We had a blast at this year’s Fan Expo! There were brilliant costumes, amazing deals and celebrities from the worlds of comics, film and television ready and willing to meet with their adoring fans. Unfortunately, though, not everyone was able to have so awesome an experience: lines, overcrowding and overselling resulted in some angry attendees, including a few who couldn’t even get in with VIP passes. The troubles were enough to get the attention of journalists and The Toronto Star has a story on the upset at the con!
Fan Expo organizers, activate your force fields: a revenge of the nerds is brewing.
Hundreds of gamers, superfans and sci-fi geeks are fuming after a mismanaged weekend at Fan Expo Canada, a popular annual convention celebrating pop culture.
Eventgoers say this year’s three-day convention was marred by hours-long lineups. On Saturday afternoon, crowds became so unmanageable organizers had to shut down door sales and temporarily lock out ticket holders, prompting hordes of frustrated fans to start chanting for refunds.
While the Fan Expo has always seen its share of organizational glitches, loyal attendees say this year’s convention was by far the worst.
“This is very hard for me to admit: I wanted to cry in frustration,” said 28-year-old Mike Dodd, who covered Fan Expo for his website, This Week in Geek. “Sure there’s been hiccups previous years but this was a friggin’ joke.
“I’ve never seen people so demoralized. A sad nerd is not a good thing.”
The annual pop culture convention, which attracted just under 60,000 people in 2009, has been rapidly gaining popularity and this year saw record numbers thanks to a star lineup, including comic book creator Stan Lee, Adam West (TV’s Batman) and Star Trek’s William Shatner.
Organizers were “definitely overwhelmed” by this weekend’s crowds, said Aman Gupta, president and CEO of Hobby Star Marketing, which operates Fan Expo.
Gupta said a scheduling conflict forced this year’s convention to move from the south hall of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to the north, which has smaller capacity. Organizers also tried to shorten last year’s lineups by hiring 85 more staff and doubling their ticket entry points. The problem is, the improvements worked a little too well.
“We took last year’s problems, we solved them extremely well to the point where it hurt us in a different area,” Gupta said. “We need to find that happy medium.”
Clara Nigh has attended Fan Expo for four years and preordered a $60 deluxe weekend pass, which was supposed to give her in-and-out privileges. But on Saturday, Fan Expo’s most popular day, Nigh left the convention centre to grab some lunch; when she returned, hundreds of people were waiting outside locked doors.
A security guard told her no one was allowed back in until patrons inside started leaving.
“That line wrapped around the block,” she said.
Sunday’s wait times were better but lineups still snaked around the block, Nigh said. And to make matters worse, she added, staff members were still selling tickets.
“I thought, ‘money grab,’” Nigh said. “How can you take people’s money when you can’t guarantee them entry? When you can’t even guarantee people who prepaid months ago?”
Gupta said door sales were shut down for about three hours Saturday when the main level of the convention centre exceeded capacity.
The weekend was just as tough on staff and volunteers, he said, and two of his publicists actually broke down in tears.
“We’re really sorry and we’re going to do absolutely everything we can to fix this problem for next year,” Gupta said.
But for 27-year-old Stephen Bryce, who made a YouTube video railing against the disorganization of this year’s event, nothing will ever get him back to the Fan Expo.
“If someone did lose their temper in that crowd, all hell would’ve broken loose,” he said. “We very much had the impression the people running the convention were flipping us off and laughing at us, saying, ‘Ha ha, we got your money, we can do what we want with you.’ ”