As I was touring the new motorsports stadium at Daytona International Speedway last month, one thought kept occurring to me:
We geeks are settling. We’re settling for a fraction of the experience that we could have.
Especially with New York Comic Con.
Attending the Daytona 500 at the new stadium was a far more pleasant experience than attending New York Comic Con last fall. Even though I’m a certified geek and only a casual fan of NASCAR, if you gave me a choice where to take my kids next, I’d pick the speedway.
The short version is that the Jacob K. Javits building sucks as a venue.
It’s too crowded, too noisy, and that kills the fun of over a hundred thousand geeks gathering in the same place. Added to that, there’s a lack of imagination in presentation as well, providing an old-school experience that isn’t up to date with our current connected world.
The long version:
Space to move around. Space to sit down. Space to carry on a conversation with someone. The motor sports stadium at Daytona International Speedway has tons of space. Above is a photo of the main concourse of the stadium during the race.
Do you see the lines for food or bathrooms or seating? No? That’s because aside from lines for the men’s bathrooms (which I assume the stadium will address), there weren’t any lines. Yes, that includes the food lines. At the busiest place in Dayton, the Toyota Roadhouse, we waited only ten minutes. When my group of six obtained our food, we found a place to sit down and eat it. Not only that, we could easily view the race on the screens above us.
New York Comic Con is the single most claustrophobic public experience I’ve ever had.
It’s almost impossible to walk the exhibit floor on weekends in more than mincing steps. Obtaining food in that court is basically impossible. Thursdays used to be the least crowded day but since the Con started selling Thursday-only tickets, it’s as bad as the weekends.
The only reason we, as attendees, put up with this it is that we have no choice. If you want the big Comic Con experience on the East Coast, with all the Hollywood bells and whistles, this is it. Over 130,000 paid for that experience last year. What they got was huge crowds, no access to food, and lines for bathroom, not to mention no room to move on the exhibit floor or in many other areas.
It could have been so much better.
There has got to be a venue where we are not viewed as cows queued up for milking.
2. Free and Functional Wireless
Like many in the wave of new stadiums, Daytona has free internet access available to all comers. (The only catch is providing them with an email address.) This is due to over 250 miles of cable provided by CommScope and installed under their supervision.
Who is CommScope? Only the reason that 90 percent of you reading this can access GeekDad on the interent. Their products drive the internet, wireless or wired.
CommScope has no direct products available to the consumer. Their market is cable and internet providers. They were the lead on the project to create wired and wireless networks for the entire Daytona Motorsports stadium. Their cables and networking have to support up to 2,000 individual networks (some secured) plus free wireless internet for up to 105,000 attendees.
For the project, CommScope supplied fiber and copper cabling equivalent to more than 140 laps of the Speedway’s famed tri-oval track, including 250 miles of Category 6 structured cable, 100 miles of single-mode fiber-optic cable, and 12,500 terminations to create connectivity throughout the stadium.
As Simon C. Cowley, VP of Global Technical Support for CommScope, and Joseph P. Depa III, their Corporate Communications Manager, said to me during the tour of the hidden tech facilities, the challenge of providing this service was basically the equivalent of doing it for a small city. That stuck in my brain, especially given the size of the Javits center. It is a small city.
The true test of CommScope’s installation was on the day of the Daytona 500, the biggest event on the calendar. It passed, easily. Everywhere but the open grandstand, the free wifi worked. Oh, it was a little slow during the race but it worked. Plus, there was the Daytona 500 app with its schedule and handy “here you are, see?” locator. What shocked me most is that this functioned during the race.
Why? Because NYCC has a great app. Except it works, at best, in only fits and starts at the Javits center. We’re geeks at one of the biggest geek events of the year and we can’t even share photos most of the time during said event? We can barely even make phone calls at times.
Toss an extra five dollars onto everyone’s tickets this year, Reed Pop, for free and functional wireless. Last year, you had 170,000 attendees. Do the math. That would make providing free and functional wireless cost-effective fast.
