With its second show having wrapped after this past weekend saw comic fans descent to Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center, the Reed Pop-run Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (AKA C2E2) is settling in a bit to its place in the annual convention calendar.
With a 34,000 initial attendee figure from the company, C2E2 has grown in size some since its first go round, and con goers and industry watchers alike will likely spend the next few months discussing its proper scope from national destination comic show to regionally-focused event.
Now that the floor is wrapped and Reed Pop is getting ready to move to the next stop on its international slate of pop culture cons, CBR News starts the conversation of the shape and future of C2E2 with the company’s Group Vice President Lance Fensterman. Below, the point man for conventions ranging from New York Comic Con to Star Wars Celebration speaks on how the show worked to improve this year in key areas such as space management (the show moved from McCormick’s North building to its West one this year) and local outreach (including a slight rebranding of the show’s name), and picks out elements from the weekend that fans will likely see more of at future Reed stops and future C2E2s.
CBR News: Year two of C2E2 is a wrap. Coming into this con, were there were definite changes you were looking to make from how things went in the first go round? And how did you execute on that during this show?
Lance Fensterman: Yeah. There were four major things we learned and wanted to adjust on. One was that we had way too much space last year. Not only the show floor, which had things spread out, but we were spread out across that whole big building. We wanted to have a setup that was not smaller but had things in closer proximity -Â really tighter. I think this building pulled it off. Secondly, we wanted to bring in some more entertainment guests — have our core comics guests that we’ll always have, but reach out to the stars in the geek universe. And you saw that with Chris Hemsworth and the “Chuck” cast and the “Walking Dead” cast and Eliza Dushku and so on.
Thirdly, we really needed to spell out who we were. We really branded heavily around “C2E2,” and as a brand new entity, I just don’t think it was descriptive enough. So this year, we worked a lot more of the long form of the name — The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo -Â so people understood what it was.
And fourth was that we had a hard time last year drawing people from downtown Chicago, which is crazy. We drew really well from 100 miles away and further, but we didn’t draw well from downtown. We tried to work with that and provide some parking vouchers and run a shuttle all day long between the Loop and McCormick Place. If you could get to the Loop, you could get to the shuttle. So those were the four big things we tried to focus on this year.
At this point, have you gotten any response from attendees on how those things came together, particularly folks coming from downtown?
We’ll know about our demographics after the show, but in terms of getting around the show floor, yeah. It’s been the easiest show floor I’ve been able to get around in a long time, and I’ve heard very little issues around “Where’s this?” and “Where’s that?” It’s a little anecdotal now, but it seems like it was a very intuitive building to get around. The exhibitors liked it too, because getting in and out has been a breeze.
So do you think you’ll stay in the West Building next year?
What did you learn overall about how this year went? Having made it through the weekend, were there any specific responses you found from folks to the new space or the new shape of the show, positive or negative?
The response we’ve heard has been really, really positive. And look, I’m walking around wearing a C2E2 shirt all weekend, so a lot of people might come up to me and say “This thing sucks!” but the response has been actually overwhelmingly positive. We’ve had more people at this show, and from anecdotal conversations on the floor, it seems that people were really buying and shopping. Our panel rooms were full — not all of them of course, but the ones we expected to be full were that way all weekend. We had tons of people in the IGN theater on Saturday, and it was full in there practically all day. All that says to me that people were obviously enjoying the programming we put forth as well as the show floor.
Did you get to do anything personal besides running around working that stands out?
Yes! Pattown Oswalt! [Laughs] That was awesome. It was my thing. We had three comedians on Friday night. I saw the first two and then missed the beginning of Patton’s set, but I got in for the last 30. He’s hilarious, but he’s also perfect for this audience since he’s king of the geeks. That was really fun, and I think in some ways that evening with Comedy Death Ray may be one of the best events we’ve ever put on at Reed Pop. I don’t mean, “Oh, it was flawless!” I mean that it’s really indicative of what we’d like to do, which is that we want to branch into new areas without going off the trunk of the tree. This was a con, and these were standup comedians, but all of them and Patton most of all are into this stuff. They’re from the geek world. This is what they love, whether all their jokes are about it or not. It’s a part of their lives. So even though it’s a different kind of offering, it’s still rooted in what we’re all about, which is comics and pop culture. I was really proud of that event, and we want to do more like it.
You guys put out an attendance number of 34,000 people. As I’m sure you’re aware, the question everyone always has when show numbers hit is whether the attendance is based on individual bodies or if there’s any “turnstyling” — counting each time a person enters the room — or counting three day passes as three people, etc. Any response on how Reed gets their figures and in general what you think of this year’s numbers?
34,000 plus is the preliminary number (we still have retailer tickets coming in, so it will likely go up a bit). Our numbers are real numbers of people in the building, not turn styled. We include fans tickets, pro’s, exhibitors and speakers and everyone is counted once. We believe our numbers speak for themselves and additional “hype” through inflated stats is not needed.
I’m pleased with the turnout. 25% growth in the second year is satisfying, but we always want more. We believe that C2E2 can really be an anchor event in the middle of the U.S. This weekend was another step in that direction, but we still have a lot of growth ahead of us.
Looking forward to next year — in the buildup to the first show, there were lots of preliminary events and promotions to get out the word. Are you looking to come to Chicago or co-sponsor anything between now and the 2012 show?
For sure. Whenever I’m in Chicago, I try to always do a meet-up. It’s casual, but I put it out on the blog and e-mail our attendees to say, “Come out. We’re going to be at Goose Island Brewery or Piece or Club Lago or whatever. Come out to tell us about what you want or don’t want or how your show went.” We do that consistently. I don’t know that we’ll have an organized party or anything, but we’re here and we want to hear from you. We always say: it’s your show. We just build it.
When is the next Reed Pop show on the schedule?
Oh, that’s a good question actually. [Laughter] We just did PAX East in Boston, which was rough to go back-to-back, and then we’ve got UFC Fan Expo in Toronto in about four weeks, which is cool. And then there’s a little down time. I don’t know what I’m going to do this summer since I’m not running from city to city hanging out with cool people. But I’m looking forward to it.
C2E2 2012 -Â are the dates set?
They’re not set yet. They’re 90% set, but we haven’t signed the contracts yet. It will be in the same timeframe — right around St. Patrick’s Day, which I’m not sure is good since we lost about three staff members to Chicago St. Patrick’s Day this year. [Laughter]