Dax J Martin-Cheeves
A look at FAN EXPO PHILADELPHIA
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
2022 marks the return of live fan-based entertainment. The last big event to hit the city of Philadelphia was Keystone Comic-Con held by ReedPOP in 2019 and made an impact with the sophomore year with their headliner Tom Holland (aka Peter Parker/Spider-Man) making an appearance. That event led to a grand attendance of fans lined up by the thousands to see their favorite friendly neighborhood actor. Other panels like the one I hosted with the "Voices of Overwatch" was also met with a packed crowd on of all days a Sunday which is known to be the day when most convention attendance begin to trickle down as it is the final day. Meanwhile, Wizard World also had their last event that same year and was said to be their last event in Philly. Many fans thought that it was due to ReedPOP coming in and looking to take over the city. Others felt that it was because Wizard World couldn't keep up the expectations that many wanted in their convention experiences.
My first big convention was Wizard World back in 2013 when Stan Lee made an appearance to the "City of Brotherly Love" and for the first time I discovered that conventions could be more than just an event held in a basement-like-setting with people having tables full rare comic books and tape trading import shows of anime or super Sentai series. That was a thing of the past. It could be something of a must-see spectacle event.
For the first few years that is exactly what Wizard World was.
Gallery from Wizard World 2013
However, over the years fans felt that the quality and presentation of Wizard World peaked and began to grow stale with each year becoming less fun and exciting than prior years.
The booths were less than impressive, the guest line up was hit or miss, and it was even said that there was a booth that sold deli meats at some point which is irrelevant to the nature of what the con was intended.
A change was desperately needed in order for the company to continue to flourish.
After 2019 fans thought that we would see the last of the company and that ReedPOP would be the new "king of the cons" in Philadelphia. That is until 2020 hit.
2020 was going to be ReedPOP's junior year with Keystone Comic-Con and was looking to top what they did the prior year. According to former Global Brand Marketing & Creative Director Brian Stephenson (2018) and former Event Director M.K. Goodwin (2019), ReedPOP's objective was to create an experience that would become an equal landmark to that of their more popular conventions like New York Comic-Con, C2E2, and PAX.
But those ambitions were put on an immediate hold when the pandemic hit the world and just like that, everything including ReedPOP's plans for Philly, and more were canceled for almost two years.
As people waited for announcements on whether Keystone Comic-Con would be coming back Philly fans were eager to go out into the real world once again and enjoy a live event to celebrate their favorite fandom(s).
FROM THE ASHES COMES THE PHOENIX
On August 10, 2021, social media was met with an announcement that a new convention would premiere in 2022 in the form of a brand known as FAN EXPO. Fans would also learn that FAN EXPO is from the company formally known as Wizard World rebranded.
The idea and belief for FAN EXPO is to provide a refreshed approach to what they have done with Wizard World by upgrading the quality of what was.
To get fans excited they announced a loaded list of guest appearances from celebrities in the world of anime, comics, movies, games among other pop cultural genres.
FAN EXPO had the unenviable task of being the first to provide the city with an event of this magnitude while the world is still progressing through the pandemic.
In 2021, SDCC, NYCC and ANIME NYC returned with contrasting results for fans. While SDCC and NYCC was a major success despite having to deal with the mask mandates and Covid procedures to assure a safe environment for attendees, ANIME NYC was met with controversy based on issues of organization and preparation for Covid procedures leading into exceptionally long lines, and even being acknowledged as the first trace of a new Covid variant.
The other challenge that all promotional groups must deal with is the lack of MARVEL and DC support. Both Disney and Warner Bros have decided to provide their own big events in the form of D23 and DC FANDOME which are exclusive to their brands which means that neither ReedPOP nor FAN EXPO can benefit from having those main attractions.
A decision many fans disagree with as it stretches fans very thin financially having to choose so many options while not having the money to spend on all of it.
This means that the time we saw Tom Holland in Philly may have been the last time any actor from Marvel Studios will be seen at any convention. It could be contractual or it could be that the price may be too high to acquire them. Yet, if that is the case, it may still be worth it as the result of Tom's appearance in 2019 which resulted in over thousands of attendees lined up to see him.
WHAT IS NEEDED
One major thing FAN EXPO needed to accomplish in their new chapter was the presentation. One of the main complaints about Wizard World was that it didn't fair up to other conventions that were seen in other states like New York, San Diego, and Chicago yet, the company wanted to charge the same amount without giving us similar experiences. FAN EXPO needs to be something totally different than what they did before to convince their target audience that this is not the same gift in different wrapping.
When I traveled to NYCC last year I witnessed a spectacle of an event filled with anime themed showcases put together by Crunchyroll/FUNimation (Sony) that were a sight to see.
The My Hero Academia panel were greatly populated with fans in the Javitz center's new main stage that filled with thousands and can be compared to when fans filled HALL D in the Pennsylvania Convention Center to see Tom Holland in 2019 which was the same location that FAN EXPO was held.
