The Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve convention that took over the Sheraton Hotel Dallas at the end of the year wasn’t so marvelous for its parent company. Thanks to poor execution of the four-day event, which featured Stan Lee as the main draw along with 40 other big names in the comic book world, Geek Expos is now out of business.
Future events have been removed from Geek Expos’ website and Devin Pike, who was contracted by the company to serve as the public face of Marvelous Nerd Year’s Eve and take the lead on programming, told the Observer Geek Expos’ board of directors has folded the company, although no bankruptcy or other such motion has yet been filed with the Oklahoma state government. (The company is based in Tulsa.)
So what went wrong? Volunteers and vendors have plenty of complaints, the most prominent being that the organizers guaranteed attendance beyond what they could deliver.
“The failure of MNYE was ultimately ‘death by a thousand cuts,’” Brad Roan, volunteer team lead, says. “I think the deepest cut was the poor attendance. [Geek Expos] grossly overestimated the number of attendees and their inexperience when negotiating room rates with the hotel was the killer.”
Roan say that the discounted rate Geek Expos negotiated with the Sheraton was contingent upon 8,000 people attending the event, whereas the final count was about 4,000. The blog Comics Beat reported that when this poor turnout became apparent, the Sheraton revoked the discount and attendees risked getting kicked out of their rooms if Geek Expos didn’t pay the difference.
“Out of professional courtesy we do not disclose contractual obligations to the public. We can tell you that although the attendance was not what was anticipated, we did enjoy hosting the event,” Ted LePak, customer relationship coordinator for the hotel, says. “Our team was professional and provided an excellent venue and experience for all the attendees, volunteers and meeting planners. We look forward to a favorable resolution of any outstanding accounts with Geek Expos.”
As a lead, Roan was able to get his room comp’d, although he says he is still watching his credit card after hearing of several people who ended up with room charges on the card they used for incidentals.
One vendor, who asked to remain anonymous, said Geek Expos told her attendance was expected to be 10,000 when she decided to purchase a “premium booth” which promised prime placement in the exhibitor hall.
“We saw numerous people walk into our booth with bags already full of the same product that we sell that they bought elsewhere [in standard non-premium booths],” she says. “We watched the traffic flow, so we knew those people reached us last. Several other vendors stopped by our booth to let us know that a number of celebrities got stiffed and weren’t paid, that Geek Expos dissolved and that they lied to everyone about attendance numbers. They told vendors that they sold 9,000 Saturday-only passes plus another 6,000 four-day passes.”
One celebrity guest who lost money on the event was Star Trek writer David Gerrold, who took to Facebook to slam Geek Expos for “criminal incompetence.” He says the company failed to compensate him for his travel expenses as promised, and that they stymied his efforts to make up for the loss with merch sales.
“I am particularly angry at the CFO of the convention who lied to my face, three times — that he had a check for me for my travel expenses (I’d already turned in my receipts) — when he already knew damn well that the convention was so far in the hole that the hotel was about to lock all of the guests out of their rooms because the convention couldn’t cover the lodging bills,” his post read.
Many of the convention’s issues were supposedly left to unpaid volunteers to handle. Another complaint voiced in a heated exchange on the Rate That Comic Con Facebook group was the overselling of the few popular events, such as the roast of Stan Lee and NYE parties, which resulted in major capacity problems. Roan says volunteers were even pulled from their regular duties to check IDs after the Sheraton threatened to shut things down if Geek Expos didn’t take responsibility for carding guests.
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The list of discrepancies continued with complaints about a way-too-accessible exhibitors hall. After voicing his concerns to volunteer coordinators and show management, Roan was told that hall security was the responsibility of the hotel.
“Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise and art work were being protected by one security guard that walked each floor once per hour,” Roan says. “Did I mention that anyone could wander into the hotel from off the street, sans room key, and get into the convention hall by crossing the sky bridge? As a result, many of our unpaid volunteers ended up working 20-hour days to secure those areas against theft and chase off the homeless that tried using the convention hall as a crash pad.”
The anonymous vendor said questionable management decisions continued for the duration of the event.
“Exactly at 5 p.m., as the show closed, all staff disappeared,” she says. “There was nobody directing loading out, nobody putting the plastic down on the carpet for all the cars that were brought in, nobody helping, nobody monitoring the floor. [Geek Expos] left a lot of people unhappy, and now there’s nowhere to complain and to ask for a refund on our premium fees.”