Fandom conventions are big business these days. When San Diego Comic-Con launched in 1970 it had 300 attendees. In 2017, 135,000+ people and 728 exhibitors showed up.
As Rob Salkowitz, Author Comic-Con & the Business of Pop Culture, explains for Affinio, “Extravagant festivals celebrating comics, gaming, manga/anime and pop culture have gone from being ‘nerd niche’ to ‘peak geek:’ the most popular events in the burgeoning ‘experience economy’ and drivers of more than $4 billion in economic activity in North America alone.”
Gaming, anime, and pop-culture cons don’t just draw lots of people. They attract heavily invested fans who are highly knowledgeable about the subject matter, passionate about the experience and totally devoted to the success of your event.
Knowing those fans — and what’s important to them — is key for fandom convention organizers to improve their event experience. Based on data Eventbrite has unearthed over the past five years, as well as third-party research, here’s what we know about the cons’ biggest fans.
1. Fans can’t get enough of live events
The massive growth in fandom events makes sense when you consider that 85% of people identify as fans of something. That number climbs to 97% for those in the 18-24 range, according to data by “fanthropologist” and fandom expert Susan Kresnicka.
According to a survey of 2,600+ fandom convention-goers, most fandom attendees have more than one passion. On average these fans identified as “super fans” of 3.2 different pop culture categories, like Sci-Fi, fantasy, genre movies, and gaming.
With so many passions, it’s no surprise that fan conventions draw devoted repeat customers. 80% of respondents routinely attend two or more fandom events a year, and 17% attend at least five. Over half have been attending cons for three years or more. Once you attract fans to one of your events, it will be easy to get them to show up for other fandom activities.
2. Fans aren’t split along gender lines
Historically men have dominated fandom events, but attendance is now squarely split between men and women. In 2015, Forbes reported data showing that the new ratio was squarely even. And under age 40, females actually dominated at 51%.
This shift is likely partly due to efforts to make comic cons welcoming to women, and partly an expansion of pop culture categories represented at cons. According to Eventbrite’s survey, men prefer comic, podcast, and gaming conventions, while women tend to gravitate toward fantasy, sci-fi, and anime events.
3. Fans come to cons to shop
One of the main reasons fans attend cons is to buy swag related to their passion. In fact, nearly 70% of surveyed fans named shopping as their top motivation for attending, and that priority was shared across genres, genders and fan demographics.
Most fans spend between $100 to $500 at conventions — not including tickets, lodging, food, and parking. Super fans who attend at least three fandom events per year spend even more: 63% of them spend over $500. They don’t always stick to their budgets; 35% admitted to routinely blowing it. But they typically walk away with memories and memorabilia.
And we’re not talking about cheap trinkets. New or collectible comic items, toys, and figurines are some of the most popular items to buy at cons. They also spend money on clothing, t-shirts, toys and collectible items like books and comics. One less popular purchase? Cosplay gear. Even for attendees of anime and manga events, less than a quarter buy cosplay gear at the event, since it’s more common to arrive already done up in a DIY costume.
4. Fans go to cons for the community
Aside from the opportunity to buy cool stuff, fans flock to cons for another reason: the social component. In our 2013 survey, 65% of the respondents cited “meet new friends” as a major motivator. More than half said they like to bring their families, and 43% were curious to meet online friends IRL.
Then there are the 15% who say they look for love at cons. Manga, anime, and specialty (for example, brony or steampunk) fans were most interested in this aspect of cons, with 24% looking for romance. Some cons have even incorporated this desire into their planning, and are now hosting speed-dating sessions at cons.
5. For fans, bigger cons aren’t always better
Just a few years ago, San Diego Comic Con was the only con that attracted more than 100,00 attendees. Now, New York Comic Con rivals it with a record 180,000 tickets sold last year. The 11 largest anime conventions in North America hosted a combined 374,936 people in 2016.
Cons are getting bigger, but are they getting better? Fans have a love/hate relationship with big shows. Half of surveyed attendees say big cons can be fun — but are also stressful. And 11% of respondents say they’re done with big shows and stick to smaller festivals and meet-ups.
One of the reasons fans shy away from bigger events? Disorganization. Of fans who spend the most at cons (over $1000), 55% complained about disorganized events. Organizers: if you want these folks coming back and spending more, make sure you make organization a top priority.
Tapping into what drives fans’ attendance can help you strategize your next fandom event. Discovery more original research about fans’ preferences and best practices for your fan convention in this complete guide to what fans want at cons.