Sansweet: 28,000 attendees at Celebration V

In a Facebook post this afternoon, Steve Sansweet pegs the attendee numbers of Celebration V at 28,000 – the lowest since Celebration I in 1999. Celebration IV in 2007, which also had no movie to boost awareness and attendance (but did have the advantage of being in movie-loving Los Angeles) weighed in at 35,000.

It’s no shock that the numbers are lower for this round – in addition to the economy, the late announcement and a less-than-inspiring locale, August is smack dab in the middle of convention season – most notably in that CV was bracketed by the biggest cons of all: San Diego Comic-Con in July and Atlanta’s Dragon*Con coming up on Labor Day weekend. Both are huge draws for much of the same audience, and we even had a Jader or two choose D*C over CV.

Really, between all that, 28,000 doesn’t look all that shabby!

Wherever Celebration VI may be (and I am not asking for suggestions) I hope they return to a late-spring date – if nothing else, because that would make almost any location fairly palatable. (And a note to our delicate warm-weather flowers: Orlando’s life-sapping humidity has more than paid back the midwest’s debt for CIII’s ridiculously light snow, okay? We’re even.)

UPDATE: Steve in the comments of his FB post:

For those of you questioning the attendance number at Celebration V, there are several things to remember. Lucasfilm and Reed are thrilled with the final total; I had been predicting a max of 25,000. We are still in the worst economic times… since the Great Depression of the 1930s. We had less than 8 months to promote the show, and many European fans—who have to make August vacation plans a year in advance—could not change those plans. And we had 8,000 more attendees than the last event, Celebration Japan. The Orange County Convention Center was a perfect location: its layout, total cooperation from all the great people who work there, and because Orlando is the ideal family vacation spot.

29 thoughts on “Sansweet: 28,000 attendees at Celebration V

  1. Barriss Coffee

    I felt like there had been a fair number of people at CV… had a few thousand more showed up, I imagine things would have become a little chaotic.

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  2. eliz

    I was surprised as well at the numbers. There seemed to be plenty of people there!
    I think you have good points with the timing and location, to add to the timing issues, all the kids who are in DCI were in Indianapolis that weekend for the world championships.

    I liked the convention center, and Orlando can be acceptable at other times of the year- it can be downright pleasant outside. I think the biggest downside to Orlando is that it is a destination place- there just isn’t the number of people there to pull from for attendees. Indy and LA have the edge I think on that end of things- Indy had people driving in from all over and LA had folks coming down easily from SFO and up from San Diego.

    I’m hoping that LFL goes back and rethinks the television series angle. I think the success of other franchises screams that fans care about the story and writing over glitz and effects. There’s a reason Doctor Who has been around even longer than Star Wars. ;)

    Short of being dead, I’m throwing my hat in for CVI now. I just hope they get to move forward with planning a bit quicker and hey- maybe they would take some panel suggestions now- it’s great after-con feedback!

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  3. Rob

    I think this article is a little degrading towards Orlando. Yes it was hot, but it has been extremely hot all over the country this year. I was there all 4 days and never heard anyone complain about the heat, it was very comfortable inside the Convention Center. I heard from numerous people while waiting in some of the lines, that this was one of the best venues Celebration has been to. Many of the guests even stated that they wouldn’t mind coming back to Orlando for CVI!

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  4. Dunc Post author

    The convention center was more than big enough and very well air-conditioned. That’s not an issue. But pretty much everything outside OCCC was far too widely-spaced to be walkable in that heat and humidity – you pretty much needed a car (or get a cab) to do anything after-hours outside of the convention. In a downtown locale like (say) Indianapolis where you have a wide variety of options in a handful of blocks the weather would have been merely annoying, but in Orlando it was a very real obstacle.

    In spring or fall, it would be another story. But August? No thanks.

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  5. Mark Newbold

    Still think it was an unusual choice, to have it in August, especially in Florida when it’s boiling hot and humid.
    Steve referred to European visitors, but Celebrations in the States are primarily for US visitors. Similarly, another CE in Europe is for Europeans (if in the UK, mainly for us Brits, if in germany, germans, etc) CE in 2007 got well north of 30,000 visitors – for a country a fifth the population of the States I still don’t understand why there’s not a LOT more effort put into events here, and on a semi-regular basis.

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  6. Dunc Post author

    I don’t think they had all that many options, due to the fallout from the mess with GenCon. It’s really more than amazing that it turned out so well.

    Does Reed operate internationally?

