Convention Report: Would You Pay To Attend A Panel?

Conventions GeekMom
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America The First Avenger. Image from Flickr user Ronald Woan, Creative Commons.

Last week, MegaCon held in Orlando, Florida, announced a paid panel with celebrity guests from Doctor Who. The fans were screaming about the fact that there was a panel during convention hours charging a fee (and $25 per person at that). My first thought was that if a panel is going to be a ticketed event, it should be held after convention hours. Realizing that might not fit in the media guests’ schedule, I guess that can’t always work out.

On Monday, MegaCon released this statement on their Facebook page:

Good evening everyone. We would like to address the many comments that have been brought up in regards to the announcement of the Doctor Who Special Event for MegaCon 2015.

This event was requested on behalf of the media guests participating in this special event for the fans of Doctor Who. Like all the media guests that attend our show, we do not set or control the pricing for their autograph fee, photo ops, or any special programming outside of what we offer with the cost of admission into MegaCon.

Please remember, this is a special event outside of the many events that we offer to you with the cost of your admission into the show. We encourage you to check out our regular schedule of events, which will be available next week, which include panels from the media and comic book guests and other free activities such as card and tabletop gaming, video gaming and costume contest…”

I applaud MegaCon for answering their fans’ concerns with the reasoning behind the charge. And with that statement in mind, we can no longer be upset at the convention, but instead at the celebrities who want to charge us to bask in their glow. I guess they need to make up the money they are going to spend at Disney World while they are here.

After realizing that the convention is not the ones charging but instead it’s the guests themselves, I started to wonder… How long until this becomes standard? Are there circumstances when paying for a panel wouldn’t be a burden to fans, but instead, be helpful?

Thanks to a discussion with my husband on this subject, I realized there are times when a ticketed panel during con hours makes sense.

I’ll use MegaCon as an example.

The convention is open for around eight hours per day for three days. During that time, panels are running from open to close. Meanwhile, the vendors’ room is also open, gaming is happening, speed dating running, cosplayers are wondering the halls waiting for photographers to catch them in all their glory, the costume contest is going on, autograph signings, photography opportunities, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile, hundreds of convention-goers wait in lines for panels and miss out on all of the other fun that is happening. Why? Because there is no other system for guaranteeing them a seat in the room where their favorite celebrities are going to be.

While those hundreds of people are waiting in lines, the convention itself could be losing money because those people are not out spending money in the vendor room, getting autographs, or taking pictures with the cosplayers. Some of those waiting in line for panels probably had to make the choice between getting a scheduled photo-op or going to the panel.

For those like myself that already have high anxiety at conventions, I physically can’t sit in a crowded line to get into an even more crowded room (my heart is racing right now at that very thought). I would love to attend one, but because of this disability, it just can’t happen.

In short, both sides lose. Convention-goers don’t get to see everything because of having to wait and the convention loses because those people are not on the floor spending money or going to the other activities that the convention had to pay to have there.

There is a solution though.

Let’s say the more popular panels that are held in the higher capacity rooms, charge for the first 10 rows. $10 per person sounds reasonable. For that $10, you get a guaranteed seat and that frees you up to go about your business around the convention while you wait for the panel to start. If you don’t want to pay, you don’t have to, but you are also put in a position to wait for hours in a line.

If you want to go a step further, charge $20 to sit in the first five rows and give people the option to pay $10 to get a guaranteed spot in the room. Those with tickets are allowed in first and everyone who wanted to wait, goes in after. To give everyone a fighting chance to get in, don’t sell as many tickets as there are seats. That way, anyone that just can’t afford to pay, doesn’t have to worry about not getting a spot. They just go about business as usual, waiting in line.

I know this adds one more expense to an already expensive convention, but think about how much this would help conventions like DragonCon, San Diego Comic Con, and other big names out there.

It’s a borderline security hazard to have people sleeping in the halls waiting to get into a panel. On top of that, think of all the things people miss at those larger conventions by sitting for hours waiting for a panel.

I can already hear you yelling at the computer screen, “But Dakster! What if they get greedy and charge more every year?”

There’s a solution to that as well.

