Fan Conventions: Behind the Mask

Today’s guest post comes from Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, columnist at ICv2 and specialist in the evolution of media and entertainment. Rob will be participating in four panels at San Diego Comic Con, including the “Future of Geek, where he will be presenting the Eventbrite survey data from this post.

With fandom conventions setting attendance records all over the country, it’s no secret that comic, gaming, anime and pop culture cons are big business. Eventbrite’s research sized the US fan-event market at $600M in gross ticket sales in 2013. But who are the fans, what kinds of experiences draw them, and what opportunities does the surge of fan enthusiasm hold for retailers, media companies and organizers?

In June 2014, Eventbrite conducted an online survey of more than 2,600 people who purchased tickets to one of the hundreds of fandom events on their platform in the past two years. The survey consisted of 18 questions across a range of topics that provided some important insights into this vibrant, dynamic and highly influential audience.

1. Fans Can’t Get Enough Live Events

Do the people walking around fan conventions look familiar? Eventbrite’s new polling data shows that a huge amount of that business is generated by repeat customers.

About 80% of respondents say they routinely attend 2 or more events per year, with 17% attending five or more. Of respondents planning to attend 4 or more full-fledged conventions this year, women outnumber men 53%/47%. The highest frequency of attendance among any subgroup is female manga/anime superfans: 19% say they will go to 5 or more fan events this year.

63% of male respondents and 51% of females have been attending cons for 3 years or more, with the 10+ year attendees (13% of the sample) tending to identify as superfans of comics and science fiction. Con veterans tend to be older and spend more across the board.

2. Con Fans are Fans of Everything

Fandom has a reputation for strong niche segmentation, with distinct fan cultures jealously guarding their borders against bandwagon-riders and phonies. But according to the survey data, those borders are starting to become blurrier, at least among audiences attending cons.

Given a non-exclusive choice of identifying as superfans, casual fans or “not fans” of nine different categories, on average, respondents self-identified as superfans of 3.2 different categories.

Overall, Sci-Fi/fantasy, genre-based movies and videogaming were the categories claiming the greatest number of superfans. Tabletop gaming, webcomics and specialty fandoms were lowest in the poll.

3. Fandom is Heading Toward Gender Parity

Overall, response to the survey broke down 55/45 male/female. Respondents age 30 and over broke 60/40 male. For respondents under 30 (about 45% of the sample), the split was exactly even at 50/50.

Some fandoms are more gender-balanced than others. Videogame superfans tend to be male by 65/35; among comics superfans, the response was 60/40, and in manga/anime, just about 50/50.

The survey revealed that male and female convention attendees are generally looking for the same kinds of experiences and spend comparably at conventions. Here are some of the only notable differences:

●      Long-timers tend to be male. 17% of men say they’ve been going to cons for more than 10 years, compared to 9% of women.

●      Women are more likely to cosplay. 49% of women listed cosplay as a primary motivator for attending conventions, compared to only 22% of men. Spending habits of female cosplayers do not differ much from any other con attendees.

●      Size matters to guys. 39% of men say they like their cons “the bigger the better,” compared to 29% of women.

●      Women blog. Men, not so much. 23% of women list blogs, Tumblr and Pinterest as their “primary channel” for social media (with another 17% saying they “frequently use”) compared to only 5% primary/12% frequently for men. Men prefer podcasts 2:1 over women.

Organizers, the emerging gender balance in fandom is driving your business growth.

4. Cons are About Commerce

Nearly 70% of respondents in the poll listed “buy stuff I’m interested in” as one of their three primary motivations for attending a con, making that by far the top response. That percentage varied only slightly across genre fandoms, age and gender.

Nearly half the respondents in the poll said they spent $100-$500 at conventions over and above admission, travel, hotels, food and parking. About 7% of survey respondents report spending over $1000 on merchandise at conventions. 35% of respondents admit to routinely overspending their budgets, compared with only 7% that spend less.

Survey data also revealed that fans that spend big at cons also spend big at physical retailers and online.

Con attendees are also major consumers of premium media experiences. 26% of respondents say they “always” buy the special edition or deluxe Blu-Ray of genre-based movies that catch their interest; 25% “always” pre-order announced items at their retailer or online, and 25% “always” pay for features like 3D and IMAX format at fan-oriented movies.

5. Cons Create Communities… and Couples!

Why are fans flocking to cons? The social component is a real driver. In a multi-response question, 65% of respondents say cons are a great place to meet new friends, 55% like to bring their families, and 43% to connect with people they’ve met online. Respondents planning to attend 3 or more fan events per year cited the social component even more frequently.

15% of the respondents overall (11% of women, 19% of men) said cons are a good place to “meet potential love interests.” Manga/anime and specialty (furry, brony, steampunk) fans were most interested in that particular aspect of cons: 24% said they were open to romance.

6. If You Organize a Big Con, Do it Right

Cons are getting bigger, but are they getting better? While 35% of respondents offer unqualified support for big shows, nearly 50% say that big cons are fun but stressful and wish they were better organized. 11% of respondents say they are done with big shows altogether and will stick to smaller festivals and meet-ups.

The “wish they were better organized” number is even higher for the most desirable attendees: Among those who spend more than $1000 per con, it’s 55%; of those planning to attend 4 or more cons per year, it’s 60%. Organizers: if you want these folks coming back and spending more, make sure you listen to their concerns.


Black Ship Staff
About Black Ship Staff (5 Articles)
Founded by Lee Lightfoot in 2011, Black Ship Books is a publisher of comics and literature. Dedicated to pushing the boundaries of genre and exploring new storytelling techniques, Black Ship is the publisher of such titles as Gia Giantess, Horror Haikus, and Weird Zombie Horror.

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