For all that it’s a certified geek activity, New York Comic Con is an old-school experience. There are panels and booths with stuff to purchase and an artists’ alley (my favorite spot).
Last year, there were a few exhibits to walk through, such as the Jurassic World photo opp and the Evil Dead trailer, but even those are marred because, again, space. Those exhibits create crowds and those crowds cause people to squish together.
At the Daytona motorsports stadium? You can drive a Totoya truck on a short off-road course, take a high-speed ride in their Camry, snap a 180-degree photo of yourself waving a famous Sunoco checkered flag, play a video game inside the Florida Hospital health pavilion, head to the infield and watch the pit crews ready the cars that will race, meet the drivers in the Sprint Fanzone on non-race days and get their autographs (most for free), not to mention have your kids play in the Kid Zone there.
All this? Included in the price of the ticket.
At NYCC you can, uh, buy stuff and sit in panels. Wait, there’s Artists’ Alley, which is awesome but it’s made so by the artists, not the con.
Where’s our chance to stalk through Gotham City and get a photo emailed to us instantly, and have it even appear on a display at the con? Where’s our mock-up of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ? Where’s our chance to be inserted into our favorite video game as a bobblehead?
That will take space, you say. Yes, yes, it will.
I will say it again: the Javits center sucks as a venue.
But even assuming the con stays at the Javits center, there can be adjustments. What about instead of panels, NYCC asks for interactive experiences in many of the panel rooms? Yo-Kai Watch had the right idea last year, with fun stuff to do inside their two permanent rooms. The kids room is a good idea, especially with its schedule of artists. We know, instinctively, that kids can’t sit still and be stuck in a crowd all day.
It’s no fun for adults either. One year, on the exhibit floor, the New York Museum of Natural History had a tent up that you could crawl inside. It was awesome. (Museums know that interactivity is the future.)
Put that tent this year into a panel room, have everyone come visit. Take a leaf from Geek Girl Con in Seattle and have an entire panel room set up for science experiments, for kids and adults.
Hey, DC or Marvel, instead of having a panel about your next new big crossover, why not take up a room and create interactive displays with the history of your companies, give us that area of Gotham or Metropolis or S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ to play around in? Heck, ask cosplayers if they want to be a part of it for free admission to the con. You know they’d put on a great show.
Let’s have some fun.
Another problem: the whole waiting area for panels in one section of the Javits basement is bare cement. It practically begs to have something, anything, installed in that spot.
Let’s talk about the panels that people have to wait forever to see, like for the television or movie productions? Yeah, sometimes, you can see them on closed circuit televisions or sometimes, they’re live-streamed. Let’s go one better. Let’s install LED monitors throughout the con that will show the panels. Or, hey, at Daytona Speedway, you can purchase these radio headsets that will allow you to listen in on the conversation between the driver and the crew chief during the race. Sell something like that for panels that you could never get into in person.
The NASCAR people know how to give their fans a fun experience over several days. They know how to take care of a crowd over 100,000. They know how to provide areas for people to decompress, especially kids. They know how to show everyone, especially families, to have a good time.They know how to keep the crowd connected and engaged.
New York Comic Con? They know how to pack in as many people into a convention center that has poor facilities, poor food service, nonexistent or weak wifi and cell service, and without anything to do beyond trek from one store to another and, maybe, if you’re lucky, get into a panel or, if you toss out an extra wad of cash, get that photo with Mark Hamill.
A four-day ticket last year for NYCC cost $105. That’s no so far off from the $150 grandstand price at the Daytona 500. Two-day access to Daytona events will cost $395. A bit pricier but it includes parking. (Oh, did I mention that Daytona has charging stations for throughout the facility?)
Do the people behind NYCC care? Likely not, given the attendance keeps growing and money is going into their pockets. And, yes, NYCC is a different kind of event than a race at a permanent stadium. The Daytona 500 has one central focus, whereas the Comic Con has many.
But that only means that we should have more ideas for interactivity and fun.
We, as geeks, should be appalled that we’re getting such a poor experience when it could be so much better.