I’ve noticed a trend in the comic con scene that has me concerned and I feel it is my duty to report on it. So-called “Special Events” seem to be popping up at some of the major conventions and, after attending several myself, I started asking myself (and others) – Where’s the “Special” in “Special Event?”
Comic Con Credentials
Before I get too deep into the question, let me share my credentials. After all, what weight would this conversation carry if I were a con-newb?
I’m no rookie. The Nerd Fu crew has been attending comic book conventions (Comic Cons) since 2012. Our travels have taken us all over the country and even up to Canada, including Houston, Dallas, San Diego, New York Seattle, Austin, Ottawa and more. We have attended as fans and as media, though most cons don’t really provide much in the way of special treatment to us “lowly bloggers.”
What “Special Events” Are We Talking About Here?
Let’s be clear. I’m writing specifically on events at the convention that require the user to buy an extra ticket – events that would typically just be another panel in the lineup. So, we’re not talking about off-site events, concerts or parties hosted by third parties.
To date, I have only opted to purchase tickets to two of these events, but I see (in doing research for our weekly podcast) that several upcoming conventions are offering “Special Events.”
Special Event 1: Stan Lee Meet & Greet Package
Dallas Comic Con
That price might sound high, but the payoff was amazing! The sold out panel, with about 100 attendees, was one of the best experiences of my life! The panel lasted about 90 minutes (if memory serves) and every single ticket-holder got : 2 autographed comic books (Con Exclusives), a photo with Stan Lee and the opportunity to ask one question. There was no lining up or hoping that you would make the cut. EVERY person got to ask a question.
Additional photos from the Stan Lee panel
Verdict: YES – This is what I call “Special!”
Special Event 2: Doctor Who Special Event – “The Ponds”
Cost: $29 – $99 (depending on if you wanted VIP access)
The event was advertised as a special panel with actors Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill & Alex Kingston. However, five days before the event, Alex Kingston canceled. No refund was offered and a replacement guest was brought in – Michelle Gomez. I have nothing against her, but that is simply not what I paid for.
And what was so special? The stage was decorated with a Tardis and some Daleks. The stars of the panel were provided with beer and wine to drink. The fans were provided with ….. nothing. No commemorative ticket, no shirt, no poster, no autographs, no photos, no prizes, no “special” anything. The folks who paid for the “premium” tickets simply got in first and got to sit closer to the stage.
Verdict: NO – This was simply another panel with the word “Special” in the title
Upcoming “Special Events” for 2016
As I mentioned above, we’ve noticed an increasing number of these “Special Events” on the schedule for the rest of 2016. I did a bit of research to see what made each of these so special.
Harry Potter Special Event: Hogwarts Reunion
MegaCon (Orlando, FL)
May 27, 2016
Cost: $29 – $110 (depending on if you want VIP access)
The event page (found here) makes no mention of anything special for ticket holders. So far, none of the guests have canceled, but it is clearly stated that “all sales are final, no exchanges or refunds for any reason.”
Verdict: Undecided. It’s too early to pass judgement, but I do have to wonder why this is not simply another panel in the convention lineup. MAYBE the folks at Fan Expo have something awesome planned and will be providing fans with a truly unique experience, but it sure hasn’t been promised in advance.
An Evening With William Shatner
Dallas Comic Con (Fan Expo Dallas)
June 2, 2016
Cost: $199 in advance (*admission to Fan Expo Dallas is NOT required to attend this event)
That price tag does seem pretty high, but let’s see what it gets you. In addition to a panel, where guests will “hear tales from the set of the USS Enterprise and beyond,” ticket holders will also get a professional photo op AND one autograph.
Verdict: Looks good! A panel, photo & autograph. That’s what I call “Special!” …….. But let’s just see what people have to say after the event. The one thing I find interesting is that this panel is on a Thursday night. Fans attending the convention are going to need to get there a day earlier than normal.
Doctor Who Special Event: Tales From the Tardis
Dallas Comic Con (Fan Expo Dallas)
June 3, 2016
Cost: $29 up to $699 (in advance)
This one is a little different from the others. The lower level tickets like Blue ($29/35), Bronze ($69/80), and Silver ($139/$155) simply dictate when you get in to pick your seat for the panel, with Silver being the priority. There is however a Gold Tardis package for $699 that gets you some extra perks, including a backstage meet & greet with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman & Michelle Gomez + a photo op + autographs + a collectible badge.
Verdict: Split. Those “lower level” tickets don’t really get you anything but that Gold Tardis package is actually “special.” In fact, they seem to think that this is VERY special, considering the price tag. Fans could probably buy photo ops and autographs for much less but this now makes the evening truly special and you don’t have to wait in line during con hours to fulfill all those bucket list items.
What Would Make it a “Special Event?”
I’m not just here to complain. My main goal is to educate everyone on this trend and make sure you know what you are getting into before buying tickets to these events. Buyer beware!
My secondary reason for writing this – to educate the people hosting the conventions. Most people are not going to take the time to follow-up and provide feedback to the convention hosts. Instead, if they have a complaint or don’t feel the value is there, they will just not buy a ticket to the next convention or event.
If you are planning a special event for your convention, here are some ways that you can provide fans with a unique experience worthy of their ticket price.
- Commemorative tickets – Something frame worthy or even a cool badge & lanyard that they could have autographed later
- Photo opportunities – Set up a backdrop and let fans pose with the guest(s) – professional or with their own camera
- Autographs – The guests can be signing stuff on-stage during the panel. Let them multi-task!
