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About traveling conventions...

kevin_standlee and fr_john have both recently brought up the question of WorldCon and NASFiC dates, and as a side-note, the question of Westercon in the first place.

I don't think there's any serious debate about whether WorldCon should continue, but there have been serious discussions about the viability of NASFiC and Westercon. Some pretty respectable folks have been making arguments that one or both should fold.

For those of you who don't know, NASFiC is the North American Science Fiction Convention. It takes place in years that WorldCon is off the North American continent. There was one this year in Seattle because WorldCon was in Glasgow.

It got some pretty mediocre reviews. It got no glowing reviews.

So what's up with that? Well, for a lot of people, it's the "also ran" convention. "Oh, I can't go to WorldCon, because international travel is too expensive, so I'll go to NASFiC." It doesn't have the resonance that "WorldCon" does. It's smaller than the area's annual local convention. Why go?

There's going to be another one in St. Louis in 2007 (when WorldCon is in Yokohama). A few folks rattled some cages when, at the last minute, they came in with a bid to run NASFiC in San Jose as a small relaxacon on the way to Yokohama. I've got some issues with how this all played out, but when one of the biggest complaints about the Seattle NASFiC this year was "It was designed for 4 times the attendance it garnered" there is perhaps a grain of a good idea inside it.

I had an excellent time at the '99 NASFiC in Anaheim, but I think St. Louis has a lot of work ahead of itself to be more than just another "also ran." I'm not sure NASFiC can ever get out from under that, and I don't think that we're well-served by another big, complicated small convention. I'm looking forward to St. Louis, but if they can't pull the rabbit out of the hat, perhaps NASFiC should go.

Westercon is a different animal. It's the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference, and while the name still says "West Coast" it's much more a regional western phenomenon, with the last two years in Phoenix and Calgary (hardly coastal). It's an annual event, not just from time to time when the stars are in the right configurations.

Westercon has been suffering many of the same problems that NASFiC has. The last Seattle Westercon was also characterized as "Norwescon Lite" (Norwescon is Seattle's annual convention and draws over 2000 people) and ran in a hotel much bigger than necessary. I'd say it's a Seattle thing, but Phoenix was smaller than either of the local annual conventions, and Calgary was only bigger than their local because they've never had a convention over 400 people.

The thing is, Westercon shouldn't be thought of as an "also ran;" it's not. It's not the alternative to anything. It's got decades of solid continuing tradition and defines itself in regional character. Recent committees haven't done a great job executing that, though.

Westercon has to be worthwhile to local fans; it needs to promote itself as bringing something special to the area in the form of guests, presenters and out-of-town members who aren't available for local cons, but will come to a Westercon because it is Westercon. It needs to promote itself as bring local flavor to Westercon so guests, presenters and out-of-town members will see something more than just "It's a Westercon."

San Diego and San Jose get to battle this over the next two years.

Except for San Diego Comic-Con (the 800 pound gorilla of a convention), San Diego (like Calgary) doesn't have any big local conventions, so they don't have to worry about being anything "lite." They do have to worry about drawing out-of-town members who haven't been to San Diego in recent memory and locals who don't know about the fannish convention scene.

San Jose is going to have a real fight to not just be "BayCon Lite." BayCon is 2400 people, bigger than Westercon has been in years, and it's only a month before WesterCon. They've got a great base of people who already come to a convention in San Jose, but they've got to convince these people to go to WesterCon (so they don't end up like Seattle has twice). They're also going to have to work with the other conventions in the Bay Area (and there are quite a lot of them) to bring a more general "South Bay" feel that will bring folks who aren't BayCon attendees.

If there isn't a revitalization of NASFiC and Westercon by 2007, I'm probably jumping on the "None of the Above" bandwagon for both of them.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 15th, 2005 04:57 pm (UTC)
Yep; while I campaigned for rules changes that make it a bit easier for Northern and Central California to host Westercon than it has been since 1989, I am worried about the long-term viability of Westercon. Like you, I think that if Westercon 60/Gnomeward Bound turns into "BayCon Lite," then the point of holding the convention is getting lost and we should have more discussions on why we even bother holding it.
Sep. 15th, 2005 05:32 pm (UTC)
It's Ben Yalow's fault.

I talked extensively with Michael about this. My big suggestion was to negotiate with the other annual conventions in the area, and designate a section of the party floor as "Main Street SFbay" where those conventions could run hospitality spaces that featured activites like the Conversion folks did in Calgary (only get them to opt-in instead of opt-out). If they can come to an understanding with FurCon, SiliCon, Fanime, BASFA and a few others this would be a selling point for locals involved in those orgs (they would have somewhere they knew they could fit in) and for out-of-town folks who have always been interested but never gone.

I also made this suggestion to Jim, but San Diego doesn't have quite the fanfunction base to make this happen; they could, though, also invite LA groups.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:08 pm (UTC)
Please refresh my memory, as I don't recall any conversation along these lines.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
It was late in the con, and late at night. We might have been a little inebriated. That or I talked about this with Sandra and you weren't present.

