and ballrooms. Reach out to local groups, ask them to volunteer and plan events.

    As a fan, I see no reason why you couldn’t host a convention during the Holidays, especially on New Years.
    People have time to travel, and many do, either locally for a night of fun, or regionally to experience a bucket list city, or to visit a college bowl game. Look at how many people visit Disney World! Times Square (1 Million)!
    Hotels will have empty event space (except for a ballroom reserved for romantics) available at a discount price.

    Next year, New Year’s Day is on a Monday, so someone could plan a show for the 30th and 31st, and program the Monday like a usual Sunday, as people recover from Bar-Con At Midnight. Maybe a buffet brunch for an extra cost, with the sales floor running from Noon to Five.

  2. I am the volunteer you quoted, and you guys got a lot wrong here. It’s close but you ran with a few things outside of what is true.

  3. There was not 4000 people not even close . The rooms were not paid my room. Was suppose to be comped for the work I did with convention I even stood there when their rep Keisha gave me my room keys and told me everything was taken care of and any meals just put on the room. Which was part of my deal with them. So to verify what has been said they did screw us on all the rooms. I went ahead and drive home tired and almost got in To 2 accidents. These people had no concern or care with anyone. I do know several celebs were billed for their rooms after being promised comp rooms.

  4. Well, it’s a shame because the con had some experienced folks running it, but some who have been problematic before seem to be getting a free pass in the blame game..
    But I can say from experience that Dec and Jan are bad months for a con, first year or otherwise. 40 guests with no theme is about 15 or 20 too many, and no celeb is worth the risk of a 100,000 or higher guarantee.

  5. chickens coming home to roost. the glut and oversaturation and exploitation of a willing, gleeful subculture is finally boiling over. and god, the term “nerdlebrities” is so obnoxious and is clearly not catching on, Heidi.

  6. One quick note here the volunteer Matthew who you quoted is a GeekExpo volunteer not to be confused with the red-shirted volunteers who worked their asses off trying to make everyone’s show experience a great one despite the terrible conditions. Please do not confuse the two.

  7. “nerdlebrities” is MY word and I will drive it into the ground if I want.

    Virgil is an early nerdlebrity wrestler who went to tons of comics shows and was often photographed sitting by himself and looking sad.

  8. Honestly, if you’ve gone to several different cons, you can tell when something is going to be a trainwreck, especially if it’s the first year and booked way too many celebrity guests without a big name company backing it. I feel like Texas is becoming known as that state where celebrities are getting stiffed by bad convention promoters (don’t think we forgot that Sons of Anarchy one with Alamo City Comic Con).

  9. Just want to put my .02 out here as a fan/attendee.

    This was my 14th Convention for 2016 (and 1st for 2017 since it flowed to Jan 1). That said, there were a lot of warning signs and issues that never should have happened.

    We (the wife and I) bought Sector 37 VIP Passes ($295.00) that gave us access to ALL of the Parties as well as the ‘Exclusive’ Sector 37 Lounge.

    Two months before the con, we were down at Alamo City Con (not without issues of it’s own – but that’s another story) and we asked some vendors if they would be at MNYE. Most of them said no because they had no confidence in the show when two months before the show they were offering Vendors space at 1/2 price because they didn’t have enough people to fill the floor space. We heard the same thing from artists.

    Then, for Black Friday (and then extended all the way until the com) Geek Expos put al of their tickets on sale – knocking $100 off the Sector 37 VIP Badges. No refund offered to those who bought early to help back their show (at least Cheyenne Comic Con – again, another story – made right with their VIPs – at least they did with us – after their 1st year issues).

    The hotel we had no issue with as we paid for our room and we parked across the street for $8 less per day.

    As far as the con – on Thursday, no one seemed to know where we needed to pick up our badges. We were sent up and downstairs (along with many others) multiple times before someone finally mentioned we need to be ‘across the street’ in the convention hall, not in the hotel.

    We got our badges and started walking the floor. There were never any big crowds (until the Roast and then the New Year’s Eve Party) .

    Over the four days (Thurs-Sun) we talked to many artists and vendors who said it was very slow. Many celebrities said the same thing… But as attendees, that was a bonus for us as we got to spend more time talking to them and we had some great conversations.

