Say Hello to Slave Leia

One of the most significant success stories in the events industry is unfolding almost—but not quite—in clear sight. However, if you get most of your industry news from traditional sources (and, yes, you can count EXPO Magazine among those sources), you might be missing it.

The weekend before last, 116,000 people jammed their way into Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York for New York Comic Con, a hard-to-explain but you-know-it-when-you-see-it phenomenon that has companies like Warner Brothers and Marvel Comics spending fortunes to attract the attention of the consumers of “products” like “The Conjuring,” “Beautiful Creatures” and Slave Leia.

New York Comic Con got to that 116,000 attendance figure in only six years. By comparison, the inaugural edition of the show in 2006 attracted 25,000 and it shared Javits with The New York Times home show.

Now, granted, New York Comic Con has to attract 9,000 more attendees next year (when an expansion should allow it a little more room at Javits) to match the 125,000 drawn to San Diego’s legendary Comic-Con International last summer. Granted also, the San Diego version has been around for decades (even if it has really taken off as well in just the last several years) and benefits from its West Coast proximity to Hollywood studios and film fans.

However, San Diego is busting out of the seams of the San Diego Convention Center as well, and an expansion—largely initiated to accommodate Comic Con—is still years away (read more about that in the upcoming issue of EXPO Magazine).

Reed Exhibitions produces New York Comic Con via its relatively new division called ReedPOP which, though it operates out of Reed Ex’s Norwalk, Conn. office along with all its more traditional shows, is not your father’s tradeshow company. In fact, I’m not sure you’d find a reference to Reed Exhibitions on Reed POP’s website and you certainly wouldn’t if you looked at any of the marketing materials for Comic Con or any of the other shows produced by ReedPOP like PAX Prime in Seattle—which drew 70,000 electronic game-loving fans this year, up from 3,300 in 2004—or its Star Wars Celebration, UFC Fan Expo or Fantasy Football Fest.

Reed isn’t the only company that has managed to capture the zeitgeist of a huge mass of passionate devotees who are congregating in places like Javits and the San Diego Convention Center, but it is one of the very few old-school show producers to do so.

What I think is most interesting is something Reed Exhibitions Chairman and CEO Mike Rusbridge pointed out to me last week: “All those people at Comic Con, all 106,000 of them, heard about it by way of social media. None of them heard about it from the traditional media.”

Don’t get me wrong. The point here isn’t to suggest that all of you who run medical conferences and home & gardens shows need to move your marketing dollars to Twitter and Tumblr. But those who are interested in capturing event dollars in the future may have to look a little further afield for the content that evokes the passion of tomorrow’s event participants.

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Posted by Michael Hart

Michael Hart is the executive editor of Expo. Reach him at View all articles by Michael Hart →