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An Open Conversation with REEDPOP’s Top Executive on CORONAVIRUS & the Path Going Forward

New York Comic Con 2015

New York Comic Con 2015

Credit: ReedPOP

Credit: ReedPOP

The coronavirus has touched every one around the world, and for most comic fans the first effects of it were to comic conventions – with enhanced precautions at February 28 – March 1’s C2E2 and the the escalating measures taken with Emerald City Comic Con, culminating in its complete postponement with new dates to be determined.

As we’re all now in a state of uncertainty, Newsarama spoke with Lance Fensterman, Global Head of ReedPOP – the people behind C2E2, Emerald City Comic Con, as well as New York Comic Con and numerous other conventions.

With its 2020 schedule canceled through the end of June but with a cautious rollout of plans for October’s New York Comic Con taking place, we discussed ReedPOP’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the reaction, and what they as a company are dealing with in terms of employees and insurance for canceling all these events.

Newsarama: Lance, event organizations are in a tight spot with the coronavirus pandemic, and the decision to cancel/postpone events due to safety. What would you say is ReedPOP’s current take on the situation?

Lance Fensterman: Our mantra is to continue to make the next right decision with the information we have for our fans, our customers and our teams. This is an incredibly humbling situation in that anything you think you know, in a few days or hours, you may not.

At time of answering this, it was only four weeks ago that we safely ran massive shows in Boston and Chicago. The environment is changing constantly so we continue to make the next best decision we can with the information we have and grounded in our core beliefs of always putting our fans first.

Jim Lee at C2E2 2020

Jim Lee at C2E2 2020

Credit: DC

Nrama: ReedPOP isn’t just in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, Africa, France, and elsewhere. What kind of logistical hurdle is it to postpone all of these events?

Fensterman: To date we have “only” rescheduled shows in the UK and South Africa. Many of our shows in the rest of the world occur later in the year so we are standing pat on those for the time being until data informs us otherwise. We are fortunate to have strong relationships with venues and partners all over the world so we have been able to reschedule our UK events to later in the year, in some cases co-located them where that works and rapidly develop some pretty awesome online content platforms for fans and the industry.

Nrama: And how about on the employee safety side – how is ReedPOP managing that, with its home office in Connecticut but also elsewhere – and for pre-con site visits?

Fensterman: Like most we are now an entirely remote team, for how spread around the world we already were that has been less of an adjustment than it might have been for others. 

We also have some massive video, editorial and content delivery platforms (60 million monthly readers/viewers) so staying in touch with our fans without the benefit of live events has also been less of a transition for us than maybe for some others out there.

New York Comic Con 2019

New York Comic Con 2019

Credit: ReedPOP

Nrama: ReedPOP has so far postponed all events through late June, with the first event back being MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2020 on June 27 and 28 – itself moving back from March. And I’ve see the signups for October’s New York Comic Con have begun. How confident are you in these dates going as planned?

Fensterman: Man, I am confident that when it’s safe for us to come together as fans, we will be there to plan the party for everyone.

When it comes to exact dates, markets, shows – it would be total hubris to pick an arbitrary date, time or place and declare it safe and sound in advance.

Nrama: Some major sporting events receive funds/grants from local governments to host their events there. Does ReedPOP do any of that with its locations, and if so, is that being impacted?

Fensterman: We have really, really strong relationships with nearly all of our host cities, communities and venues but we do not receive funding of that kind.

We’ve had some good relationships with venues where perhaps we have negotiated favorable terms due to the length of commitment or impact on the overall community, but that’s very different I think than what you are referring to.

Nrama: The logistical process of refunding money to your ticket holders, vendors, and other parties must be tremendous – and that’s not counting the other costs of cons, from shipping, unions, hotel fees, etc. How does ReedPOP handle this kind of massive financial change – and is there insurance in the live event industry to help in these difficult times?

Fensterman: Insurance does not cover anything that is happening now.  Nearly any insurance policy that could be obtained (and most are very narrow in scope) would carve out an event like what we are experiencing. So we are shouldering the sunk costs ourselves where appropriate, refunding to fans in all cases and keeping our eyes on the long term.

Our entire focus is on our fans and how we will serve them for years to come, not on trying to save or recoup a buck this year. And the same goes for our teams.  We are not laying anyone off,  In fact I’ve got open positions I need to fill and more on the way.

Credit: Chris Arrant (Newsarama)

Nrama: Getting back to comic cons, I was at C2E2 last month and noticed increased safety measures there for the coronavirus. On the other side of this, when its safe to run convention again – what kind of things has ReedPOP planned?

Fensterman: Intense and frequent cleaning are the biggest technical measures and that entails a lot of details though none super interesting to delve into here. The other piece of this is the awareness and education about changing behaviors. Distancing, washing, self-care, etc.  We are working on a robust campaign to drive that point home for our shows.

Nrama: This is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, but for ReedPOP and/or you personally what was the most unexpected thing about the impact a virus like this had on the events business?

Fensterman: The entire thing. The scope. The size. The speed. The all-encompassing nature of it. Airlines, cars, hotels, caterers, AV companies, laborers, venues, cities, the list goes on and on. It’s a sweeping leveler of a situation that will and has touched everyone and everything.  On the positive side, the resiliency of our teams to make change and maintain a focus on finding new ways to delight our fans.  The resiliency of the fan community – like coplayers making masks for healthcare workers. There is much light to be found in all this gloom and we have to keep looking for it.

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