The overall experience felt like a fan's answer to Coachella and that is what Philly fans want to experience for their hard-earned money. With Wizard World now rebranded one would ask what is the difference between what was and what is now? Are we getting a brand-new experience or is this just a name change?
The only other con I could compare NYCC to is in fact SDCC. What's more is that the prices for admission for either of the conventions weren't that far off from what Wizard World/Fan Expo were charging yet there is a contrast in what is provided.
WHAT WE GOT
What fans got from the "freshman" year of the rebranded company was a good start to something great. With every guest announced in attendance (with only a small few that canceled at the last minute), fans were pleased and excited to see their favorites in person.
What was great to see was a lot of newcomers getting their first convention experience and FAN EXPO gave them enough to enjoy and appreciate in their first run of this type of an event. Wizard World always felt like a good prerequisite for events that were like it but lacked that must-go-to feel that other cons had.
While FAN EXPO worked diligently to bring fans more of what we got from Wizard World it still lacked in terms of the presentation and set-up of certain attractions.
The panels were the strong point of the event where fans got to sit down, listen, and ask questions to some of their favorite actors, artists, and more.
Where I believe they could have done better comes in the form of placement. Take the My Hero Academia panels for example.
FAN EXPO - My Hero Academia Panels -
FAN EXPO provided three MY HERO themed panels (with Monica Rial having her own panel) at the event in smaller theater rooms in the PA Convention Center.
The anime has achieved major pop culture status as of last year with the premiere of their latest movie World Heroes Mission which made record setting numbers at the box office more than any anime before it includes Dragon Ball Super Broly. Not to mention it was shown in more theaters than any anime before it.
NYCC - My Hero Academia WHM panel -
The results were proven when ReedPOP hosted a huge panel last year at NYCC that didn't even include the main cast that FAN EXPO acquired. From what I saw at the Javits Center could have been replicated here in Philly in the convention center's EXHIBIT HALL D which held the Tom Holland panel and would have filled up easily.
Keystone Comic-Con 2019 - Tom Holland Panel -
They could have even taken the main stage that hosted other actors like James Marsters or the ever-popular Ming-Na Wing who both appeared on the open main stage that was set in the retailer’s area and not in a closed exhibit hall or large theatre room.
I was never a fan of open paneled areas as it gave me the feeling that it wasn't as special if everyone could see it. Having a "Big event feel" should be disclosed and private much like panels you see in other major con events.
Despite the set-up, the panels were a success, and the guests were very entertaining.
Some of my favorites were the My Hero Panels, Sean Schemmel Q&A, Ming-Na Wing Q&A, , along with the weekend's main attraction with the appearance of the cast of CLERKS along with the Jay and Silent Bob show which did not disappoint.
I enjoyed every one of them as they provided some memorable (and in my case milestone) moments.
And of course, no convention would be complete without the appearance of cosplayers and Philly represented.
The other aspect of FAN EXPO's (or any convention's) success comes in the support of the city the convention is held in. If you ever attended NYCC or SDCC you will not only experience what goes on in the Javits Center and SD Convention center but also what goes on outside as well.
What the two have in common is that their respective cities embrace the fandom(s) that we know and love. In San Diego, their center city completely shuts down giving guest who travel from all over a chance to experience the city as well as the event.
The same goes for New York as both events work alongside their city to extend the experience whether it is at a restaurant near the area or a particular store or hotel you will stay in.
Being able to attend both of those gave me a similar feel and experience I had at Disney World (well, almost).
If our mayor here in Philadelphia would be able to understand the magnitude of what companies like FAN EXPO provide and is willing to work with them to bring in people outside of the city and state that would be beneficial to the city and the promotion involved.
We see this all the time with sporting events like the Super Bowl, World Series, and even wrestling events like WrestleMania.
Comic conventions have more than proven they can bring in some money to a city pending how it is promoted and supported.
Maybe the focus could be directed in how the city can celebrate the fandom as a whole as it is a part of our mainstream pop culture than ever before especially when it comes to billion-dollar anime industry.
OVERALL: FAN EXPO Philly gave fans the proverbial shining light at the end of a very dark 2-year tunnel. The event provided more of the same but better, which is both good and bad.
Despite the rebranding and name change it still had a lot of the essence and feel of Wizard World. As a person who has over two decades of developing brands for clients, I know that changing your brand also means changing in terms of look, feel, presentation, business strategy and philosophy.
I often tell my client that hiring me to develop a logo for your business/brand and/or product doesn't mean that it will match the quality you (the business owner) provided. One will always have to live up to the quality of the logo and with a company rebrand we expect new and better.
Just ask Vince McMahon (owner and founder of WWE and XFL) and Dwayne "The ROCK" Johnson (new owner of the XFL) about the failed football league and brand.
Let us see if FAN EXPO learns from this experience and the past in hopes that we will get a truly new company that is looking to provide the best in our favorite fandom(s).
Because you never know if or when ReedPOP or another major company may come and try to take the throne in Philadelphia.
NOTE: Be sure to check out my TTL EXCLUSIVE with actor Brian O'Halloran as we talk about the impact of CLERKS and what to expect from the much-anticipated CLERKS 3.