Recently ICv2 spoke with ReedPop Group Vice President Lance Fensterman about the progress of ReedPop’s C2E2 pop culture show, which was held at Chicago’s McCormick Place in April. With the future of the show on the line in its crucial third year, Fensterman was pleased with signs that the show had been embraced by the Chicago community and appears to have turned the corner and achieved some level of profitability.
What is your overall evaluation of C2E2?
It’s a little early to say. We are still in the process of getting feedback, and of course, we do really in-depth research with all of the audience after the show and we have some pretty scientific metrics that we use, but I am quite pleased with what we know now. We delivered a significantly larger audience than the previous year, which was needed because we had a significantly larger show floor of exhibitors than the previous year, and we needed those aisles full—and they were full on Saturday and Sunday. Friday the professional hours are always light. We are kind of rethinking what we might do with those professional hours. They might not be quite as relevant in the Chicago market, so we may limit that a little bit to keep the Friday crowd bigger and add value to that ticket for next year.
The exhibitors that we have spoken to, some of our bigger customers, were actually ecstatic. They were thrilled with the event. They were very happy, so it’s a little early to say for sure, but I am quite pleased with the way the event performed and the support from the community.
What was the attendance versus last year?
It was around 41,000. It will actually tick up towards 42 thousand once I finish counting some the retailer tickets that are trickling in. Last year I believe we were at 32 thousand, if memory serves me correctly, so we are pretty happy. That’s a tremendous jump, and we are also pleased that we had really strong "walk-up" on Sunday. We did great pre-sells, we were tracking well ahead throughout the year, but that walkup is a good thing to see because it means that our message has gotten out into the market place. The diehard fans that buy six months in advance, they are a little bit easier to reach, but the walk-up is evidence that we are starting to become a more broad, public-embraced event, which is a good sign.
How about the exhibitor side?
We measure with "paid square feet," so you take a 10 x10 booth and that’s 100 square feet. Last year the show floor was about 33,000 paid square feet, and this year it was about 58,000 paid square feet, so the show didn’t quite double in size in terms of the amount of paid exhibition space, which is awesome. A little metric that we have, we bring in our own cash machines to the show, just because the facilities don’t have enough to accommodate our fans, and the amount of cash withdrawn from those machines nearly tripled from last year, which is great, a sign that there is some money floating around the show floor, which typically means happy dealers.
What about the mix of exhibitors, did that change this year?
It didn’t change dramatically. We had obviously Marvel and DC. There were a few of the other publishers that we didn’t have this year that we had in years past and that was disappointing to us, but I think we threw a hell of an event regardless of their presence, and we hope that they will take that as a sign that this is not an event to miss, and that we will see them next year.
Was the number of exhibitors up or did they just take more space? Were any of the exhibitor categories up?
In total we had about 340 exhibitors last year and about 520 exhibitors this year, so it wasn’t a matter of people taking more space as much as it was more companies participating. I don’t know if there was a category of exhibitors that stood out as being greatly increased. We did grow quite a bit in "Artists' Alley." That was the largest "Artists' Alley" we have ever had in Chicago. I think it was about 400 tables strong, and it was jamming back there. DC told us in their post-show wrap-up that their "Artists' Alley" efforts were overwhelmingly successful, so we weren’t the only people to see that.
What is the status of the show? You said in pre-show interviews that the show had been making money, will it continue?
We feel like we got the answer we needed. We made maybe a little bit of money, which is fine. Year 3 is when we expect to start to see some positive cash flow, but even more so we felt that the community embraced the event and the turnout and the ticket sales reflect that—and that is just what we needed to see. Like any new business, it takes some time to gain traction. Ours is particularly tricky since we are not a business that is open Monday through Friday, 365 days a year. We just get one shot to sell our product each year, so it takes a little bit longer to establish a business like ours. If we were a restaurant, you wouldn’t say it takes three years to establish yourself, because you are open seven days a week. You know pretty quickly whether it is working or it isn’t. We are a little different. We have a one-year gestation cycle every year. So year three was an important one for us, and I am very pleased with the results, and I appreciate the support of the Chicago community.
Previously you were in the McCormick Place hall with windows, why did you change?
Availability--the first year we were in Lakeside, which is on the lake, and we just didn’t care for the venue. The windows were great, but everything else about that space just was not good. The panel rooms were very far away. They were hard to find, and there were a lot of narrow corridors. There was actually too much space over there. It just made it very hard to lay out our show in that Lakeside room and to manage the show. Year 2 we were in West building, which is the newest building, and that’s where we will be permanently in that West building where we were in year two. The venue we were in this year, the North building, was the only one available to us due to scheduling, but we have already secured the West building for next year.
Looking ahead to the New York Comic-Con, is there anything that you would like our readers to know about?
In the month of May we will have some big announcements. We are just going to get things start a little bit earlier. Four-day tickets are already on sale. We will be putting 3-day tickets on sale in May at the same time, probably around the third week in May, we will be making a handful of guest announcements that will probably be pretty exciting to people.