Last weekend I was in Atlantic City to cover the inaugural Fantasy Football Festival, a one-of-a-kind fantasy football experience according to the organizers, ReedPOP. This was the first time any festival or convention was organized and catered around fantasy football.
ReedPOP, the production company behind New York Comic Con (the largest pop culture convention on the east coast), PAX, PAX East, UFC Fan Expo, & Star Wars Celebration organized the festival. ReedPOP is dedicated to producing celebrations of popular culture throughout the world that transcend ordinary events by providing unique access and dynamic personal experiences for consumers and fans, is organizing the festival.
Headlining the festival were Philadelphia Eagles’ stars Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, New York Giants’ greats Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, former Washington Redskins QB Joe Theismann, NFL Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith and Chris Doleman, Super Bowl XXV MVP Ottis Anderson, ESPN Fantasy Expert Matthew Berry and others as they participated in autograph signings, panel discussions and fan Q&A sessions throughout the weekend.
Aside from hosting your own fantasy draft live from the AC Convention Center with your friends, the inaugural festival in AC had a number of activities and special events throughout the weekend including fantasy expert round tables, video game tournaments, interactive athletic competitions (punt, pass, kick, sports memorabilia, & a tailgate party and beer tasting.
To read more about the festival and future events, you can visit their website at www.fantasyfootballfest.com.
Last Thursday night at 9 PM before the event, I was on the weekly Football Reporters Online BlogTalk Radio program interviewing our guest, Greg Topalian, ReedPOP’s Senior VP. Gregg was excited about the coming event. He mentioned the radio spots they ran, posting flyers on the boardwalk, and plastering any information about the event where ever they could.
Greg also mentioned how ticket sales were going very well and about 25000 tickets for the festival had either been sold or given out by the radio stations. From all the information provided it sounded like the inaugural event was going to be a hot ticket in town.
But from those who attended, the event turned out to be a great effort rather than a memorable weekend. Even Phil Simms could not wait to leave. More on that later.
Day one started with about 25-30 fans waiting outside for he 10 AM opening. I had this vision of a long line, maybe 100-150 people standing outside. Chomping at the bit to get inside for a memorable fantasy football experience where one can also buy some memorabilia and meet some players for an autograph or two.
It was memorable all right, but not in the good way some may have liked. By the time one was in the door, there was enough time and room to get everything done fast. Which many did. Not many attended for fantasy football reasons. Many came in and got the autographs they wanted and left.
Now some did come for fantasy football, but by the time the inquiries were done there was not much left to do. Even though they had panels, fantasy football drafts on site, and video game stations lined up with Xbox & PS3 with Madden and NCAA football games, it was not enough to keep the patrons there.
The best part of the video game section was the original Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Techmo Bowl. All one had to do was play as Bo Jackson to win the game. Not a cheat, but a heavy advantage in the game.
There ere not many vendors inside as well. There were a bunch of fantasy experts and websites to gain valuable knowledge from, but it was not enough to keep people there for an extended period. After certain autographs were obtained, many fans left. It seemed the players were more of a draw for some rather than learning how to draft your fantasy players.
Over the two day period there were less than five fantasy drafts overall. Tables were set up to handle at least 12-15 per day at a time. The panels also drew little listeners. The only panels people sat and listened to were to the Eagles cheerleaders doing trivia and when the Philadelphia Eagles Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and ESPN‘s Fantasy Analyst Matthew Berry were taking questions.
Besides the typical fantasy booths like RotoExperts, FantasyGuru, Fantrax.com, Gameday Fantasy Football, and a slew of others, companies like Fathead, Steiner Sports Collectibles, Jack Links Beef Jerky, World Poker Tour, Point Pong. and others tried to offer up football merchandise.
Sirus XM radio had their Fantasy Sports Radio show broadcast live as the event was going on. Fans could listen in to fantasy experts give their opinion as well as former athletes give their analyst opinions on who to draft for your fantasy team. 94WIP Sports Radio, 97.5 The Fanatic, 97.3 ESPN Radio, & 103.7 WMGM Rocks were also doing certain live broadcasts or reports from the event.
For those wanting a true taste of playing on the gridiron, there were interactive areas where one could catch a pass, kick a field goal, or throw passes for accuracy. The Giants Perry Williams was having fun along side the fans in the passing section. Jets/Giants Billy Taylor was giving defensive stance tips to the Lingerie Football League ladies who were also a part of the festivities.
One could notice some of the other players and former players in attendance wanted to get their time there over as soon as possible. Many of the fans and even the vendors noticed how some shortened their time on purpose due to the low turnout.
