FAN EXPO’S great power and great responsibility

Andrew Moyes
VP Fan Expo Informa Markets, Toronto

Spider-Man, Superman, witches, wizards and white walkers – superheroes, magical beings and villains alike – all gather at our 12 FanExpo shows around Canada and the US. What looked at first glance like the set of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster was actually the newest FanExpo event to join Informa’s business.For those who aren’t familiar with our work, FanExpo is a celebration of fandom for lovers of anime, sci-fi, horror, gaming, comics and more. What began as a really niche community – we estimate just 1,500 people attended the first FanExpo 25 years ago – has become one of North America’s most influential group of events to bring together pop culture fandom. Today, we take over the biggest exhibition centres in major cities across Canada and the US, and we get anything from 15,000 to 140,000 attendees over each weekend. More than half a million fans come through our doors every year. We’re proud of these numbers, of course, but FanExpo HQ’s great power is so much more than just these mind-boggling attendance numbers.

From URL to IRL

We know that for many fans, our events are the most important date in their calendar. Increasingly, we’re seeing digital conversations take place in anticipation of the shows as many attendees use the occasion to cement friendships (which have formed or are maintained online) in real life. This makes for an amazingly special social occasion and creates an exceptional community that we believe wouldn’t thrive as well if we didn’t do our jobs right.

On the opening morning, the lines stretch around the block as people queue for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet the stars of their universe. I hope this goes some way to conveying the electricity you can feel in the frantic five minutes before the doors open. The culmination of months of planning, the hurry of hundreds of exhibitors making finishing touches to their booths, the last-minute logistical problems that bring out the team’s truly superhuman powers as they finesse every last little detail!

Fanning the flames

Everything we do goes towards creating the ultimate experience for the fans: making a safe, inclusive space for people to gather and celebrate together. As our evolving purpose statement says, this is a place to discover, celebrate and belong.The shopping and the stars are important draws, and we’re always looking to make it easier for fans to get to exactly what they want as easily as possible (for example, grouping all the comic stalls in one area). But we also leave room for surprise and delight in a space where strangers can have spontaneous conversations and discover related genres. And we are seeing more multi-genre fans emerge from their experience at our events, who can in turn get more from the show’s range  of features.

In 2019 we’re developing an Ambassador affiliate programme to reward and encourage the most vocal fans to spread the word about our events and, of course, our content. We want to better leverage fan-generated content, and keep creating our own content that draws more people to attend. Most importantly of all, we’re working to better communicate the special nature of the fan experience at our events – not just what you’ll see, or who you’ll meet, but how you’ll feel. That’s the power we want to harness, and the responsibility we feel towards our fans.

Being yourself, whilst dressing as someone else  

“It’s a misconception that costumes are mandatory. The most committed fans spend months planning and creating the most incredible outfits. For some this is about creativity and self-expression. Some are simply having fun. I’ll be there in 2019 wearing my plaid shirt, as usual. But if someone loves dressing up as a character, FanExpo is one of the few places where it is not only accepted, but actively celebrated! It’s a chance for people who care deeply about their craft and their fandom to become part of the show, and be celebrated as heroes within the community they belong to.” - Andrew Moyes