Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Thoughts on FanExpo in Toronto

Today was definitely a test of patience.

Large, healthy doses of patience. With a whole lotta aggravation on the side.

Decided to head off to the FanExpo at the Toronto Convention Centre. After hemming and hawing over the ridiculous price ($45 FOR THE DAY!!!) and being haunted by the horrid memories of FanExpo experiences past, I decided to just go and look around anyway.

Forty minutes of pleasurable riding on the GO Train and getting a little lost later, I was on my way across the SkyWalk to the South Building.

There are two buildings that make up the Toronto Convention Centre - the immense North and the smaller South.

Keep this in mind as you read.

Having assumed one could purchase tickets "onsite," I followed the Nerd Herd towards the only entrance.

"Where's your badge?" asked a bored teenager at the door.
"Isn't this where you buy tickets?" I queried.
"Nope, you gotta go two blocks down that way."
She pointed vaguely somewhere into the middle distance, then went back to snapping her gum.

Thankfully, there was a rather large crowd headed towards the "offsite" location to purchase "onsite" tickets. Without this human arrow, I would have had NO CLUE where to head. There were NO SIGNS ANYWHERE, not even a "Welcome to FanExpo" type sign. You'd think after all the hype on the radio and in the newspapers, they'd want to show fans where the con was.

Still undeterred, I walked towards what I discovered was a parking garage. Along the wall, on a tiny white piece of cardboard, "FanExpo Tickets" was scrawled in black magic marker.

Keep it classy, FanExpo.

Heading inside, I was greeted by a sight that took my breath away:

This is the line to get in.

Moments after I joined this convention conglomeration, a similar wall of people filled in behind us, and trickled down the street outside. The pictured line in front of us goes down around the corner and winds a good half-mile on into oblivion.

This is just about as far as I got today.

After waiting 3+ hours in this Human Zoo, inching ever closer to the goal of purchasing an overpriced ticket to make the best of what I had left of my afternoon, the first communiqué of the whole day was announced:

The convention was sold out.

From my vast experience in attending them all across North America, I know one thing for certain:

Conventions DO NOT GET SOLD OUT!!!

Wait, let me rephrase that:

GOOD conventions DO NOT ALLOW their fans to wait for hours on end in a hot tunnel of flesh only to be told they can't get in.

The ONLY con that officially gets "sold out" is ComicCon in San Diego. But they sell all their passes ONLINE IN ADVANCE, so this bullshit nonsense doesn't happen.

From what one of the other people in today's line said, this happened last year too!!!

The mind boggles.

When I attended FanExpo four years ago, I thought it was pretty bad. It was somewhat annoying to have to wait in line for half an hour inside the convention centre even though I'd purchased an advanced pass. But back then, the wait was more of a bothersome inconvenience than an all-out, hot, crowded, total afternoon-waster.

This is the Clusterfuck that Was FanExpo

From what I'm reading of others' accounts, even if you actually did make it through the multitudinous mob, you weren't guaranteed to actually see anything inside. Lines were super long, celebs were grumpy, the dealers' room was a chaotic fiasco, and no one really knew what was happening anywhere at any given time.

On the bright side, the best part about today was all the instant friends I made after having to stand near them for hours on end: the kindly retired cop whose stepson is putting on a stage production of Night of the Living Dead (Romero approved!); the man and his son (who spent the majority of his 14th birthday in line); the British dad and his Stan Lee-loving son, inconsolable he'd miss out on meeting his hero; the cosplay guy who bought a pass, but misplaced it and even though he had his credit card receipt and proof-of-purchase, the idiot organizers forced him to wait in line to buy another pass; the guy in the Ghostbusters costume who had 2 Tupperwares full of cupcakes for a bake sale inside, but ended up selling them for $5 a pop to the famished crowd of people surrounding him...

THAT was the fun part. Crowd mentality and all that.

This is the Clusterfuck that Was FanExpo Unhappy fans turned away by the hundreds.

After three hours of brutal waiting, the rumour rippled down the line - FanExpo was sold out for the day. No free Sunday passes given out, no real information, not even an apology.

Honestly, if this happened in the U.S., there would've been riots and pandemonium. Like my new friend the retired cop so accurately postulated, "They're taking full advantage of Canadians' politeness."

If FanExpo decides to fix things, here are a few tips for next time:

- Know your audience. Nerds, geeks, dorks - whatever you want to call us - we RULE conventions. We are your people and we deserve to be treated like people and not cattle with dollar-sign brands. Treat us well, we'll return the favour. Treat us like today and only "apologize for the inconvenience," you'll get a backlash like you wouldn't believe. If nothing else, we'll stop coming, which means no cash for you!

- Change venues. Fast. The North Building of the convention centre was fine for Toronto Comic-Con, so why a show at least 2 1/2 times its size wasn't there is beyond me. My 65-year-old mother who only ventures into nerd-dom enough to love Big Bang Theory also suggested having it at the Direct Energy Centre at The CNE. It's big, it's spacious, it has good, copious parking, and it's right on the transit lines.

