“Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve” Joins Ranks of Failed Media Conventions

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Perhaps the accursed year 2016’s last victim, Marvelous Nerd Years Eve in Dallas is the latest media con to underperform and leave behind a cloud of shortchanged celebrities.

Marquis guest Stan Lee, who received half of his $200,000 appearance fee in advance, is still owed $50,000 reports Heidi McDonald at ComicMix.

The con advertised 40 other celebrities would be on hand, including Ming Na Wen, Michael Rooker, Kevin Sorbo, Jasen Mewes, and Nichelle Nichols.

Matthew Egan, a con volunteer, wrote in a public Facebook post that “many celebrities were not paid, many agents were not paid, all employees at the show have been laid off.” He also claimed to have overheard attendance estimated at 4,000, half of what was needed to make the con a success.

As a result, the con did not meet its room guarantee. According to McDonald, “When not enough rooms were booked, the amount owed skyrocketed as rooms were then billed at a higher rate. When the guarantee wasn’t met the hotel threatened to kick people out of their rooms on Sunday unless organizers paid the difference.”

Things were settled with the hotel, but many others are still looking to get paid. Among them is David Gerrold, who detailed his experience in a Facebook post that he encouraged people to share.

I was an invited guest at the “Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve” Comic-Con held in Dallas over New Year’s weekend.

Apparently, it was a disaster of biblical proportions. Not just dogs and cats living together, but suing each other for palimony and custody of the kittens.

The convention organizers over-promised, under-budgeted, over-extended, under-performed, and committed what I consider acts of “criminal incompetence.”

Why do I use the adjective “criminal?”

Because people were hurt. Not just by the incompetence, but by the deliberate incompetence.

Many of the guests — not necessarily the A-listers — depend on the sales of autographs and photographs as part of their income between gigs. They are not all millionaires. Many actors and celebrities, especially those from TV shows of yore, have some income from royalties and residuals, but often depend on convention appearances to give them a little bit of a cushion — or even cover the mortgage.

So when a convention signs a contract, makes a commitment — such as, “We guarantee that you will make $5000 in autograph and photo sales, or we will make up the difference” and then fails to provide enough attendees to make those sales and then fails to cover the guarantee as well — that’s criminal incompetence.

Even worse, the company formed to put on the convention is dissolving itself, so there will be no one to sue.

Most of the other guests had their air fare covered and meals covered by a per diem. So at least their basic travel expenses were covered.

I drove.

After four days of promises, I had nothing but four days of promises. My travel expenses were never covered.

Based on their promises, I had expected $2500 and travel expenses as the bare minimum, and I budgeted for that.

Instead, I’m out my travel expenses. Nearly $800.

Did I sell enough books and tribbles and scripts to make it worthwhile? No.

Because first, they didn’t have a dealer’s table for me, and the woman who was supposed to arrange it was more interested in talking about how busy she was than in actually making arrangements for the table. Not a bad person, but not really focused on the job.

When I finally did get a sales table, it wasn’t in the dealer’s room, it was in a second room that was carefully hidden from most of the convention membership. I did not sell enough to cover my expenses.

I am particularly angry at the CFO of the convention who lied to my face, three times — that he had a check for me for my travel expenses (I’d already turned in my receipts) — when he already knew damn well that the convention was so far in the hole that the hotel was about to lock all of the guests out of their rooms because the convention couldn’t cover the lodging bills.

Any other convention, I would have made enough to justify the effort. Instead, I have a hole in my budget that is going to create a problem for the next month or two. I had planned to spend the money on paying for the kids’ wedding pictures. Now I have to generate that cash somewhere else. (January book sale starts momentarily.)

So yes, “criminal incompetence.” People were hurt. Not just me — but every celebrity guest (over 40 of them) and every vendor (at least as many) who invested his or her weekend on the promises of this criminally incompetent group of people.

I’ve had nearly a half century of convention experience. Most of the cons I’ve attended, whether professional or fan run, have been managed well enough that fans and guests were taken care of. I have never been caught up in a disaster as big as this one. (Which is why I didn’t recognize my personal alarm bells when they went off.)

I would hope that the individuals responsible for this particular train wreck have enough class and courage to issue a public apology — but more than that, I hope they get out of the convention business, because, based on the evidence, they are a danger to the well-being of everyone who trusts them.

The event was produced by Geek Expos, and Bleeding Cool’s article about the debacle says the company is going under:

Added to a poor performance in their recent Oklahoma show, and the word was that Geek Expos is in the process of being dissolved, with firings across the company including the CEO, and future announced shows, in Dallas and Tulsa, being cancelled.

