Since conventions are pretty much cancelled for this year, I thought today would be a good time to educate people on what goes on behind the scenes of a convention.
Planning generally starts 4-6 months before the actual convention but depending on the size of the con, I have seen events being pulled off from as little as 4 weeks to as long as needing years.
Over the last 7 years, I’ve been helping with conventions as a planner on and off. You’d probably be surprised at how much it actually costs to pull off a con. If there is interest, maybe one day I will talk about how conventions generate revenue.
But costs. What are the costs? We can break it down to the following categories (starting from the most complicated one to explain):Venue, Guests, Administration, A/V, Furniture & Decor, Marketing, Operations.
Tl;dr: the hotel in question will have an idea of what they charge, but they are negotiable.
This one is kind of complicated if you’ve never dabbled in events before. About 18% of your total budget goes here, depending on the size of the con. Hotels and convention centres charge a percentage of however much promised revenue you can generate for them.
For example, if you go to Sheridan (gaming area for Anime North) and say, “I want to run a gaming event, can you allow me to book some rooms from May 23-25? I want 5 panel rooms and 2 banquet halls totalling about 30,000 sq. ft.” They may quote you something around 15k per day. The actual number depends on the time of year and location of the hotel.
However, if you go back and say, “We anticipate that 95% of your 200 rooms will be booked for this event, and at $200/night, that is roughly $114k. We don’t need much food, but we would like to purchase a $50 lunch kit for our 20 staff, At night, we want to run a private party with an open bar where we will purchase 300 drink tickets for our quests at roughly $10 each, and 10 dozen hors d’oeuvres at $75 a dozen, with an activation for beef steak table with a chef for 4 hours, bringing our total food and beverage bill to roughly $10k+.” Sheridan would calculate that you’d be bringing in a lot of business for them, and honestly, they’d probably give you the venue space for free or a very small fee. The outrageous hospitality rate is how venues afford to pay their staff and make money. Some companies charge a fee for every chair and table you need, and some don’t. It depends on if you’re using an in-house services for furniture or if you’re getting a third party to supply your tables.
A single guest who you decide to fly in internationally may cost you around $500-2000 in air fare depending on where they’re coming from and what time of year it is. Generally, conventions are expected to house and feed them, costing maybe around $600-800 for a weekend. They will give them 2 complimentary passes, and a handler or talent wrangler, which would be free if it was a volunteer, but assuming you had to pay for that at minimum wage for 3 days, that could cost maybe $400. If you decide to pay a fee for them to do a talk or panel, that could cost anywhere from $500-20,000 depending on the calibre of event. Now image you need 5, or even 10 guests. This category would cost maybe a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.
This includes what you pay people to plan your event. You need the Board or a C-suite executive to oversee the project, as well as planners, secretaries, and salespeople to handle all of the general marketing for exhibitors and advertisements. Fan Expo, for example, run by Informa, is an international company that runs a lot of conferences around the world. According to an article I read somewhere, most event companies are fairly small with less than 5 all-star employees. In Canada, 25% of these companies run more than 25 events per year. If they need additional help, the rest are contractors.
Your biggest cost is right here, if you want a seamless experience. Anyone who has ever produced anything will know how expensive this can be. Most technicians need to be paid a minimum of 4 hours, and you might have to use the in-house techs depending on if the venue is unionized. At $50-150 an hour, this cost is tremendous. In addition to that, the production companies will usually charge you depending on how much equipment they need to bring. A basic sound system may cost $400-800 depending on the company.
But for every stage, speaker, light fixture, stream, or camera you need, you pretty much need a plan for it. A light can cost $50 or $100 dollars to rent, and a camera or projector could put you in the thousands.
And if you want special effect (like haze or pyrotechnics), you probably have to get it approved by the local JHS, and go through some extensive paperwork. Do not budget any less than $5000/day for special effects.
Additionally. if you do want pyro at your show… I have a contact. He has taught me everything I know.
Furniture & Decor
The furniture and decor cost at anime conventions is generally very small because we don’t need anything fancy, but for example if you were to hire Robinson (a production company) to bring in a single white bookcase, that would cost you $120. An armchair? $150. A couch? $300. A 55″ TV with a stand? I don’t know, like $600?
Anime North has little to no marketing so I don’t think their costs are very high. However, if you were to do ads on the subway, that could be a few grand. Online advertisements are either pay per click, or shown to x number of people. You can google this on your own.
Another marketing cost is signage. Every single step-and-repeat, registration sign, or digital asset costs money to make. You can look here for an idea of how much a professional stand costs.
In this category, I would include event personnel, Wi-Fi, ticketing, security, and volunteers. Easily a few thousand. A good company I used to recommend was Brown Paper Tickets (we use this in the theatre world), but there was a recent scandal. I guess Eventbrite works? Or just print them yourself and put it in a spreadsheet if you want to save money.
Support small conventions!!
I know I used Anime North a lot here for my examples, but that’s because I think it is one of the most attended conventions.
Like you want to support small businesses, support your small conventions! When cosplayers don’t pay for tickets, or they “lobbycon”, they are not supporting the convention behind it and all the costs. Event planners know that ticket sharing is a thing and we heavily discourage it, but at the end of the day, if there is not enough support, the event just does not go on another year.
Large events with a loyal fanbase do not care, but it will definitely hurt smaller events. Some events will blacklist you if they catch you in the act, so be careful. I assume many events run on the generous donations from sponsors, and that many anime conventions are run entirely by volunteers with a model to break even or make a little bit of profit to reinvest for the next year. Obviously there are a lot of ways to save on the cost, or you and your friends can probably just chill at some park and have a picnic for free. I mean, not now, because of covid, but maybe in the future.
I’m going to say it one more time: if you want to make money, do not throw an anime convention by yourself as a sole proprietor with no prior experience. Not to hate on FrostCon, but where are they?
I want to give a shout out to one of my favourite events: Atomic Lollipop. Last I heard, the organizers had a falling out and there were some complications with the police. Whoops? If you need help? Please contact me? I want to help bring it back? I miss you so much?
Other small anime conventions which are great include YetiCon, known for their vacation getaway feeling, and KimiCon, known for being the famous artist Sakimi-chan’s baby. I have personally met the team behind Kimicon and they all work very hard to bring the event to life so, a round of applause to them! Be nice and don’t lobbycon them if you want them to stay.
Let me know if you enjoyed this or if I’m just rambling to myself, ok?
My credentials, if you care.
- Anime North volunteer for 2 years and then staff for 2 years (Hall A representttt)
- EGLX, where I basically produced the whole cosplay area. I invited cosplay guests, figured out all the programming with our sponsors, created all the workshops, fashion swap, designed the showfloor, added a free-play gaming area, budgeted the entire show, set up furniture and decor, worked with A/V etc.
- Unplugged FAB fashion catwalk and Unplugged Singing Idol + general help for other events
- Anime Shogatsu, volunteered but honestly cannot remember for the life of me what I did there
- Fan Expo, volunteered for a few years in panels and then moved on to coordinating a team of 40 staff
- Lots of other events that I’ve planned but aren’t anime-related