- Shirts – Think concert-shirt. Fans would love it and they’ll be advertising for you when they wear it
- Prizes – Photos, autographs, memorabilia, a hug… whatever. Draw for ticket numbers during the panel
- Charity Auction – Take a look at what Nathan Fillion does at many of his panels. People LOVE it. I LOVE it!
- Use your Imagination – Think like a fan and not like a business. Ask fans what they want. Take feedback.
It’s Time for Feedback
Ok folks. If you made it this far – Achievement Unlocked. Now we need your help in providing feedback to the convention planners. Hit up the comments and answer some of these questions for us. Your input might just shape the future of these “Special Events.”
- Have you attended any special events and, if so, was it worth the price?
- Do you know of any other “Special Events” at upcoming conventions?
- Do you agree with my comments above or have a different opinion on “Special Events?”
- What other ways could the convention planners make these events special?
I don’t believe that we have been to a con that had a “special event” where you had to pay extra to see a particular guest or guests. But if there were such a situation, I would expect there to be something special or extra for those who buy tickets to the event, like the suggestions you made above, rather than it just be another panel that could take place during the con which the attendee has already paid to attend.
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Keep an eye out – we’re pretty sure you’ll see this soon.
Special should mean something. I mean getting into Hall H on a Friday or Saturday is special in itself, so imagine how ticked off I’d be if I had to pay for a normal panel with no commerative shirt, photo op or signature to accompany it. Nerd HQ’s panels feel special due to the sheer intimacy of the experience. That’s one way to make the panel special is limiting the tickets to a few hundred people so that you can see the sweat glisten from the stars brow. I also love the idea of a raffle or auction to make the experience a bit more interactive instead of the almost always awkward Q&A sessions.
Thanks for commenting Corgi. You are totally right about Nerd HQ. Luckily, you don’t have to pay to access the off-site Nerd HQ. It’s nice to KNOW you have a seat at their panels.
Great article – and, as somebody who has never paid for a photo op or a meet-and-greet, an education into the money-machine that the modern convention and pop culture experience has become. To me, ‘Special Event’ is a huckster phrase, like ‘extravaganza’ or ‘showcase’, just something else to squeeze ten, fifty, a hundred, two hundred dollars (or pounds!) out of somebody with more money than sense. No offence intended!
If someone feels they have that disposable income to spare, if they’ve worked their arse off for it and that’s what they want to spend it on, more power to them, but for me, a lack of personal connection makes the experience seem hollow and false. If something truly unique comes out of the shared moment (you should ask my mate Neil about the John Barrowman/Stephen Amell photo op that he paid for, involving his missus – and yes, that’s as interesting as it sounds!), then that becomes truly special. A panel with bumped up seating is hardly such.
A panel which has no expectations and has Harrison Ford walk out on to stage (Cowboys And Aliens, SDCC 2010): that was special. Sharing oxygen with somebody who is simply there to print out the cash in a factory-line of appearances, whether it be a panel, a photo-op or signing booth… Not so much.
Very well put Leonard. Thanks for taking the time to chime in. And you sure are right about Harrison Ford. I got to see him at the Star Wars panel last year at SDCC. That was special!!
Seeing this more & more. Not a good trend. With con prices increasing, and the prices of some autographs & photo ops who wants to pay more just to see a panel? As you said what makes it special? You listed good ideas – if you get a meet & greet or auto or something unique to make the $30, 40, 199 extra fee worth it. But just paying extra for some panels not a good trend. If it takes off (i.e. is profitable) expect to see a lot more.
That is definitely our fear cyberaug. If people are willing to pay and aren’t willing to provide feedback for bad experiences, then the trend will continue. It is getting very expensive to attend some of the conventions and with a few big companies buying them all up, it won’t be long before many of the fans are not able to attend.
Thank you @thenerdfu for addressing this “special” problem. My husband and I do not hesitate to purchase a VIP ticket for someone(s) we find exciting, within a reasonable cost, but these always include convention access. To have to buy a “special” ticket on top of addmission to get into a basic panel just after con hours – no way! If a convention offers an intimate setting with limited access that lets you walk among your idols – sign me up! But the experience better be something that will leave me speechless and provide something for us to take home as a momento. We work hard for our money and choose to spend that on a convention so we don’t want to be taken advantage of or to be insulted by using words like “special” that really mean nothing.
Two descriptions I use, “reasonable cost” and “limited number”, seem to be a joke lately at more and more conventions. Even with VIP badges you are still spending half your con time in line to get a 30 second walk by autograph that some won’t even personalize due to lack of time because the con sold way too many VIP passes and that’s just wrong.
Maybe a suggestion for organizers is to create an after hours fan fair, which could be a longer access to more “special” events that could be sold as packages so you get more then just a panel, it could be like two conventions in one.
In the end, it seems more and more Comic conventions are popping up every weekend finding not so “special” ways to cash in on our fandoms. I don’t fault them for making money, but I, like The NerdFu, are concerned that these special events that have no true unique value will become the norm. Many con organizers were probably a fan once upon a time too, so all I would want them to remember is to treat those as you would want to be treated!
Thanks for commenting Dianna. Fantastically written. Yes and yes – treat those as you would want to be treated. We need to voice our opinions if we want to stop or change these practices.