16 thoughts on ““Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve” Joins Ranks of Failed Media Conventions

  1. Geek Expos is in the process of being dissolved, with firings across the company including the CEO, and future announced shows, in Dallas and Tulsa, being cancelled.

    And no doubt the CEO, in a year or so, will form up a new convention-running company and do it all over again. 🙄

  2. Marquis?

    There would be issues with calling Stan a king, but surely he must be a duke at least.

  3. Is there any way to winkle out the induhviduals who caused this mess (I won’t call them responsible) from behind the corporate facade, and make sure they are tagged if they try to start something else?

  4. The likely names I was able to find are Chris Ransdell, who as late as June 2016 was being referred to in articles as “CEO of Geek Expos”, but who is listed as “Event Promoter” on their website’s About Us page (this article calls Geek Expos “his company”), and Eric Downs (who refers to himself as “Executive Director” on LinkedIn, but, interestingly is listed as “Opperations Facilitator” on their website’s About Us page).

    I don’t think that the employees under them can be considered responsible for the fiasco — but certainly concoms should be taking a hard look at anyone applying for a role who lists a high-up position at Geek Expos on their resume.

  5. Part of the problem here is that the Dallas-area market is incredibly over-saturated with fan events. Last year they had OVER THIRTY, by the time you add up media-cons, comic-cons, mixed cons, and specialty events such as cons devoted to a single TV show. That averages out to more than 2 cons a month, which is enough to put a strain on any regional market. It’s killing the two “traditional” fan-run cons in Dallas (because the people who go to those also like other types of con, and money only stretches so far), and that’s a shame.

  6. Or a Dragon Award for showing up.
    Especially if he drove all the way – that’s four days driving, each way. (I’ve driven from L.A. to west Texas, and back. It’s a long trip – and Dallas is at least a day farther, each way.)

  7. …yes, I understand Gerrold is having pointy ones made up to give out on special occasions…

    One problem here is that people working on these cons do not raise sufficient alarm bells before the con. It’s understandable, folks want their con gigs, they usually work with friends and there may be a profit motive in there somewhere, but I venture to guess that anyone who has been doing cons for even as little as three years has gained enough insight and experience to recognize when things are going overboard.

    We’ve seen that they often makes waves within their organizations, but apparently this rarely works to correct things (seemingly interpreted not as corrective but as an attack on authority).

    One tactic (which I’d be very, very reluctant to employ) would be to contact the headliner’s agent and drop a dime….

  8. steve davidson: One tactic (which I’d be very, very reluctant to employ) would be to contact the headliner’s agent and drop a dime…

    I suspect that the people who actually knew enough to realize that there was a huge problem were paid staff, who chose to cross their fingers, engage in magical thinking, and hope they’d be getting their paychecks (and perhaps whatever percentage of profits they’d been promised).

    But yeah, if it were me, I’d have sent out resumes, lined up a job, and then dropped a couple of dollars worth of dimes. I don’t think that I could live with myself if I knew the truth and let all those people take the financial hit.

  9. JJ – largely agree, but there are frequently very experienced con runners working in lower positions – who should not forget that their own reputations may be at stake over incidents like this.

    I suggested the “agent” because I can’t think of anyone who would be more eager to look into things and I can’t think of anyone who has more leverage than headliners; they’re all knowledgeable and forewarned about “bad con deals”, so it would not take more than a hint that their appearance fees/other arrangements may be compromised for them to want to look into things. And, so far as it goes, a headliner pulling from a show is usually the first indication for the general public that things may be going south.

  10. In many cases of regional conventions in the Northeast, conventions have been cancelled because the hotel booking was not met about six to four weeks prior to the event.

    Someone seems to have graduated from Trump University.

  11. re: the small wooden asterisks.

    Those small wooden asterisks raised nearly $3000 for Terry Pratchett’s favorite charity, the Orangutan Foundation International.

    Anyone who feels insulted by an effort to help our redheaded cousins in Borneo needs to get their priorities on straight.

  12. Anyone who feels insulted by an effort to help our redheaded cousins in Borneo needs to get their priorities on straight.

    Isn’t that a bit of a false dichotomy? As in, either there there must be asterisk-shaped tokens for a fundraiser or there must be no tokens and no fundraiser? Would they have sold any less well if they were cut into the shape of, for instance, a turtle carrying a disc on it’s back? (Not that I have any puppy in the fight on whether the asterisks are offensive or not.)

  13. Sadly not such an uncommon story. I’m sorry it happened to the people good enough to come for it.

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