Comic and fanboy events seem to be a recession-proof. Antony Reeve-Crook speaks to MCM Expo Group co-organiser Bryan Cooney.
Everyone loves a good news story and none more so that the directors of events in the consumer exhibitions industry. Consumer events, without serving as a catalyst for international trade, have had a harder time than their B2B counterparts.
Few have escaped unscathed and fewer still can actually claim to have made progress in the years since 2008.
Not so MCM Expo Group (MCM), owner of six of the UK’s most successful consumer exhibitions, a portfolio of pop culture shows led by the 27,000sqm London MCM Expo at Excel. This year it’s London MCM Expo, a celebration of pop culture, movies, comics video games and related merchandise has expanded its comic village, as well as launching a London edition of its Memorabilia event in London.
According to co-founder Bryan Cooney, the market is one of the few to emerge from the recession relatively unscathed. Since
“In 2005 it was very much a collectors event. But we started to target video games and manga (Japanese fantasy and sci-fi cartoons and animation). The knock-on effect is that we began seeing a transition of brand away from straightforward comics and movies and our audience became much bigger.”
In addition to this Cooney began targeting Cosplay, whereby people dress up as their favourite characters from cartoons, video games or other pop culture franchises popular with the show’s audience. “These guys meet a lot of each other on Facebook, but although Facebook is a lot of things, it can’t help them get together and dress up as their favourite characters,” said Cooney. Whether the Cosplay market spends much money at the stands or not has little bearing on the exhibition. Being a consumer event, entry comes at a price and the attendance of a thousand brightly dressed Cosplay aficionados has a sizeable impact on revenues.
Cooney claims London MCM Expo is now Europe’s most prominent Cosplay stage, staging the EuroCosplay Championships for the past two year. Won, incidentally, by the UK in 2011.
“Our growth started when we targeted those markets. Each year the show has grown around 15 per cent. We were at Excel when it opened. Then we had 4,000sqm in total. Today we have 27,000sqm split between the show floor (17,000sqm) and the queuing hall (10,000sqm).
At launch, MCM stood for movies, comics and memorabilia. But today the company owes its success not to the greater interest in these things, but to the growth and expansion on the initial concept. The term Comic Con has outgrown its original meaning. Today MCM has since launched a standalone event for its memorabilia section, held in Birmingham. A new event is scheduled to launch in London alongside the MCM Expo London next year.
The reverse is happening in Birmingham with the launch of a Birmingham edition of the MCM Expo at The NEC, this gives MCM four comic con-type events with two others in Telford and Manchester.
Of course there are others in the comic con and memorabilia sphere in the UK. Showmasters runs the London Film and Comic Con, as well as Collectormania, a host of events for collectors of merchandise and signatures. However at these events tables, rather than stands, are the order of the day. There was a chance we’d see Showmasters enter MCM’s sector more directly, but earlier this year the company announced the cancellation of its new Entertainment Media Show (EMS).
“These events are successful in their space but we’re not trying to copy their business models,” said Cooney.
Clarion perhaps came closest to challenging MCM with its event Empire presents Big Screen this summer, a joint collaboration between Clarion and UK-based film magazine Empire. Time will tell if that event can make an impact on London MCM Expo, but with Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Warner Bros and Universal among its partners, that is no mean feat.
It’s far more likely that we’ll see someone go down the acquisition route. MCM must be one of the most lucrative acquisitions in the UK at the moment.