Some big changes are in store for Phoenix Comicon’s annual Fan Fest, which might come as good news to many local geeks.
Plans are in the works to move the event – a smaller and more family-friendly spin-off of Phoenix Comicon that takes place in December at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale – to a new location in the Valley and a much earlier spot on the calendar.
Phoenix Comicon’s staff announced recently that Fan Fest will now take place in October at the Phoenix Convention Center instead of out in Glendale during the midst of the holiday season. This year’s edition, for instance, is scheduled to occur on Saturday, October 22, and Sunday, October 23.
Jillian Squires, a spokesperson for Phoenix Comicon, says the changes are due to a number of reasons, including issues with University of Phoenix Stadium, which hosted the first two Fan Fests, and the needs of the event’s attendees.
“We’ve really enjoyed having the show at the stadium,” she says. “I mean, let's be honest, it was very unique venue, but it just wasn’t ideal for what we needed.”
For instance, the facility didn’t offer enough spaces to handle a large amount of programming and panels, Squires says. Fan Fest’s first two editions featured a modest amount of programming taking place in meeting rooms used for press conferences and other stadium business.
According to post-event surveys conducted by Phoenix Comicon’s staff, however, Fan Fest attendees wanted more programming, which is something organizers were unable to do given the stadium’s limitations.
“It just started with feedback from attendees,” Squires says. “They wanted more programming, which was kind of impossible in the space that we had available. That's really the biggest issue. And since Phoenix Comicon events are known for our programming, if we're limiting that at a second show, that's what really cripples us in a sense."
Attendee feedback was also a factor in Fan Fest’s date change. Squires says many attendees found it was hard to find both time and money for the event during the hectic holiday season.
“A lot of people said they wish they could attend but because their finances were already set aside for family and obligations, doing it during the holiday season made it difficult and very taxing for them,” she says. “It was also difficult for the vendors because that's when they get to have time off from shows and be around their families, because they're traveling year round.”
Many attendees, particularly those in the East Valley, also stated they found it difficult to travel out to Glendale to attend Fan Fest due to the distance involved and a lack of public transportation options, which is pretty much limited to just the Valley Metro bus system.
Squires says the Comicon staff had their own issues with stadium as well, including more expensive prices for security, a lack of restaurants withing walking distance, and the fact the retractable roof is known to leak when it rains.
Plus, she says, it was also difficult scheduling a date for Fan Fest every year since they had to wait until the NFL released the Arizona Cardinals’ home schedule in late April. And by that point, organizers would already be hip-deep into preparation for the main Phoenix Comicon event at the end of the spring.
“It's a constant juggling act planning two events every year,” Squires says. “We would be getting the Cardinals’ home schedule right before Phoenix Comicon and it only made things more hectic. So this allows us to set a date earlier and have several more months to plan and start inviting guests for Fan Fest now as opposed to having only four months to work with.”
Moving the event to the Phoenix Convention Center, which has also hosted Comicon every spring since 2010, solved many the issues . It’s also a familiar turf to local geeks who attend both events.
“Our attendees are already familiar with the convention center, so there's a comfort in it,” Squires says. “We all know where exactly everything is [and] we all know how it runs, so I think everybody's comfortable with it. So it was just a much easier path for us to go ahead with the convention center. We always want to make it easier because Fan Fest is supposed to be fun and easy.”
There’s a bit of trade-off with changing locations, however.
“There are pluses and minuses both ways. I think we're losing a very cool venue with a lot of free parking, but everyone has a familiarity with [downtown] and there are more options for food and transportation. Again, you trade different things back and forth with this choice,” she says. “I think that some will be really happy with the move and others will be really sad. There are people Glendale that were happy we went over there to be with them and now we’re saying goodbye.”
Reaction on Facebook to the announcement fell along those lines almost evenly split between those who welcomed the changes to Fan Fest and others who weren’t exactly thrilled at the news.
Heidi Sprain of Surprise fell into the latter camp, as evidenced by the reply she posted on Facebook.
“Being from Surprise going to Glendale was a shorter drive and free parking was worth it and hassle-free,” she wrote.
Some geeks, like Valley resident Wendy Wright, had a more balanced reaction.
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“Fan Fest is my favorite of all the cons I've ever attended. Making big changes is never easy and [I] know you didn't make it without careful thought and feedback,” Wright wrote on Facebook. “I will miss the cold weather and free parking but I will definitely not miss the hard stadium floor that made three days there feel longer than four days at [Phoenix Comicon] in May.”
Others expressed concerns that by having Fan Fest at the Phoenix Convention Center will turn it into a virtual clone of Comicon, organizers say that the two events will differ in focus, size, and atmosphere. Fan Fest, for example, will continue to be a smaller event aimed primarily at families and children that also focuses more on costuming and comic books. Admission prices will remain substantially lower than at Phoenix Comicon.
And unlike its mothership event, which takes over the majority of the convention center and several nearby hotels, Fan Fest will only take place on the facility’s third floor, with the Exhibitor Hall being located in the space where the "Hall of Heroes" was situated during Phoenix Comicon.
"We don't want to force it to be a big show,” Squires says. “We want it to be itself, which is a small, intimate, wonderful show that's all about being with each other and cosplay and comics. And it can grow if it wants and if it doesn't, that's fine, too."