For example, Michael Vick was originally scheduled for his autograph session from 1:30-3:30 PM and then a panel discussion with Matthew Berry breaking down the QB position from 4:15-5 PM. LeSean McCoy was scheduled from 2:30-4:30 PM for his autograph session. The only session that did not change was the QB panel discussion. LeSean McCoy took part in that as well and it became a general Q&A session as well.
Both Michael Vick & LeSean McCoy had their autograph sessions changed from their scheduled times to 5-6 PM. $100 for Vick to sign any item and McCoy $60 for any item. As soon as 5:30 came they both left before the end of their scheduled times. This could be due to low autograph requests, low attendance, or the fact not many stayed until the 6 PM day one close.
They were great with the fans and signed whatever people presented and answered tons of questions. One has to wonder why they would leave early. If they got paid for one time and left before that scheduled time, they really made out like bandits.
Day two of the event saw less fans attend. Even some of the vendors did not come back for day two. Some even came in after the 10 AM start time. The demeanor of the vendors showed their displeasure with the event. From the supposed 25000 tickets either sold or given away it appeared less than 2000 attended the event.
My wife and I stayed at the Sheraton, less than 50 yards from the convention center. One of the Sheraton’s attendants mentioned he had no idea the event was going on that weekend. According to him, he saw no posted advertisements for the event. While my wife and I walked, we barely saw any ourselves. The only ads we saw were on a revolving billboard and light post flags leading to the convention center.
Outside the convention center, there was a tailgating section. WMGM Radio was broadcasting live outside alongside the the worlds largest portable bbq grill. It takes p the whole trailer of an 18 wheeler. Johnsonville has three trucks and brings them to various events across the country. The next stop after the Fantasy Fest was to Bristol, TN for NASCAR.
It appeared there were more food vendors inside than outside. The driver of the Johnsonville truck was also the grillmaster. Johnsonville was at the event to help raise charitable funds for the Marines. But they felt let down by the event.
They claim there were no signs or posters inside to direct fans outside to the tailgating section. After checking the event floor, there really was no signs. They were all posted outside the doos of the event in various parts of the convention center. We went outside both days and each time the tailgating section looked empty.
The guys from Johnsonville felt disappointed as they look to help raise funds for charity. This event let them down as they could not raise the kinds of charitable funds for the Marines as they had hoped.
Day two also saw former Giants QB Phil Simms as the autograph attraction. Phil was great with the kids and more than happy to talk to the fans and sign whatever they wanted. I found out from one of his handlers that he drove himself down there that morning.
Phil Simms was scheduled from 11AM-1PM. And like a few others the day before, he could not wait to get out of the event. His line for autographs was short and he left the event before the end of his scheduled autograph time. Phil Simms sped out the door so fast he beat Usain Bolt’s world record in the 100 yard dash. I should know, I was behind him taking video.
The event may not have been an overall success for some, but for those who got what they paid for, they left satisfied. I guess if you are a true fantasy football fan and you had your questions answered before you could draft your players, then it was a success. If your kids saw the players you grew up watching and had them sign the autographs you wanted, then you left smiling.
If ReedPOP plans to do this event next year, there is a lot that needs to be rethought and restructured. Not only do the fans who attend need to leave happy, but so should your exhibitors. They pay for space on the floor and should be given a true chance to make a profit on top of their expenses for the festival. If the exhibitors leave the event pleased, then they will plan to return next year.
If there had been video game tournaments where players could play Madden, NCAA 13, or Siper Techmo Bowl with prizes and sponsor tie ins from EA Sports, Nintendo, Sony or others could have added more of an interactive feel to the event.
ReedPOP could show live status feeds from Twitter to encourage the use of social media to get people to the event immediately. Even a prize every hour for the best tweet.
I enjoyed myself at the event. The Philadelphia Eagle cheerleaders formed lines to welcome fans in and I ran threw. I took my attempt at the field goal kick. If you want to know how I did, come back when the video is up. Plus I interviewed New York Giants Otis Anderson, Howard Cross, Perry Williams, Billy Taylor, Jets Bruce Harper, Ravens Tony Siragusa, ESPN’s Matthew Berry, and more. So in order to know what we talked about, you WILL have to come back for the video.
If ReedPOP decides to do this event next year, I will come back. I’d like to see how they can improve in their second year to increase attendance. This convention can be a success with the right adjusting. Take advantage of the successes it had and capitalize on it for next year. You will find football fans do enjoy events like this as it provides the interaction fans welcome from players.
When the players are signing autographs & laughing, fans obtaining signatures and memorabilia, and vendors are interacting with sales and valuable fantasy information, then everyone is happy. That is how you measure an event’s success.