Instead of pocketing the money, I propose that the convention donates all of the panel ticket money to a charity. This way, everyone wins and a charity is helped in the process. To add to their press, at the end of the convention, they could announce how much money was raised for the chosen charity. (The Hero Initiative would be my pick.)

This won’t work for every convention or every panel, but it’s an idea that could grow into something that not only benefits the convention in terms of good press, but also helps the fans get more out of their ticket by not being held up in a line for a panel instead of enjoying the rest of the convention.

What do you think? Are there times when you would be willing to pay a small fee to get into a panel or would you rather just take your chances and wait in the line with everyone else?

Let me know in the comments!

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12 thoughts on “Convention Report: Would You Pay To Attend A Panel?

  1. Dragon Con already has a solution that doesn’t involve paying more. Lines can’t form more than one panel in advance (or one hour earlier if there’s not a previous panel), and rooms are completely cleared between panels.

    1. True, but as anyone who has attended DragonCon knows, there are always “unofficial” lines for the biggest guests that start much earlier. It’s just a fact of the bigger cons. Not saying it’s good, but it’s either that or complete anarchy will ensue.

      1. That’s not been my experience the last few years since the policy changed. I see those attempts broken up regularly. I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but I’ve been going for 13 years, and it’s improved dramatically.

  2. Wizard World charges for “premium” panels as well. I don’t like this new trend. I know some offer VIP packages that offer first row/prime seating (NYCC comes to mind) and that I’m fine with. But attending conventions is already expensive. I don’t want to have to pay for a panel on top of everything else.

    1. Denver Comic Con also has a VIP option. It sold out very quickly, perhaps because DCC’s VIP option ($150) costs about the same as 3 days of “Basic Badges” at SDCC.

  3. The part that gets me is that it’s the media guests that requested this panel be a paid event. It seems a bit unreasonable, but maybe their apperance fee doesn’t cover all their expenses. I’d hate to think it’s because they just want more money.

  4. I’ve always wondered why these celebrity panels aren’t hard-ticket events. It’s unreasonable and unsafe (fire hazard regs) to make fans wait in line for hours on end for a possibile seat. Priority seating for VIP passholders and those needing ADA accommodation with their tickets is perfectly acceptable, but if anyone wants in, they should have a ticket. I also think these should be available pre-show. Will they sell out? Sure. But at least chaos will not completely reign onsite.

    1. I think that’s a good idea. Similar to how many Washington, DC museums will issue free tickets ahead of time, first come, first serve. For use to come back at a later time. If you don’t have a ticket, you don’t get in. Kind of like the (former) Walt Disney World Fast Passes.

  5. I’m mixed on this too. We paid for a Star Trek TNG event at Montreal Comic con last year with most of the crew BUT the moderator was horrible & really stifled back & forth banter. Many of the panelists had smaller panels throughout the con weekend (with 1-3 of them instead of the 6-7 paid event) and even the panelists commented about it the next day feeling that fans were ripped off. However I’d gladly pay $10-20 (no more than that since we’re a family of 4 and that adds up!) to spare camping out in line, stressing out and would especially appreciate if it’s going to charity.

  6. I call BS on the spiel – in Australia, fans pay an entry fee to the Con along with additional fees for photos, signatures, VIP, etc. Panels are NOT additional costs – they are free. But where I think the BS comes in is who sets the fees. Recently Nathan Fillion was in Australia at Supanova. His signature costs were pretty damn high – however, both his and his “buddy behind the desk” said they don’t set the fees; it’s a convention organisers thing. So exactly WHO does set the fee? And why isn’t it standard across the board?

    1. From what I understand, it’s per convention. MASSive Con had an issue with Richard Dreyfuss about money at their con last year. They offered him a certain amount of money with the ability to set his own autograph prices and keep that money. I’ve heard that when it comes to someone like Stan Lee, the convention pays him to be there and then they set his autograph and picture prices to make up that money. I’m guessing his fee for something like MegaCon in Orlando is different than San Diego, because his autograph fluctuates. Then again, pictures at the table are again something that the celebrity decides and sets. I guess it all depends on what is in the rider on their contract on who gets what.

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