Star Wars, Celebrations, and Wristbands
For fans, the Star Wars Celebration conventions have become a pilgrimage. Since 1999, the gatherings have been used to celebrate movie releases and anniversaries around the world, drawing approximately 30,000-40,000 fans per event.
This year, the eighth show in the United States (the twelfth overall) was held in Orlando, Florida over Easter weekend. The big-ticket panels were a celebration of A New Hope‘s fortieth anniversary and a sneak peek at the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but aside from the buzz and excitement flooding social media, there was also anger, frustration, and disappointment.
Why? Because the convention is stuck in the 20th century.
The 2017 convention hosted the headline events in three venues: The Galaxy Stage, the Celebration Stage, and the Behind-the-Scenes Stage. The events were held live in the Galaxy Stage, located in the Valencia Ballroom, and live-streamed to audiences in the Chapin Theater (Celebration Stage) and room W304 (Behind-the-Scenes Stage).
In order to get access to these events, attendees needed wristbands, which were only available by queuing the nights before and sleeping in the convention center. Star Wars fans love lines, and have since the first film premiered in 1977, but the frustrations and anger came in how the convention organizers handled the overnight waiting period. After starting their convention camping trip at 8pm, some fans were promised through a loudspeaker announcement at 1am that everyone in line was guaranteed seats in the Galaxy Theater for the 40th anniversary panel. When it came time for their wristbands, they got screwed by line jumpers.
Based on other accounts on Twitter and Facebook, this experience is far from isolated. Here’s the thing, though. In 2017, there is no need for it.
The wristbands were also used for the other panels on the Galaxy and Celebration Stages, and attendees were able to receive two wristbands per day by choosing their top two panels across both stages. Tickets went on sale on May 25, 2016, and pre-orders were handled through the Celebration website. ReedPOP, the convention organizer, had contact information for each purchase.
Upon purchase, ReedPOP could set up simple accounts for each ticketholder, and when the schedule is finalized, ReedPOP could require each ticket holder to log in and set their Galaxy/Celebration panel priorities. Wristbands could be issued by a lottery system, and could be picked up at registration with the event badges.
Seats could be assigned, or they could be given on a first-come-first-serve basis with a queue for each panel.
No overnight camping. No line-cutting. No frustration for attendees who are paying hard-earned money to have a good time.
Now, let’s take it a step further.
Star Wars fans are incredibly social. Let’s say that I want to see The Last Jedi panel with my friends from various podcasts or fan groups. ReedPOP could set up the ticketholder accounts to allow grouping, and those groups would be entered in the seat lottery as one entity. The groups could be limited to twenty seats to prevent an entire group from having an unfair advantage.
Now, let’s go one more step.
Not counting YouTube viewers, the big-ticket events were presented to 10,264 people, or about twenty-five percent of a 40,000-person assumed attendance. According to the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), the Valencia Ballroom can seat 6,000 people, the Chapin Theater can seat 2,643, and W304 can seat 1,621. It’s also a fair assumption that most (if not all) of the attendees want to see panels like the Star Wars 40th and The Last Jedi. So why not expand the seating and use the streaming capabilities to serve more fans?
Based on the stage schedules, ReedPOP had reserved eight additional rooms for scheduled events. Those rooms – W300, W303, W306A, W307, W308, W310, and W312 – house 2,600 extra seats. They could only be used for the headline panels because they’re slated for other purposes throughout the day such as podcasts, educational panels, and screenings, but for the headline panels that brings us to thirty-two percent, and virtually exhausts the West Concourse of the OCCC.
If ReedPOP could secure access to North and South Concourses, both of which are attached to the West Concourse by skybridges, they could easily open streaming access to every attendee, including ticketholders who purchase their badges at the show. The North and South Concourses can house 32,111 people each in theater mode, reaching 64,222 total.
The North and South Concourses may be a bit of a financial stretch for only two to three hours over two days, but there is another possibility in the connected hotels. Both the Rosen Centre and the Hyatt Regency Orlando are connected to the OCCC by skybridges, and both have substantial meeting capacity. Rosen has 4,000-seat capacity in their Grand Ballroom, 1,888-seat capacity in the Executive Ballroom, and 1,500-seat capacity in the Junior Ballroom, leading to a total of 7,388. The Regency has 3,120-seat capacity in their Plaza International Ballroom, 1,040-seat capacity in the Orlando Ballroom, and 832-seat capacity in the Florida Ballroom, leading to 4,992 seats total. Together, they reach 12,380.
Using the hotel ballrooms, the 10,264-seat base jumps to 22,644. If the extra West Concourse rooms are used, we come to 25,244. Between the two, around sixty percent of the audience could attend the headline panels.
Of course, at this point it’s time to answer the question: Why do I care?
I have wanted to travel to Celebration since they started in 1999, but I have never had the opportunity to do so. But, I’ve also been a bit spoiled by Dragon Con, a 70,000-90,000 attendee convention where lines are limited to one or two hours for big ticket panels. I’m not keen on waiting in lines for hours and hours to see a panel when there are no other options, especially when there is so much more to do at the convention. This whole logistical miscalculation has me reconsidering Celebration on the whole.
I’m also a Star Wars fan and convention attendee who has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP machine to sleep each night. That would prevent me from “camping out” on a concrete floor, and would also require me to be awake for 24-36 hours at a shot. While Celebration has a disability contingency that allows someone to pick up wristbands on my behalf, that’s not something I’m going to ask my wife to do for me.
Finally, that’s two nights of hotel room rental where I’m not actually using it. That’s a lot of money.
I don’t expect this blog post to be an end-all solution to Celebration 2017’s queuing woes, but it certainly shows that there is room for creative problem solving. A conflict obviously exists, and it’s evidently driving fans away. The question is what is more important to ReedPOP and Lucasfilm/Disney: Money or fans.
ReedPOP should seriously consider ditching the overnight queuing and remove a source of friction from the only official Star Wars convention that our fandom has. Celebration should live up to its name and celebrate what we love. Celebration shouldn’t include anger, frustration, and disappointment, and it certainly shouldn’t start off with it.