    Also, since the celebrities were staying in the hotel – not at other locations like many cons – we constantly ran into people I the hotel – especially on New Year’s Eve.

    Overall as a fan, we had a fun time – just disappointed that the Sector 37 VIP didn’t deliver as it promised – particularly the Lounge. Was supposed to have free drinks all weekend plus 2 free ‘adult beverages’. It was only water until Sunday and we got our ‘adult’ drink tickets at the Roast.

    As far as the Roast and New Year’s Eve VIP Party, there were issues there as well.

    I am a disabled veteran (and friends with a few of the celebrities whom we were sitting with at both events) – at the Roast, I got up to go to the bathroom and was told that if I left I would NOT be re-admitted. There were NO bathrooms in the event hall were the Roast was held. After a few words with the peeps in charge at the door and threatening reaching out to the ADA, they decided we could go to the bathroom. They had even said the hotel was going to ‘lock the doors’ to the event since it was at capacity. I explained the questionable legality of ‘unlawful imprisonment’ and they backed off on that as well.

    At the VIP Party, a similar thing happened. If you left you couldn’t go back in. It was a ‘one for one’ because they claimed the Fire Marshall was monitoring the room. I walked the room and never saw a single fire inspector or Fire Marshall.

    Then at dinner with our celeb friends we found out about the ‘issues’. A couple of celebs had checks cut and were then told not to cash them because they would bounce. One group of celebs had early wind of the issues and had their Rep and Attorney on site before the sow ended.

    Another artist friend (who did not attend) called to tell me what was going on behind the scenes and one of his friends was called in to try and help the behind scenes issues get resolved.

    And for the record, Stan’s guarantee was $100,000.00. $50,000.00 of it was paid up front. That info is from the person who helped the show runners.

    The issue that destroyed them and put them in the RED though was the fact that they made a GUARANTEE to EVERYONE who was there – Celebs, Artists, even the ‘Hollywood’ Car peeps were guaranteed what they would make for photos with their cars.

    Again, as a fan – it was enjoyable overall.

    On the backside of the house, it was poorly planned.

  10. Here’s a suggestion for all professionals:

    Set an appearance fee.

    Nothing big, perhaps $500. Something that would cover expenses for travel, hotel, time away from productivity, shipping…

    First, it helps reduce requests.
    Second, it filters out those questionable purveyors of popculture promotions.
    Third, if the show does succumb to market forces, you’ve got your money up front.

  11. I was a volunteer for GeekExpos during Geekinomicon in Oklahoma last year. I have volunteered at several cons, in a very tight loop with directors, and have more than a basic idea on how cons are run (on a directorship path myself).

    Here are the highlights of Geekinomicon:

    *Attendees were constantly charged for everything – parking, hotel, autographs, pictures, and even a few panels. In Oklahoma our con kids are broke and they are lucky to get enough for general admission. Usually our guests only charge for their poster, but autographs are generally free if you bring your own merch to sign. It also might not have been as bad if prices were affordable – not $50+. Basically don’t hold a con in Oklahoma and expect people to shovel out outrageous amounts of money for every little thing.

    *GeekExpos had no ‘supposed’ idea of their competition in Oklahoma (other cons). They acted like they were doing us a favor by being there. Our cons might be small, but we draw in loyal crowds.

    *They had too many guests and most of them no one cared to see. They should have done a survey before deciding on guests.

    *They placed guests and vendors and artists on different floors the first two days. Vendors and artists were pissed because they needed the guests to draw crowds to them. There were so many artists and vendors on Sunday demanding their money back.

    *Guests did not have adequate liaisons. The ones who had them weren’t even proper liaisons – they clinged to their guests like rabid fans and made their guests uncomfortable.

    *Guest’s green room consisted of – coffee, water, and apples the first day. Until guests demanded better. Even then they were fed on a schedule instead of eating at their leisure (like other cons).

    *Volunteers were barely fed and even then it was always Subway. Unless we were ‘graciously’ given the guests leftovers from the green room.

    *Signage was tackily and negligently hung. Instead of using proper peel n stick hooks with fishing line they were scotch taped to the walls. Other signage was flung on the stair railing and could have fallen on people using the stairs.

    *The Texas crew they brought in treated all other volunteers like crap. We were spoken to in condescending and patronizing tones. We were made to feel inferior to their ‘tight knit’ expertise. Even if we had more experience and common sense than them.

