More than 2,000 people attended Fort Collins' second annual Comic Con conference the last weekend of August, bringing together enthusiasts of comics, movies, science fiction and fantasy to celebrate their love of comics and art. “It's 75 percent managing spreadsheets while wearing a cape,” says Nick Armstrong, co-organizer of the event. The original Comic-Con started in San Diego in 1970, though events are now held around the world.
But what does it cost to organize a comic convention, and how do organizers keep expenses under control? We spoke with Armstrong to find out.
Organizing Comic Con: What it Costs
Every Comic Con differs in size and scale, says Armstrong. The budget for Fort Collins Comic Con is $30,000 to $40,000. “We just have a few big line items,” he says.
By far the biggest expense is the venue fee, which was $14,000 this year. The second biggest expense is the celebrity guests who will help attract people to the event. “We have to meet [an income] guarantee for them. If we don't, that comes out of pocket,” says Armstrong. “That's probably the most complex expense because we don't know how many people are going to get autographs and pictures with the guests, so we have to budget for the what ifs.”
Then there are “four-digit expenses,” such as printing (badges, posters, vinyl banners and more), venue fees for related events (e.g., Nerd Prom), table rental, security, food and gifts for volunteers.
Comic Con makes money from booth rentals and badge prices, but the organizers have made a deliberate decision to keep both low. Booths are $50, compared to $250 or more at a similar Comic Cons elsewhere, which makes it easier for the exhibitors to break even. Badge prices are $20, so entire families can enjoy themselves for the price of a single-entry ticket elsewhere. “When badge prices are low [attendees] can buy more art and everybody leaves happier,” Armstrong says.
So how do Comic Con organizers keep costs under control? Armstrong has a few tips:
4 Tips for Containing Costs:
- Compare apples to apples. Many vendors create package deals that include items the organizers don't need. “You have to be good at documenting what you need, your systems and processes. That way you can avoid getting some of those extras added in,” Armstrong stresses.
- Ask exhibitors to contribute. Fort Collins Comic Con organizers ask artists to bring their own chairs and decorate their own booths. Those two items alone can wipe $1,000 off the final cost.
- Solicit volunteers. While volunteers can be a huge cost for some Comic Cons, in Fort Collins, people volunteer for the love of it — and the occasional free pizza at meetings. They make a huge difference to the event's success, Armstrong says. “When you bring that many passionate people together, they're going to do a lot of cool things. In this case, they are helping us raise money for the Poudre River Public Library District. “
- Get sponsors and partners with similar values. “Wherever you can, ask for help and ask if their values align with yours. That's the easiest way to get people to help you out and reduce your expenses,” he says.
Local Partnerships Keep Costs Down
The organizers are also committed to improving childhood literacy, so Fort Collins Comic Con partners with the Poudre River Public Library District. In turn, the Library District supports the event by including special comic collections in every library. These are curated by local comic book stores, which also serve as outlets for ticket collection, reducing overhead and labor costs for the organizers.
The Library District also helps the organizers manage their finances, allowing the Comic Con to benefit from special rates for nonprofits.
“Our sponsors pretty much allow us to break even. That means all of the badge sales can go to the Poudre River Library District as a donation to support childhood literacy. Last year, we raised $15,000 for the library. This year, we raised $30,000.”
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional freelance writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website and Twitter.