Today I write to you about organizing anime conventions - it's not always so easy, and there's growing challenges.
You might think that I would celebrate seeing failures from other conventions. After all, doesn't the chairman of Coke smile whenever Pepsi stock goes down? But when conventions have problems that I understand, especially problems I have experienced and overcame myself, it only makes me sad, rather than celebratory.
This is because, to me, I am an anime fan and a member of the anime convention community before I am a businessperson and convention runner. Seeing the community suffer does not delight me, even if its the result of a competitors failure.
This weekend, #Youmacon in Detroit is facing challenges that have caught the attention of both Twitter and the Metaverse: sudden event cancellations, issues with getting badges taking many hours in line, and rooms as important as the vendor room not being set up on time and vendors having to sit and wait for hours.
You'd think I might just be sharing these notes to bash on another event, but I'm not. Make no mistake that of course it makes me feel complicated feelings when a "competitor" - especially one who has directly acted like a competitor - struggles. But that's not why I am including such specifics.
I include them because I have a good hazard of a guess about what's happening - about exactly where the failures might lie - and it's frightening.
Because when it comes to sudden room cancellations, spaces not being set up on time, etc, I've experienced it all myself.
Less than a year ago we had our video game, vendor hall, and maid cafe rooms all set up 4 hours late. Was it a result of bad organizing? Was it all my failures as the event planner?
It all had something to do with the venue.
We were lucky in our case, our team had strong communication, and we knew in advance about the delays we were going to experience. We announced most of them, and we had extra staff on hand during the flip over. No one had to wait. Though we did have massive complaints with the venue in the end, as they couldn't meet their promises.
You see, the convention center had double booked an event, putting the teardown of the last event right into the setup of ours. It was not our fault in any way. The convention center thought they could make more money by squeezing the times, and so they did it.
There's a lot of things convention centers get away with. Start with the $19 singular hot dog and soda. Next think about the $40 parking charge that some of our convention centers want to charge. ($17 at Midwest, don't worry!!)
And then the union labor fees - hah - but unions are actually a scapegoat in this! While the members might make $30-40 an hour, the venue marks up this labor to $150 an hour, or more! They won't disclose how much of this is profit versus how much is actually paid to the employees.
Convention center and hotel prices have been on the rise since our very first events. Our first convention hotels - way back in 2010/2011 - had rooms available for only $99 a night. Now, these prices start closer to $130-$180 depending on the event, locking some attendees out of being able to afford attending.
Meeting room rental fees have increased consistently by 10% or more every year too; this is after they try to increase them by 30% and I negotiate them down the best I can.
Still, hidden fees continue to grow too. Some convention centers will lock you into an audiovisual agreement, forcing you to use an evil wallstreet-owned AV provider that provides shitty equipment and charges exhorbitant prices. And they won't give you pricing in advance. No! Maybe 30 days before the convention you can get presented with a $10, $20, or even $50,000 surprise audiovisual bill.
In total, this means that holding a large convention is more expensive than ever, and a large part of these expenses - such as the "labor fees" that don't go to the labor employees, the "av fees" that are not provided in advance, secretive "setup fees" or "cleaning fees" that are tacked on, "20% contingency deposit requirements" that are not even in the contract - are "shady at best" and a down-right scam at worst.
It's these venues - the venues are screwing over events.
And THAT is the problem with conventions now.
Because all of these convention centers are owned by investment companies, just looking to maximize their investment. They lost significant sums during COVID-19, and are looking to right their balance sheets. But now, as has been shown with other large companies, they've already made their money back - yet prices stay sky-high.
>> the venues are screwing over events
No amount of organizing, planning, or smart thinking can get around the fact that these convention centers are huge monopolies. Often they even receive huge tax breaks from local governments to exist - so market forces can't "out compete" these convention centers and huge venues.
So for an event space to get cancelled, or events after a certain time to not happen - these things are easily possible when the venue introduces surprise fees, and organizers just find themselves unprepared for the onslaught that these investment-firm-backed corporate entities have on us.
Sure, some of the issues reported from our competitor's event in Detroit are unrelated to the venue. We at AnimeCon.org have been blessed that more than half our core staff have been working for us for more than 10 freaking years, so some of these issues might not happen at Anime Midwest. But a lot of the blame is surely on these venues.
If anything is going to be the death of anime conventions, it will be venues charging an arm and a leg for the very air we breathe.
I extend my best regards to all attendees at this weekend's event. Remember, the heart of any convention is the joy you create and share. We hope to see you bring that same spirit to Anime Midwest!
CEO of AnimeCon.org