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  7. AuroraLee

    @Rob The convention centre was the perfect temperature. If you were doing nothing but the convention and stayed at the Rosen Centre, there’s nothing to complain about. For those of us who wanted to do other things, it did get a bit hot… and I’m glad I wasn’t trooping!

    perhaps Orlando weather in August is acceptable to those who actually live in or frequent Orlando, but most of us came from away and speaking for myself – Yes it was a bit hot/humid. I did not enjoy my time outside of the Convention (Disney, Space Centre) as much as I could have… not to mention my camera didn’t even like the heat…

    Orlando’s not my kind of destination, but if it IS there again (the OCCC WAS a great venue, even if the city was not) a different time of year is definitely preferable for the weather and Con schedule reason noted above. (not to mention that it’s probably easier to take the kids out of school in May than the first week back, which some people had a problem with).

    As for the actual article… it doesn’t surprise me that the numbers were ‘low'; it was obvious that they were prepared for MUCH higher numbers that just didn’t show up.

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  8. Rebel Without A Cause

    I wish I could have been there, but I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have gone anywhere outside of the OCCC. I was in Orlando a month back for a week-long workshop and it was bad then. Trying to go to parks and things was almost impossible in the heat. I can’t imagine that it was any better in August.

    I read a rumor somewhere that they were talking about Salt Lake City for CVI, which would work splendidly for me, as that’s about a two hour drive, but in April you might end up with snow there. Not that I’d mind! Like Dunc and Stooge, I’d rather have snow than a sweltering location where I feel like I’m drinking the air instead of breathing it!

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  9. Mel

    Take into account also that school season was getting in gear last week. I knew a few people who couldn’t attend for that reason as well.
    I would have loved to attend but wasn’t able to as I already had an Orlando holiday in Spring, not yo mention it was Hurricane Season Fall would have been a better tome. Still it was a massive effort and it appears a great time was had by all.

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  10. Mark Newbold

    Dunc, yeah, Reed are international. In the building where I work we are on the 1st floor and Reed are on the ground. I’d expect Reed to be overseeing international shows if the powers that be deem C5 to have been enough of a financial success.

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  11. Mark Newbold

    And your point Dunc, about everyone wanting CVI in their own backyard is a fair enough point, but in the US you get Disney Weekends, Fan Days AND Celebrations (not to mention SDCC, Dragon, New York and all the Toy Fairs etc).
    A bit of linked up thinking, surely, would to not have the Celebration in the same venue as the fan Days or Weekends? Share the events out across the States and give those fans on the other side of the country a chance?
    Here in the UK it’s exactly the same. 99% of people can’t see beyond London, when even most Londoners will tell you that it’s easier for them to get to Birmingham (pretty much smack in the middle of the country) than it is to get across the capital. We have a venue here, the NEC (National Exhibition Centre) that would be PERFECT for a Celebration event. It’s near an international airport, there are hundreds of hotels and guest houses, there’s links to the mainline rail station and every major motorway in the country passes within 5 miles of the site. That said, I’d be amazed if anywhere BUT London was ever considered, even though Birmingham opens up easier access from Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the north of England and the east.
    Rant over, slightly off topic but relevant I think.

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  12. Dunc Post author

    This isn’t the only site on the internet, Mark. There are other places to argue your points. I believe you may have a hand in at least one of them.

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  13. eliz

    Mark- you can’t just lump in all the cons in the states and call “not fair”. Different cons/events have started specifically because the locals have decided they wanted something there rather than travel or whatever reason they come up with. Or the corporate sponsor has decided to put on an event.

    Would it be great to have a huge fan event close enough for every fan to easily attend? Of course it would. Is it feasible? No. Would it be better? Not really because there is nothing like 20k + crowds of people together who love the same thing you do. Look at sporting venues- they have their home turf and that’s generally it. At least with Celebrations, they have moved them around the country and it has been accessible. Add to it all the logistics of getting talent to sign on to attending and location becomes a bigger part of the equation.

    That said, my group did prepare for CV in researching which hotel we wanted to stay in and local food options. I was pleasantly surprised with all the options in the OCCC for food, many with a 20% discount even! MUCH better than any other convention center I’ve been to. However, afterhours was a juggle for anyone wanting to get together easily. There isn’t anything close by and if you are not in groups cab fares become costly. Shoot, even in groups cab fare budgets was high. But if CVI returns to Orlando, I know where I want to stay and what options there are in regards to transportation and the only hesitation will be if it is in the summer months again (due to the heat and I live in the south! and hurricane issues).