    *The anime voice actors had seven people (myself included) show up to their panel in the arena and blandly labeled their panel ‘voices’.

    *They should have let local panelists fill in the panel gaps instead of just guests. Guest panels bombed anyway.

    *The con was open from like noon until 6pm. Which pissed everyone off. Another reason why attendees were irate for being charged at every turn.

    All in all, this organization shouldn’t be allowed to host another con. I was a part of a conversation they had about renaming the con and reselling it in Oklahoma – don’t.

    GeekExpos have no idea what they are doing. They think because they are charming enough to woo investors and have connections they can pull gold out of thin air they can’t.

    They came to our state and literally crapped on us. Not only just their local Oklahoma volunteers, but their attendees. They were rigorously flippant and indifferent with their treatment towards Oklahoma. They also put a bad taste in guests mouths when they think of Oklahoma.

    We don’t want them back no matter how they sell themselves and I am sincerely sorry to all those who attend MARVELOUS NYE. None of you deserved the experience you received. It’s truly unfair and I hope something is done to correct your mistreatment.

  12. I still had a good time at this convention. I didn’t stay there several hours during the three days I went, but I did enjoy getting photos with the cast of ‘Animaniacs’, Ming-Na Wen and Stan Lee. I also really got the chance to talk to the voice actors behind ‘Animaniacs’ and they were such friendly people. Their Q&A and ‘Twisted Toonz’ were thoroughly enjoyable.

  13. Thank you for this article. As an attendee, I had a numerous problems with the management of this convention, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who had issues.

    There was no “Contact” page on the Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve site, which made communication problematic from the beginning. Then there was the ridiculously large volume of products and add-ons, which confused both me and apparently most people walking to the registration desk on site.

    I planned on attending the convention to meet the Animaniacs voice actors, and since I was driving ten hours to get there, I wanted to be absolutely certain I could get autographs before physically arriving. However, the only package with guaranteed autographs was the absurdly overpriced “Animaniacs Experience” package. Since I didn’t see autograph sessions anywhere on the schedule, I bit the bullet and bought it–and I’m fairly certain I’m the only attendee who did so.

    However, after arriving and having a long series of conversations with various volunteers too long to describe here, I eventually learned that the voice actors had arrived and were already providing autographs to everyone. As a result of the aforementioned lack of information, I ended up wasting hundreds of dollars.

    On top of all that, there were multiple issues with the schedule and venue. The “schedule” provided on site was essentially a piece of paper with a QR code. Since I don’t have a smartphone, I relied on the schedule on the walls, which were literally never accurate for the events I wanted to attend. Because of this, I had to rely on the help of volunteers, who also were constantly in the dark about the schedule. As a result of all this confusion, I ended up missing the vast majority of events I wanted to attend, including the world record attempt I paid to participate in. (That particular event was not listed on the print schedule, nor did it ever appear on the schedule on the walls.)

    The only positive I can say is that, although I spent far too much for it, I did eventually get to meet the Animaniacs voice actors and get my photo op and autographs. However, after this experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if they never attended another fan convention again.

    Given all the problems I personally experienced and heard others have experienced, learning that Geek Expos will be going out of business makes me happy. Hopefully, it means that nobody else will ever be burned by this organization again.

  14. i personally had a lot of issues with the lack of accurate information and missed almost all of the events i wanted to see it was ridiculous i mean i would personally have no problem with them hosting another convention but they need to organize these better it was horrific

  15. I have done many cons including several years at Anime Fest and this was a train wreck
    One of the warning signs I saw was I showed up as a gaming GM and was given an Exhibitor Badge
    And No one checked My ID to prove My name matched the Email I brought to get the badge.
    Gaming was in a bad spot and had no real signage. It all seemed very amateurish. That said my contact at the con was very nice and seemed to be trying to do the right things.

  16. This reply is for “concritique2016”
    It’s very easy for you, yet again to hide behind a computer and talk about ppl who your don’t know personally…. do you take any personal accountability for your unfriendly attitude and standoffish behavior… we’ve heard this sob story of yours once before and it has no connection to this con.. get off your soap box and go on your merry way… it’s been 4 months let it go!!!! I know Texans and Oklahoma folks don’t mesh well… but your post is nasty and shows how bitter you are towards something you don’t understand or know anything about… the volunteers at MNYE kicked butt and were one of the few reasons anyone had a good time.