You're in a good position if you wanted to do a "Main Street San Diego" area; I expect that many local organizations and cons would be amenable to working with Conzilla. Don't know if they have the resources (money or people) but if they do...
Sep. 15th, 2005 07:32 pm (UTC)
Sep. 15th, 2005 08:10 pm (UTC)
I'll admit, the hospitality and social aspects of a convention are what really get me these days, which is why I'm pushing this idea.

But it really boils down to the basic question: What does San Diego (or San Jose) bring to Westercon besides a hotel and an airport? You've been working hard, and Conrad is really cute, but what I think is going to get Westercon's momentum going again among a greater fanbase is bringing what's special and exciting about local fannish culture to WesterCon. Site selection voters think about this (mostly in looking at and voting for the committee rather than the city; the Nolacon lesson was well-learned) but there could be real benefit to working the related angles to the other prospective attendees.
Sep. 15th, 2005 07:47 pm (UTC)
The trend has been that Westercons held in cities with large regionals invariably are smaller than that regional.

I think its time to move Westercon to smaller towns, if only we could convince local fandom to help. At Bubonicon many people were glad we came and remember the (of all places) El Paso Westercon fondly, they have no interest in bidding for one. The did say they would attend a Westercon in Alburquerque though. And Denver/Colorado Springs were serious about bidding Westercon until the armtwisting in Chicago resulted in the Denver Worldcon bid.

At this time I would say that Westercon will draw at least 650 attendees for San Diego and 1000 for San Jose. Phoenix should get about 800 and Vegas 500, whichever one wins.
Sep. 15th, 2005 05:06 pm (UTC)
San Diego Westercon also has a unique problem that the Worldcon is in Los Angeles less than two months later. Folks might not be able to travel to both. I had a similar problem when I did all the parties for the Westercon in LA in 2002 - the Worldcon was in San Jose that year and many folks couldn't do both. It's not an insurmountable obstacle, it's just an obstacle.

I don't want to see Westercons die, either, as I rather like them, myself. Moreso than NASFIC. I admit that Ed and I went to NASFIC because we had committee positions; otherwise we might not have done it. But we drove up with a third person from LA, and roomed with two others, so our expenses were on the low end.

I'm not sure that the Seattle hotel(s) and convention center could have handled four times the attendees, though! At least the elevators in the convention center couldn't have!
Sep. 15th, 2005 05:18 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I heard about the elevators.

I liked the 2002 LA Westercon (in spite of the strange hotel), but it was kind of sad. The local attendance just wasn't there. It was pretty pure "Westercon old home week." I ran into more ConJose folks (getting in their last bit of promotion or their last bit of rest depending on their jobs) there than I did random LA fans. Not that Phoenix or Calgary did much better (well, Calgary did better, but as I said, their conventions are small so it's moot), but we're not going to survive as a big regional with that kind of attendance.
Sep. 15th, 2005 05:24 pm (UTC)
of the two, I have to say I thought Phoenix was worse, and I didn't even see all the local AZ fans that I know at that Westercon, and that was weird. Like you said, it was just mostly 'Westercon old home week'.

Calgary seemed like there were more locals there, but that was probably because (again) I had a committee position and was working with some of the other committee, which wasn't just the same old faces (not meant in a bad way). Also, the dealer's room was filled with new dealers (to me) so that made it seem different.

Of course, I kind of hung out with the same people I know for meals and such, and the parties seemed small so there wasn't much chance to meet new local fans, other then happening to work on the committee.
Sep. 15th, 2005 05:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, Phoenix was really bad at convincing locals to attend. About all I saw were the committee members and the Soutwest Costumers Guild folks. Calgary did have plenty of western Canadians, but they would have been lost in a bigger Westercon.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:08 pm (UTC)
Phoenix was as big as or bigger than any of their local conventions. Phoenix had several problems that contributed to low attendance. First, its Phoenix in July. Many regular Westercon folks didn't go because of temperature. Second, it was at a remote location not well serviced by public transportation. This affected a lot of folks in Phoenix fandom. Third, Phoenix also ran World Horror and World Fantasy in 2004, and the wear and tear on the committee's endurance was telling.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:39 pm (UTC)
I didn't realize that their locals were all that small.

Then again, I lived in Milwaukee, a pretty large metro area that couldn't keep a convention running without it shrinking and collapsing.

And yeah, the wear-and-tear on Phoenix fandom in 2004 was a bit ridiculous. I think they were crazy to bid and win all of those the same year.
Sep. 16th, 2005 11:58 am (UTC)
and when I lived in Cleveland, it was the same problem. We had a good sized con once every three years or so, and then tiny ones that were just a dealer's room, basically, and some panels and hanging out space. It's weird, as there were tons of fans in Cleveland, they just didn't go to cons! I don't know if it's changed now, but that's the way it was when I lived there.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:12 pm (UTC)
It's so wierd to hear you talk about these "small" cons. I go to slash cons almost exclusively, and 250 is a big crowd for us. I like small cons - it's much easier to meet new people, and the programmings tends to be more participatory. The last really big con I went to was ConFrancisco (Worldcon '91, or maybe '92?), and I didn't really have any fun. I'm looking forward to Conjecture and Condor, the small San Diego cons, and Connextions and Con-Text, the next couple slash cons.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, I adore small conventions that are supposed to be small conventions. I used to go to cons in Iowa that averaged 300-500 memberships and had a great time. These days I go to YaoiCon which is somewhere in that range.

