It’s almost May which means that ‘Con Season is nearly upon us. Convention centers and hotel ballrooms across this great country of ours will soon be filled with cosplayers, panels, and merchandise that touches all corners of fandom, everything from Dr. Who and Star Trek to The Walking Dead and My Little Pony.
While nearly a quarter million people will be descending onto San Diego Comic Con in late July, most genre fans will find themselves walking into a convention put on by Wizard World. In 2016, Wizard World is putting on 19 events (down from 25 in 2015), with stops in nearly every major metro market in the continental United States.
Almost two weeks ago it was announced that Wizard World suffered a $4.25 million loss in 2015. Overall convention revenue was down roughly 33% in 2015 and when combined with their obligations to the albatross of ConTV, a digital geek content channel, it made for a rough go of things for the ubiquitous convention promotion. It came as no surprise that Wizard World President & CEO John Macaluso resigned from his position shortly after this news broke.
I’ve been attending Wizard World Philly pretty regularly for the better part of a decade and have seen the show grow exponentially in that time frame. Now, there were years where the biggest booth was for Norton AntiVirus and there was no representation from Marvel or DC Comics on the show floor. Oddly enough, there was always a Bath Fitter booth, which must be some kind of union thing.
Over the last five years Wizard World has become a very large (and very expensive) autograph fest spread over four days taking over nearly all of the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s recent addition.Four-day tickets will run you $89.95, with one day admissions varying in price. (**Pro Tip, Saturdays are notoriously known to be shit shows, I prefer Fridays and Sundays).
These days, most of the show floor was been ceded to Autograph Alley, where genre A-Listers like Chris Evans, Chris Helmsworth and Norman Reedus will sign autographs for fans that paid anywhere from $350-1300 for VIP packages that guarantee signings, photo ops, panel seating, and “exclusive laminate passes”. Vendors have seen their booth prices increase on an annual basis, so much so that some local comic shops don’t even set up anymore.
Presently Wizard World is advertising an Avengers VIP Package for $1350.00 where you can meet Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. That’s a mortgage payment for what would be an amazing memory, but one that your average fan will be paying off at 16% interest rate because they threw that charge on their credit card. But at what point is it just too much, and fans refuse to show up?
Here’s the thing. They always show up the Pennsylvania Convention Center will be packed out this June with the stench of unwashed Wookies and the Reading Terminal Market will be overtaken by Harley Quinn cosplayers. And inevitably there will be a very sad 7-year old sobbing on the show floor who won’t understand why he won’t be able to meet Captain America.