This past weekend, Monster Mania 39, a horror convention held in Cherry Hill, NJ, faced trials and tribulations. Mainly in the form of massive crowds for their stellar line up of guests. The Fire Marshal stopped entry into the building and prohibited the use of a tent for panels. There was vandalism in the parking lot. People missed photo ops. Saturday was a day to challenge any convention.
(To see the article on Friday and Saturday at Monster Mania, click here.)
But they still had Sunday left to go.
A Calmer Experience
With Sunday, the massive crowds that filled the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill were gone. Sunday is usually a less crowded day for most conventions, but since Tim Curry, Sean Astin, Ally Sheedy and Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) were not scheduled for the final day of the convention, this helped immensely.
The remaining guests has manageable lines. The young actors from Stephen King’s It were popular and Richard Dreyfuss greeted fans with a smile. All the guests seemed to be getting some wonderful attention from their fans.
One could now wander through the vendor areas with ease and the atmosphere was much more relaxed.
The crowds from Saturday were still a subject of conversation. In speaking with various people at the convention, more information about Saturday came out. Some people did have a good time and took the overcrowding in stride. Some first time attendees were turned off by the conditions, which is a shame, since usually the con goes much more smoothly.
(Oh, and a quick update on the individual who was injured on Friday. It has been reported that he was back at the con the following day after receiving some stitches. An unfortunate accident, true, but not one that was enough to keep this person from returning.)
The vendors, for the most part, were very happy with the business they did. One room did have access restricted for a bit, but overall it was profitable for the vendors I spoke with. Since they were stuck at their tables, many of them didn’t observe as much of the chaos concerning the photo ops and autograph lines.
I don’t think most people realize that the people who volunteer at a con are NOT compensated for the most part and usually are paid in autographs and photos with some guests (at the guest’s discretion). Because entry into the building was blocked, many of the volunteers who were scheduled for later in the day were unable to show up and many who were supposed to leave stayed at their posts much later to fill in the gaps. It was a bad situation and these volunteers did their best to help as many people as they could with the resources they had… and often were insulted and abused by frustrated attendees in return.
I spoke with several volunteers on Sunday and some had been trampled… twice, one was hit in the face by an elbow (hopefully it was an accident) and they faced the wrath of irate fans. These people were there to help and went above and beyond… often trying to keep things running smoothly and calm patrons during a situation for which they were not to blame. Personally I think they deserve a lot more credit than they have received.
I spoke to Jen, who coordinates the volunteers and helps run the show and she was extremely upset that attendees, especially first time attendees, didn’t have the great experience she did when she first visited this con years ago. She told me that she met with the show runners and they did everything in their power to iron out the problems and felt horrible they could not do more.
The Fire Marshall
Many people are unhappy with the decisions made by the Fire Marshal. He didn’t allow use of a tent for panels, which some think might have alleviated some of the situation. It might have helped, but I don’t think it would have had much of an effect on the autograph lines. He also stopped more people from entering the building and barred those who stepped outside from returning. With the cold temperatures, this did not sit well with those who couldn’t come in.
While I did not speak with him, I can sympathize with his position. Had he allowed the venue to become even more crowded, it would have endangered the lives of the attendees. Had a fire broken out during the con, people would have been trampled and there could have been many injuries and deaths. If something like that had occurred, lots of people would question why the Fire Marshal allowed the building to be filled beyond its capacity. So while many were unhappy with the decisions made, the Fire Marshal had to put public safety over the concerns of people who were unable to get to a photo op or meet their celebrity hero.
The Venue Problem
The difficulty with Saturday was that having so many popular guests drew in much larger than anticipated crowds. Unfortunately the venue couldn’t contain those crowds and alternative venues in the area do not exist. If this convention were to change locations and attempt to keep the admission price at similar levels, they would have to either move it out to Atlantic City or into Pennsylvania. According to some sources, the Crowne Plaza Hotel gives an excellent deal to the show runners for use of the space, which allows them to keep their prices low compared to many other conventions.
Was the event oversold? It would seem so. It’s a little more difficult to determine how many people will be attending at any one time. Sure, tickets were sold online, but there are some people who would show up as the con opened and others might not arrive until hours later. Some attendees might go in, get an autograph or two, then leave… while others might spend most of the day socializing, shopping and getting multiple autographs. Saying “this venue can hold 8,000 people” and limiting your sales to that number might seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t account for people who can’t attend at the last minute or people who only stay for a short time. The calculations are not easy. However, it does seem that the calculations for this convention were way off.
Many attendees voiced their opinions that the convention does need to move to a different venue. Whether the show runners will be willing to do so remains to be seen.
The next event for this convention is in August and they already have several popular stars booked. It will be interesting to see how this event’s issues affect the next one.
Seeking a Refund?
On the Monster Mania Facebook page, Dave Hagan, one of the show runners, posted a message thanking those who attended and apologizing for the events on Saturday.
There has been no mention of refunds and it would be difficult to determine who should be refunded as well. Monster Mania mails wristbands to those who purchase tickets online and there is really no way to track who attended and who was unable to enter the venue. If you would like to plead your case, you can visit the Monster Mania website at http://monstermania.net.
The policy from the company providing the photo ops states there are no refunds unless a guest cancels. Will they make exceptions due to the circumstances? That is unknown. You can contact them through their website at http://www.wolfstudiosphotography.com to see if they can do anything for you.
Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.
Don’t Let This Scare You Away from Cons
While the situation on Saturday was frustrating and certainly regrettable, these things do happen at many conventions. While a bigger venue would help avoid this situation in the future, past Monster Mania cons have been enjoyable experiences. Hopefully the show runners will take steps to avoid problems in the future.
Other conventions have had similar issues. Walker Stalker Con had their New Jersey show temporarily inaccessible due to overcrowding and their latest London show, which was held the same weekend as Monster Mania 39, was plagued by issues that reportedly left attendees waiting outside for up to 5 hours. Conventions all around the country and world have had difficulties on occasion with crowd and line control. Most conventions do learn from these mishaps and take steps to avoid them in the future. While some accuse show runners of greed and disregard for their attendees, those who wish to continue having events realize that a short term gain will not help them with return customers. Show runners who concentrate on short term gains have a tendency to fail quickly. Monster Mania has been around for many years and I’m sure they wish to be around for many more. We will have to see what adjustments they will make for future shows, but we can be confident they don’t want a repeat of the events of Monster Mania 39.
Don’t let these bad experiences turn you off to conventions. For many, these are fun filled events where they get to meet their favorite stars, find amazing merchandise, reconnect with friends and enjoy the camaraderie of fandom. Bad experiences are the exception, not the rule.
That being said, we hope to see you on the con floor.