Participation is a focus thing, though, moreso than a scale thing. FurtherConfusion, with 1700 members has the same level of active participation that YaoiCon does at 300 or so.

Westercon and NASFiC haven't really worked at the size they've been the last few years. Part of that is member expectations; when NASFiC or Westercon is 1600 people it should feel like it, not like we're rattling around in a huge empty hotel. We rattled around the SeaTac Doubletree, we rattled around the Wigwam Resort, and we didn't quite rattle around the Westin Calgary (but sometimes it felt emptyish).
Sep. 15th, 2005 10:53 pm (UTC)
For the record, ConFrancisco was the 1993 Worldcon. And it was pretty large, too -- one of the five largest Worldcons to date. ConJose, the 2002 Worldcon in San Jose, was only about 5/7 the size of ConFrancisco.

This small/large thing is very much about expectations. If you expect 2000 and get 200, you're in trouble. You're in almost the same amount of trouble if the reverse is true.
Sep. 15th, 2005 11:16 pm (UTC)
You should go to Gaylaxicon. Not that I have a vested interest in getting as many folks there as possible. :)
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:33 pm (UTC)
NASFiC has never made much sense to me & kinda seems a bit ethnocentric. I don't travel in general for cons, & if I was going to, it'd be for a *real* WorldCon, not some North American wanna-be.

I like the idea of WesterCon -- I imagine it as a mid-size regional con, something fancier than yr local con, but not as huge & crazy as a WorldCon. I'm sorry to hear it's not really like that. If anything, I was hoping that WesterCon in SJ would be like BayCon Plus, not Lite.
Sep. 15th, 2005 06:36 pm (UTC)
Believe me, I'm hoping that Westercon in SJ is going to be "BayCon Plus."
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 15th, 2005 07:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and I hope you're committee is solidified, and that NASFiC doesn't eat all your people. At least you're first by quite a few months.
Sep. 15th, 2005 10:22 pm (UTC)
Missed opertunities
We had a chance to do WesterCon 2006 as a part of WorldCon, which they did several times in the past, though I'm told the last time was 1968. It would have been a natural.

I don't think that we should be getting rid of Westercons as long as there are people who want to bid for it. Still, I think a better concept for a Westercon is needed. A RelaxaNASFiC is a good idea, and somethign along those lines with Westercon might work very well.

Sep. 16th, 2005 03:30 am (UTC)
For Westercons, it is really simple - what do people want besides "oh lets move the convention around." What is the purpose? Why would Westercon San Jose draws more or even different people than San Jose? In other words, is there an identity to Westercons besides travelling cons?

If not, then may be it is time to fold it. Some suggestions - make it into a huge relaxicon, or cons that place emphasis on (writing, media, costuming, arts, whatever). Some sort of things than make fen, go, ah, Westercon, a good place to do XY and Z, regardless of locale.
Sep. 16th, 2005 03:25 pm (UTC)
I wonder if you are factoring in economics cycles. (Sorry to bring up politics, but....) Before 2000, my personal finances had more discretionary money. Since 2001, my personal finances have not afforded as many conventions as I would like.

Westercon has not been a priority when the cost of travel is too high. Such as this year or the year it was in Hawaii (as much as I wanted to go to Hawaii, I just couldn't afford it).

Phoenix suffered last year for a variety of reasons.(And Phoenix in July is a HARD sell any year);) This year I just couldn't afford to go to Seattle.

I think with as much promotion and energy the San Diego Concom have been giving the process, I am much more optimist for next year.

I think that we may be a little premature in discussing whether Westercon should continue. But that is just my opinion.
Sep. 19th, 2005 11:01 am (UTC)
The problem is even with the hard promoting we have done for Conzilla it apparently hasn't been to the right base. Our membership count at the moment is 300 where we were expecting ~450 at this point. With ComicCon two weeks after Westercon we won't have the RPGA attendance that ConDor gets because ComicCon is their big event on the west coast. With AnimeExpo the same weekend in L.A. we won't get the Anime fans either. We do have some plans to boost the fan base and attract some young adults and military personnel, but we're looking at under 1000 attendance; less than the 1998 Westercon in San Diego.
Sep. 19th, 2005 12:26 pm (UTC)
The difficulty I see (and by no means Conzilla's fault) is that Westercon doesn't really have a base anymore. Westercon's base is now the folks who travel heavily to cons already, and that's not that large of a group.

It's similar to the problem Costume-Con has; we've got a base, but it's maybe 100 people, and probably only half that makes every year.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )