How Rhode Island Comic Con Fucked Up: or "Trade Show Capacity Turnover"
So I’m sure a few of you are aware of the complete disaster that happened at Rhode Island Comic Con earlier today. As a past volunteer, this unfortunately was not surprising to me. What got me (and what has gotten me for the last three years) is the blatant unprofessionalism and lack of responses and open communication between the convention staff (Altered Reality Entertainment LLC) and it’s ticket holders.
I watched as my newsfeed blew up with anger from friends and fellow nerds, stuck in 40 degree weather (during a downpour). Then I checked it out. As someone who didn’t attend, I can’t say much for what went on at the convention itself.
It was this comment that got me. I read it as very smarmy and very holier then thou. And whether it was intended as such the ‘there’s this thing you don’t know about because you don’t plan events’ attitude left a bad taste in my mouth.
So as someone who works, trades and plans trade shows for a living:
Lets talk about Capacity turnover and how this isn’t an acceptable fucking excuse.
What is Capacity Turnover?
As the RICC PR people stated, Capacity turnover allows you to sell more tickets then a venue can hold, by assuming a certain percentage of guests will leave the convention and the flow in and out will be steady.
Do all Trade Shows do this?
Absolutely not. Some Trade Shows (The ones I really rather prefer) sell sessions. Usually a morning and afternoon session. Say a Trade Show Venue can hold 10,000 people. Removing the number of convention staff, venue staff and vendors/vendors guests from that number you still have well over 9600 tickets you can sell. So you have a morning session (say 10AM-1PM) and then an afternoon session (2PM-4PM). BAM You’ve now sold 19,200 tickets. Twice the amount a venue can hold. Your event was a Success. Go home. Your work is done.
What about Trade Shows that don’t have sessions?
It depends on the type of Trade Show you’re having. Is it a wholesale Trade Show? Most attendees are there to make business contacts or put orders in and get special Trade Show only deals. They will not be spending the entire day, so selling tickets a little over what your actual venue capacity is, factoring in CAPACITY TURNOVER and of course, the average percentage of attendees that don’t actually show up - you rarely if ever will have an issue.
But that didn’t work for Rhode Island Comic Con.
If only someone had asked! If only there’d been someone with past Trade Show AND Comic Con experience in the room when this awful decision was made - someone, anyone could have mentioned that Comic Con is not, can not be a Trade Show.
Comic Con is a social event. People do and will stay all day. There were dozens of high-regarded and well known actors attending offering panels, autograph signings etc.
The Capacity Turnover for a Comic Convention is extremely, extremely low.
Was there a way selling 20,000 tickets for this venue would have worked?
Well, anythings possible, however extremely unlikely. Using Sessions as mentioned would have been an option. (But do you want to pick and choose what panels to see?)
From what I’ve been told the rented space in the convention center holds 9600 according to Fire Marshall Standards.
That being said, selling double that for an event like this was grossly unprofessional and showed an extreme disregard for ticket holders.
At the end of the day, everyone WANTS a sold out show. You know what else everyone running a show wants? Extra 'heads’. From your sales a certain number of 'heads’ (numbers of patrons) should be set aside in case of something unexpected. Whoa! William Shatner brought his wife AND his Personal Assistant, plus his three body guards. Shit you only factored in Shatner, his PA and his bodyguards.
I’m sorry. Do YOU want to tell William Shatner his wife can’t attend the convention with him? No. No you do not. Abort.
But surely one more person doesn’t mean anything!
You’re right. William’s Wife isn’t that big a deal. You can totally look the other way. But you also have 500 vendors. Four dozen of them have brought an extra helper that they didn’t mention when they submitted their paperwork. You also have another 3 dozen Celebrities, and at least four of them have decided to bring along extra guests.
One more person doesn’t mean much in the general scheme of things, but it’s never, ever 'one more’ person.
This is why ticket sales is such a tricky business. Look, I’m not going to vilify any event manager or producer who rents a venue that holds 10,000 people and has 10,012 attend. But what happened today shouldn’t have happened. Tickets should have been sold out. (Or, 1000 or so held back for in person purchasers over the two days). Selling 20,000 tickets for a venue that holds less then 10,000 people is wrong. There was absolutely no reason for it. This should have been handled.
And frankly, if you think a Comic Book Convention and a Trade Show are the same thing - you have no right producing either.