  17. I was a volunteer at this show and there are a things I’d like to mention. BTW I mean I was an actual volunteer not that guy from GeekExpo posing as one and is spinning a false narrative on the rate that Con facebook page.

    At orientation it was clear there was trouble. The lack of specific information was clear and any volunteers that were with this group in Oklahoma at their previous con were shocked. I heard two of them saying “They’ve learned nothing oh my god.” It was clear there was a lack of preperation and little information on behalf of the people they hired to run the event. There was no program, only a very horrible app you needed to download on your phone. That app crashed a lot, could only work for some reason if you allowed it to access your location and bluetooth two things the app didn’t even use. It looked like it was designed by a 2 year old from the 70’s and the information it displayed was hardly ever accurate. Never been to a con that didn’t have programs printed up a long time before – but this one didn’t have any printed THE NIGHT BEFORE.

    The flyers that came out the next day for the event were almost useless. A bunch of names, some pics but no information on times, scheduled events, or signings. A complete joke of a program there was no helpful information in it. There was a map but it was useless. No room numbers, no location information & horribly labeled everyone stopped us asking for information where anything was. It was confusing and useless.

    The people that ran this event Devin Pike, Kristi Culp Cole and Mark Walters were clearly not used to or capable of doing so. They were in way over their heads and did not have the experience of running a con of this magnitude. They also ran the Oklahoma one previously and it was a disaster. That is not to say that they are idiots in any way but that they are inexperienced and too green at doing this. Their inexperience and lack of organization and preparedness showed to everyone in the room. Stressing these are not bad people but they need to gain con experience in order to know how to run one and they clearly lacked that experience. Again, not bad people personally they treated everyone cool but did not have informed responses to most questions.

    As people have reported there was a profound lack of information at this show. Good luck finding a panel or event, when it was, where it was or who was where. Between the horrible app and the event display screens panels and events listed were very inaccurate and confusing. People kept missing events and one in particular I remember were a ton of people asking me on Floor #1 where the Stan Lee Q&A Panel was on one particular day only to come back 20 minutes later going it’s not today it’s tomorrow.

    We did our best. Our team leads were great but many times they like us did not have information and did the best they could. It got sorted out better as time went by but day #1 was horrible. We rallied together and did the best we could but I can’t stop feeling we were used. It’s one thing to volunteer and donate your time to help out but it’s another to be used by a horrible company and put on the front lines by people hired to run a con that clearly don’t have the experience to run one! And later finding out that the celebs and artists and vendors you so love and worked hard for got stiffed? How can you run a show you don’t have the money to run? I’ll never work for any member of GeekExpo or the people they hired to run this event & Oklahoma!

  18. In response to red shirt. Please do not associate Kristi with “running” this show. All she was in charge of was volunteers.

  19. In response to Red Shirt: you clearly have no idea whom was in charge of what. There was a lot of hands in “running” and hindering this show. So let’s not start throwing people under the bus. Or at least throw the correct people. I was also a volunteer and have the balls to use my name.

  20. I was also a volunteer and I personally think those people “redshirt” mentioned did a great job for what they got thrown at them. They weren’t the ones with the funds, they didn’t handle that aspect and honestly that’s where everthing went wrong. Devin and Mark had amazing ideas for this con and it was a lot of fun. Karaoke with a live band was so much fun! I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow volunteers and the ones organizing the show. Now Geekexpo i have issues with. All the team leads, volunteers and those trying to keep everthing together had SO SO much stress put on them, yet they kept smiling and working hard! Kristi and Paul constantly running around trying to help out situations that shouldn’t have been thier responsibilities.
    I felt bad for these people and the celebs that got stiffed.
    All this lies on Geek expo and thier lack of preparation. Why take on Stan Lee if it was going to cost so much? I love Stan don’t get me wrong but you could have had a successful convention with other celebs that cost much less.

  21. Redshirt before throwing out names why dont you find out who was in charge. Devin, christi, and mark helped run it yes but had no power over the board to make them do the right thing. I was one of the volunteers from okc and yes i said they didnt learn anything but i was talking about the board. The 3 above mentioned did the best they could with the little they had.

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