On Saturday March 23rd I was sitting in a parking lot when I received a call from a friend with the news that Regeneration Who, which was scheduled to take place in six days, had posted an announcement on its website that the show was cancelled. The official statement read:
As a result of a string of last minute cancellations, we see no alternative but to cancel (Re)Generation Who 5. We want to apologize for this as we tried every way possible to move forward, but could not find a way to produce an event of the quality you have come to expect from us.
We will be working with our team to determine if there are any options moving forward.
Please note you will need to contact the hotel directly if have guest room reservations.
Onezumi Events inc.
This news came as a surprise. Not only because it was 6 days before the Con was slated to take place, but I remember long lines at last years RegenerationWho to meet Michelle Gomez, and a very large ballroom filled to capacity with people standing along the walls to listen to Peter Capaldi speak. In other words, the prior show had a wildly successful attendance.
So what went wrong? What derailed a Con that was on the cusp of celebrating its 5th year at a brand new site? The official reason given is last minute guest cancellations. But I think other factors may have played a role. The following are speculations based on observations of how I known other Cons to work.
Lagging Ticket Sales? The cancellation announcement was posted on Saturday afternoon. Contracts for use of hotel facilities usually include a clause where the initial deposit becomes nonrefundable and organizers are on the hook for the entire rental amount a week before the event. Simply put, if ticket sales were weak, the organizers likely pulled the plug the day before to avoid personal financial losses. After that, the next task was how to communicate that the Con had been cancelled. In turn, the reasons for lagging ticket sales could be caused by:
Moving the Venue. For the past 4 years, Regeneration Who was held either outside Baltimore (at the Hunt Valley Inn), or at the harbor itself. This year it was to be held at White Flint, MD. What is unclear is why they decided to move. Did they move because the attendance data told them that most of their attendees were from around While Flint MD or was it based on anecdotal information (ie: I think most people are coming from around White Flint, MD)?
With that said, for people who coming from either Baltimore or PA, it's can be a lot to ask to drive an additional 30 minutes to a new venue. Therefore if your fan base indeed comes from the Baltimore area, it might make sense stay in that area. In other words, work with data, not assumptions.
Government Shutdown. For people who attended FarPoint Con in February, it was quickly apparent that attendance at that Con was low. This may have also affected Regeneration Who. There are many people in this area who either work directly for the government, or work indirectly as contractors. Either way, many people went a long distance without a pay check. There is still a hangover effect from the shutdown as people had to go without two consecutive paychecks. When choices have to be made, entertainment often is among the first cuts.
Lack of an anchor draw. Last year, Regeneration Who had Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez. Not surprisingly, there were lines everywhere. The ball room was standing room only (I was there and had to stand in the back). However, this year, the guests in question were Paul McCann and Catherine Tate. Guests who, don't get me wrong are terrific, but are not big enough anchors of say Matt Smith (who unfortunately for them arriving roughly in the same area for AwesomeCon a month later). Therefore when faced with the choice of which Doctor Who star to meet, Matt Smith, in this instance, wins by a landslide.
Timing with other Cons. In two weeks time after RegenerationWho was to take place, The Great Philadelphia Comic Con and Star Wars Celebration were also set to kick off! Philadelphia Comic Con, for example, hits right in the center of people who might have come down from PA and NJ to attend the Con. Worse, this year they have a lineup of diverse guests which includes 5 guests from the red hot series: ‘The Expanse’ as well as Anson Mount from Star Trek Discovery. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Star Wars Celebration is taking place - an event which many people I know from the DC area are traveling to. Of course, aside from these two notable events, there is the 800 pound gorilla in the area: AwesomeCon (mentioned earlier).
More often times than not, people’s tastes are not exclusive to one show, a prospect which can sometimes hurt a niche Cons such as Regeneration Who. Though timing may be Wibbly Wobbly, it still is everything.
Presence of a War Chest. It’s incredibly difficult to hold a Con without the presence of a war chest; more specifically, hosting a Con requires either having deep pockets or being owned by a larger corporate entity who can cover expenses when the unexpected happens. With that in mind, the same organizers of Regeneration Who also put together last year at the same venue a Con dedicated to the Harry Potter Universe known as Potterverse. Why bring this up, you ask? Well, despite being well organized, it was noticeably less well attended than RegenerationWho. Therefore it causes one to speculate that organizing Potterverse might have eaten into some of the war chest Regeneration Who had after the successful Con with Capaldi and Gomez. Again, I have no proof of this, just speculating based on what I know about Cons in general.
Local Presence to Drum up the Con. There were social media ads and e-mails to drum up RegenerationWho, but there was a lack of local presence to stir up interest. Simply put, there was no ‘press the flesh’ strategy. This is where All Star Comic Con really excels. From posting videos to organizing hikes to simply showing up at other Cons to organize impromptu photo ops with their new rings, Michael McNutt knows how to promote his event locally. He just makes every person feel like they have a personal stake in attending this Con. When you don’t have the financial muscle of an AwesomeCon to either partner with Penn Quarter for a Marvel Trivia Night, or buy ads on the Metro, you need to engage in the type of grassroots build up McNutt does. Especially if you are moving the Con to another city. Unfortunately, in the case of Regeneration Who, this was just not done.
So where does Regeneration Who go from here? It will likely be difficult to rebound from this. Vendors who intended to be at the show likely shipped their goods in advance. Just hours before the announcement was posted on their website, I received an e-mail from Wibbly Wobbly (a merchant based out of Florida) saying that they would be at the event. Vendors like them will be faced with not only the loss of revenue for a Con weekend, but also have to handle the expense of shipping their product back and forth without showing any revenue for this. They may not want to risk another weekend of lost profits by signing on to be at this Con again. Almost certainly it would not be held at this same venue in White Flint, which will also face lost revenue from the Con not going forward. Once you skip a year, it’s difficult to recapture people’s attention, especially with the growing competition of Cons.
I do hope we will see Regeneration Who again. It was a well run con operationally and seemed to have staying power - having been on the cusp of reaching year 5. However, this may be the last Regeneration we see of this Con.