There was a lot of exciting news coming out of this year’s Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. We got the first poster and trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. We got more information on what the Star Wars Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios would entail. And we got a load of news on new toys and video games and other Star Wars ephemera. But all that good news was slightly overshadowed by a whole lot of bad news, bad news that will sound familiar to anyone who has ever attended a convention put on by ReedPOP.
The event started out on the wrong foot on Thursday as the event organizers tried to the filter the crowds entering the building through one entrance. This resulted in an over 2 hour wait in a mile-long line in the hot Florida sun for many attendees.
The same day also featured more complaints from customers who camped out overnight to get first shot at wristbands to see the Celebration’s panels live, only to be shut out when people cut in line in front of them to get the cherished wristbands, leaving the diehards to watch the presentation simulcast in other locations.
One of those locations was the convention floor, which featured a giant screen that simulcast the more important panels. This would have been useful for fans that couldn’t get a wristband–if it wasn’t for the fact that someone put a life-size model of a Tie-Fighter in front of the screen. People who wanted to catch the panels being shown had to huddle between the prop and the screen, making that area a traffic nightmare.
That wasn’t all. A person who worked the show at a fan booth for kids who spoke to FIlmBuffOnline under the request of anonymity said that ReedPop was noted as being late on many things – communication, sending tickets, merchandise, and more. If you wanted to visit the official store, you needed to have a ton of free time, it at times took hours just to get into the store, then an hour or more to go through the checkout process. People complained about lack of staffing and being told the wrong information by the staff they had.
There was problems with the autographing systems as well. Autograph collector Rick Polney was especially frustrated by the way Topps ran this area of the Celebration. “If you weren’t able to buy an autograph ticket online, then you could buy tickets there. The line was weirdly slow. Like HUNDREDS of people waiting to buy a ticket but the line never moves,” said Polney. “Not sure if the workers were slow or if the system was slow. Also there was never a consensus on how many items a person can have signed. I know it slows things done if one person has ten things to get signed but if you have ten tickets what are you supposed to do?”
That last complaint might not be ReedPop’s fault, but the others would fall under their responsibility. And, sadly, the problems are what you have come to expect from a ReedPop show.
ReedPop bills its self as the “quirky offshoot or Reed Exhibitions,” and has quickly become the biggest name in pop culture conventions. It has 19 events scheduled or completed this year around the world, with another ten shows with dates yet to be determined. They are responsible for the Book Expo trade show and its fan fest offshoot Book Con. They also handle the New York Comic Con, Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, Penny Arcade Expos around the world, and conventions in Austria, France, China, India and Australia.
The company seems to run its cons with one philosophy: get as much as we can by doing and spending the least we can. Here is a greatest hits of controversy ReedPop’s conventions have spawned over the years, mostly caused by their lack of foresight:
- 2006: This was the first New York Comic Con and ReedPop grossly underestimated the amount of people who would come. This resulted in overselling to such an extent that New York State Troopers put the clamps on entry into the con. I discuss it more here.
- 2007: A professional artist who worked for DC and Marvel shared with me that he was not let on the NYCC con floor by a volunteer who did not know professionals have their own entrance to the convention. He ended up being late to a scheduled signing.
- 2012: This is a personal one. I was advised by a NYCC Customer Service Rep that if I bought an Avatar Press VIP ticket, it would have all the same benefits of a NYCC VIP ticket, which was sold out before I could get one. This turned out to be incorrect information. To ReedPop’s credit, they went out of their way to make it right.
- 2013: This was the first year that NYCC used RFID technology to monitor crowd flow and movement. The technology also allowed the convention to post to attendee’s social media accounts without their consent. Which they did, angering a lot of con goers. The NYCC later issued an apology.
- 2014: Another personal one. Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, who played “Kiki” on the kid’s program The Fresh Beat Band appears at Book Con. She advertises her appearance at the con right up to the day of the show. My daughter, who was five at the time, loves the show and is anxious to meet her idol. Unfortunately, Gonzalez-Nacer is signing in the Book Expo section of the Javits, an area attendees of Book Con were not allowed to enter. There was nothing to advise patrons of this, short of Gonzalez-Nacer being removed from the Guest List on the convention’s website the day of the show.
- 2014: NYCC does not anticipate demand for tickets, and volume causes the ticketing system to crash. The tickets quickly sell out despite this, with around 700 tickets ending up in the hands of scalpers. NYCC offers an apology/explanation.
- 2015: Once again, NYCC does not anticipate the demand for tickets, resulting in a slowdown in NYCC Ticket Queue. NYCC offers another explanation/apology, but the effort doesn’t satisfy everyone.
- 2015: C2E2 garnered a complaint for featuring the Image Comics title Sex Criminals on one of its badges. The complainer thought the title was to risqué for a family friendly convention.
- 2016: The inaugural Star Trek: Mission New York experienced issues with its fanbase involving seating at panels, diversity of vendors and the layout of the convention floor.
- 2016: In an attempt to curb scalping, NYCC initiates Fan Verification to verify tickets are being sold to individuals and not scalpers. However, many are confused by the process, and buy tickets without a fan ID to assign to it. As a result, NYCC reopens fan verification.
- 2016: ReedPop has yet another controversy with art from an Image series on one of its badges. This time, it’s an Emerald City Comic Con badge which features a panel from The Discipline that shows a woman having her shirt torn from her body. The look of horror on the character’s face portrays what seems like sexual assault. ECCC offered a replacement badge to anyone offended.
You can see some trends in this list, many of which mirror what happened this weekend in Orlando. You can also see a lot of similarities in my review of the 2015 NYCC here. ReedPop has shown that they consistently underestimate crowd size, which always ends in disaster. Their reliance on a volunteer workforce leads to potential understaffing. And their poor communication with their staff and venue security leads to confusion with their patrons.
And I’m not hating on ReedPop. I really want them to succeed. NYCC is my “hometown” con. But if you don’t have an inkling that a Star Wars Celebration on the 40th anniversary of the franchise won’t bring the big crowds, then you really shouldn’t be in the business of running conventions.
If that sounds harsh, or bitter grapes, I’m sorry. But every con could be someone’s first. A bad experience like the ones that are ReedPop’s stock and trade can lose first time attendees like Rick Polney. “I will definitely not be back,” shares Polney. “As an autograph guy and a comic guy there is just too much hassle and cost for someone like me.”