Almost All Conventions Straight-Up Lie About Attendance

My favorite convention in the entire world, PAX, has committed to Boston for three more years. I have attended the past three PAXes, and have spoken at all three. I plan to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They have apparently just signed a deal to keep PAX East in Boston for three more years.

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Reed Exhibitions, event organizer for the video gaming convention Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), signed an agreement recently that will bring the Seattle-based show back to the East Coast for at least the next three years.

In its first year at the Hynes Convention Center in March, PAX East drew nearly 60,000 gaming players and developers over the course of the sold-out three-day event.

Video gaming conference PAX East commits to hub for three years

The only problem I have with this at all is the single lie. The lie is the sentence that says “PAX East drew nearly 60,000 gaming players and developers….” This is simply not the case. If someone goes to PAX East for the entire three day weekend, they are counted three times. I do not know their exact counting methodology, but they may also be counting staff, exhibitors, guests, and others in addition to the paying attendees.

I don’t mean to pick on PAX, my favorite convention of all. I go to a lot of conventions, and almost all of them tell the exact same lie. San Diego Comic Con, CES, New York Comic-Con, New York Anime Festival, E3, and more. All of these major conventions count attendance by turnstile. It throws the numbers off even more when you have a four day convention like SDCC, excuse me, Comic-Con International.

That being said, there are many conventions out there that do not lie at all. Otakon is a convention to note in this regard. All of the Otakon event stats are publicly available. I know for a fact that the attendance number they give is exact. It counts each human body exactly once. It does not count staff, exhibitors, etc. It only counts legitimate attendees once.

Perhaps, though, if the big conventions refuse to stop this farce, conventions like Otakon should begin to lie. If Otakon were to count turnstile, they could boast nearly 100,000 attendees, completely dwarfing even a big con like PAX. I have been to both Otakon and PAX several times. Without a doubt, Otakon is much larger in terms of physical space and population. There is no comparison when it comes to size. Comparing other factors is another matter entirely.

The thing is, I’m not even really picky here. If these articles about attendance would change their wording, I would have no cause to complain. For example, this article says “…60,000 players and developers.” That is a lie. They could have said something like “…an attendance figure of nearly 60,000.” That would be a true statement using the same number.

Imagine if you had a baseball stadium that seated 30,000 people. You sold it out every game. Assuming half of the 162 games are played at home, that’s 81 games. That’s 2,430,000 tickets sold. That’s well and good. However, if the stadium said that they “welcomed over 2,430,000 people this year”, that would be false. It is obvious that most of the tickets are held by season ticket holders. It’s the same butt in the seat every night. Assuming half the seats are season tickets, and the rest of the seats are never return visitors, that’s 1,230,000 unique people. These aren’t slight discrepancies we’re talking about here. These are numbers that are way off.

Now, you might ask what harm this lie does. Well, it is a harm to the conventions that do not lie. PAX gets lots of attention, far more than Otakon, and for many reasons. But perhaps if advertisers and the industry knew the true size of Otakon, they would pay it more attention. Perhaps some fans out there are deciding which convention to go to. Maybe they prefer big, or maybe they prefer small. Either way, they will make the wrong decision based on false information. Perhaps a business is deciding which convention to exhibit at. They will spend their money inefficiently at a smaller convention which lies, when they could perhaps get more bang for the buck at a truthful convention which is in fact larger.

We need to have some standard way of measuring event attendance. If we allow events to continue deciding their own attendance numbers based on whatever metric they decide upon, there will be no objectivity and no equal point of comparison. At the very least, the events should publish their attendance metric along with their figures to make it clear exactly how they are counting. Ideally, just cut the crap. Tell us the number of badges sold. As Otakon has shown, you know that exact number with an incredibly small margin of error, perhaps zero. If you want to brag about attendance, at least brag the truth. The true figures are still quite impressive, just let us compare apples to apples.

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3 Responses to Almost All Conventions Straight-Up Lie About Attendance

  1. Dave Merrill says:

    I wouldn’t call six conventions “almost all.” There are plenty of anime conventions whose attendance figures are accurately reported in terms of both “people who paid to get into the convention” and an additional figure that includes staff, guests, dealers, and complimentary passes.

    Turnstile numbers are a carryover from theme parks and industry shows (like E3). Some fan conventions choose to use the turnstile numbers, because it might be a more professional figure to give convention centers and city officials. Also, because it makes their show look larger. Conventions that are honest about their attendance should always make their numbers available in terms of “we sold X number of badges”, which in my mind is a much more accurate reflection of the interest in any given convention.

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  3. mike burke says:

    i see little research re trends in convention center construction and attendance. it sems that the more we build, the LESS they come . is this true? i’d like to be able to prove it

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