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  14. Dunc Post author

    If we go back to Orlando there are no two ways about it: I’m either driving (ugh – that’s at least three days from here, two if you really push it) or renting a (big) car. Even if we end up at one of the close hotels, I hate not having options, and half the cabbies had no idea where anything was anyway so it’s not like I’d be much worse off.

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  15. eliz

    I think renting a van would be optimal. That’s a very long solo drive to do! I’m sure we’d get a group together or offer to chip in when they are taking rides. C’s van was a lifesaver on multiple occasions.

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  16. Nancy

    I’m not surprised that the count was less than C4, though I would have said it was higher overall.

    The OCCC was nice and spacious, and I very much appreciated being able to wait inside in the mornings. The weather made the Disney event almost unbearable and kept me from doing anything out-of-doors in the evenings. I originally intended to explore Pointe Orlando and/or one of the two nearby mini golf places but…nope!

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  17. Sig

    We were there for all four days and had no problem getting around. We stayed at Rosen Plaza which was walking distance to the OCCC and Pointe Orlando. Monday we took a bus to Universal Studios. It was defnly a bad time of year to be in Orlando but late spring would conflict with my teaching schedule so if the time is changed I probably wouldn’t be able to get a four day pass next time. In terms of the attendance, 28K may be disappointing to Reed but to me it was awesome. There was actually room to walk around and breathe and I believe this caused people to be nicer. My only other con experience was at New York Comic Con two years ago and it was so crowded I vowed never to do it again. Lines were so long at the food court we had to leave the convention ctr for lunch. Of course high numbers are good, but the important thing is that the venue can accommodate the number of attendees comfortably. I hope future organizers remember that while money matters to them, comfort matters more to the actual attendees.

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  18. jawajames

    I am actually surprised by the count of 28,000. I wonder if there wasn’t as much draw for locals (of central Florida) as there was in LA. I remember in LA seeing a lot more one-day badges, which would point to more local draw (people who are coming in from out of town are more likely to come for the whole show and thus have the full convention badge). I don’t remember seeing a whole lot of one day badges in Orlando.

    Like other have mentioned, the timing probably was the real negative here: August in outdoors Orlando is pretty brutal. The high humidity really did cut down on the effective walking distances for hotels/dining/etc.

    Having the show slipped in between Comic-Con and Dragon*Con probably didn’t help much, especially with the show announced so late (IIRC, CV was announced last fall, after the main con season, so people might have already started planning to attend 2010 cons before the CV announcement came out).

    As Sig pointed out: one of the nice things about Celebration was the sense of lack of crowding – things were spaced out well to give enough room, both space-wise (wider aisles, etc.) and time-wise (1/2 hour blank spots in the room schedules to accommodate people to move). The OCCC was a great place to hold it, with plenty of programming rooms/hallways/queue space/food/restrooms/floor space — and Celebration did not use half of the available convention center space. So there’s ample room to grow to have both attendee numbers and maintain comfort.

    Mark: saying that the US gets all the big conventions and fan stuff doesn’t really mean much. If WDW gets Star Wars weekends (which Disneyland in CA does not get), it means exactly the same to someone in California or Texas or Illinois or New York or Ohio as it does to someone in the UK: an expensive plane ride and a hotel stay. Remember that the UK could fit within Florida/Georgia.

    Many of the US big cons were started by fans in that particular area, like San Diego and Atlanta. Want a regular big con in your own backyard? start a small con and nurture it for twenty years or find a local con and help it grow.

    As for the UK as a second Celebration Europe site: I’d say that the next CE might not be for two or three years, and in that case, the 2012 Olympics might push celebration to another European country altogether.

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  19. Mark Newbold

    Can’t disagree with any of those points, it’s a tricky subject. True, from one side of the states ot the other is as far as a trip from the UK to the east cost, so distance is obviously a big factor.
    I wasn’t there for C5 (and pals who were said it was briliant) but as someone else here said there are other big events happening in and around C5. BUT, these events are booked years in advance, so it’s a very tricky thing to get 100% right (not that anyone ever does that).
    And Jawa James makes a spot-on point, that the London Olympics makes a CE in London unlikely. Very true, but as I said there are a lot of other major cities in the UK that could easily hold a Celebration. Birmingham and Manchester are the obvious 2. That said, it’s Celebration EUROPE, and there are plenty of euro locations to look at too. Going to be interesting to see how long and where the event happens.

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