- Have it at a different time. August?! During The Ex?! As my dad would say, "Are you NUTS?!" Apparently. Try for early July and then have another one in September or October. Spread out your crowds so this bottleneck never happens again.

- Another avenue would be if Rue Morgue would branch off and have their own separate horror con in October. They're big enough and well-known enough to pull it off, and they could work in concert with the Toronto After Dark Film Fest so fans could have a con experience and a cool film fest around Halloween.

- Communication is key. If we were actually told at least ONCE what was going on today instead of hearing things thirdhand, we would've felt at least a little mollified.

- This brings me to the key element of any good convention - organization. It's not that difficult. ComicCon in San Diego does quite well, thank you. As do the smaller cons like Monster Mania in Cherry Hill, NJ and Monsterpalooza in Burbank, CA. Having been to conventions all over North America, I was mindful to tell all the new congoers that this is definitely NOT what a GOOD con should be.

To say I was disappointed today would be a gross understatement. Apart from the Continuous Creation Con Clusterfuck™ in the U.S., FanExpo is THE WORST run con I've ever had the displeasure of attempting to attend.


  1. I bought an advance pass and picked it up on Thursday, so luckily, I was able to get in. Didn't do much good. The management for the Alan Tudyk panel was insane. First of all, they scheduled someone from FIREFLY in one of the smaller rooms. Uh, what? Firefly? The show with the most notoriously dedicated and insane fanbase ever? Yeah, let's not give them the big room. I checked out the big room downstairs at the same time, and it was Kate Mulgrew. Okay, Star Trek, sure, lots of fans. But it was only half full. If they had switched the two, everyone would have gotten in.

    The biggest problem with the line is that the room seats 900 people but the hallway outside (with no rope to line up in) only had room for about 500 people to line up. So they weren't letting people line up because there was no room for a line. Okay, so we all decided to hover and make a new line whenever the first line was done. Nope, we were told to take the escalator up or down- stay away from the line. You couldn't even wait to wait. Oh, and the kicker was someone who got in told me that there were actually some empty seats.

    So ridiculous.

  2. "Keep it classy, FanExpo" hilarious! I got in but little good it did. I've worked in Ticketing and Events for over 15 years - and my biggest event of the year is also at the MTCC so the last thing I want to do on my day off is deal with stupidity and disorganization - huge unsafe lines (there were kids and strollers crammed in there!) only to get to the bottom and find 10 ticket wickets and only 3 of them taking debit. Facepalm!

  3. As someone who volunteered there, I can clarify some of the stuff you mentioned. Obviously this is anon, because I'm technically not supposed to say this stuff.

    1. The north building is actually 30% smaller than the south building. Two years ago, FanExpo was forced to be held in the north building. The line-ups and cut-offs were a lot worse.

    2. Rue Morgue may have actually been big enough to hold their own convention. However, Rue Morgue doesn't have to bother with the rest of the organization and Hobby Star gets the huge Horror fanbase to come to their event. Neither of those people want to split the con. They both benefit from it. Don't expect it to happen soon.

    3. The DNE center's larget room is about 4000 sq. feet. The Metro Toronto Center 10 000 sq.feet in the main hall plus all the added space in the upper floors and extra rooms. another reason it's at the metro toronto is because a significant number of people attending don't actually live in Toronto. Some from the rest of Canada and some from the US. The sheer number of hotels available near downtown and the fact that union station is right there is amazing. I figure that FanExpo probably gets a commission from the hotels for bookings.

    4. The reason they do have around this time is BECAUSE of all the other stuff around at the same time. People are more likely to come over if they can "travel" and "sightsee" Toronto. Far less people would come all the way to Toronto to go to a single convention.

    5. The reason the price is that high is , honestly, because people are willing to pay. The people inside easily blow like $120 on one celebrity, getting them to sign a bunch of stuff. Plus all the added stuff. The celebrities actually get paid to be there. They don't actually give any money they earn back to FanExpo. FanExpo has to have some way to make that money back. In this case it's charging vendors and attendees. Also, you went n Sat. which is the most expensive day. Mainly because most people go on that day. All the celebs are there on that day and all the stores are stocked full.

    6. The reason this con got "sold out" is because at some point the Fire Marshalls refuse to let any more people in or near the building. There really isn't much they can do.

    The one thing I do agree with is the organization point. As a volunteer I probably knew more about the con and where everything was than the info booth. Even off my shift I found myself helping people who didn't know where signing areas were, etc. I also didn't know where the celebs were or when they were arriving. I wish they forced celebs. into a schedule but some of those guys are really prissy. Sometimes, they tell the volunteers to reprimand people because they don't want to seem like the bad guys. But the volunteers are disposable so we should go do it.

    That's it guys. I'm sad you didn't enjoy it but hopefully seeing my explanation you might be able to understand why some things were they way the were.