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RIP: AlphaCon 2001

Movie studios often times release a movie that for one reason or another is not a commercial success. Perhaps the subject matter is too limited or the particular genre doesn't match expectations perfectly, but on occasion movies lose money. The opposite of course, is also true. As an example, The Mummy Returns took in 116.5 Million dollars in just 10 days now, beating even Episode I's record for the biggest opening weekend ever.

But just because a movie isn't a commercial success doesn't mean it didn't succeed. And just because the studio lost a lot of money doesn't mean they quit making movies altogether. They simply make adjustments for the next release. Think of the seeming failure of the early DreamWorks releases, compared to the virtual powerhouse distributor they are becoming today.

But we're not here to discuss movies, the application of this analogy is AlphaCon, a large fan convention based in Omaha, Nebraska. Just days after the AlphaCon convention was finished the plug was pulled. The parent company, Midlands Marketing, unsatisfied with the return on their investment for putting on the convention dismissed the coordinator Dan Lundquist from the company and said in essence they wouldn't be doing this again.

What happened was the financial backers of AlphaCon were a bit short sighted and despite a great first time attendance of almost 2,000 they lost enough money to pull the plug. What is sad is that it was a great convention, and one the Midwest really needs. They were filling a gap in fandom and setting new standards for numbers of guests and how the celebrities were treated.

In short, as a business Midlands Marketing has to be shown the money. This could be THE sci-fi convention of the year if time, talent and money are left in pace and invested for future gain. Unfortunately, the company appears to be blind to the potential. It's the same thing with the movie industry: a lot of the studio heads want $200 million blockbusters. They aren't seeing the *quality* ofthe product, just the quantity.

So for every winner like Gladiator, we've got to sit through a dozen less than stellar offerings.

One can't blame Midland Marketing solely on the basis of money, what they do is a business and business operations aren't about losing money (which they undoubtedly did), but you can blame them for their short term perspective and lack of patience. They should look at the overwhelming positive aspects of the con, from both guests and attendees, and use that as insight for the eventual success that AlpahCon 2002 could have been.

Yes, the first year is going to have shortcomings. There were some scheduling problems, like the downtime between presenters that encouraged people to leave their seats before the next scheduled lecture. Perhaps if needed, fanfilms can be run between presenters, in order to keep the schedule in place. Maybe since it was a first-time convention in the area it shouldn't have had two presentations at the same time. People want to see it all, since it was mostly first-time con-goers who attended. But 100% of the time Dan and his staff treated us with a stunning amount of professionalism and were very generous. Nicole, Jeff, the TFN Digital crew and myself all attended and were completely impressed with the convention from top to bottom.

But success is measured not by gain in the first year, but attendance the following year and repeat guests. When trying something new in a unique location you have to expect some problems. Possibly even some failures. There have been failures before with these things. Take for example ImagineCon 2000, where they expected between 2,000 and 5,000 and got 400. And it didn't help that one of their major guests (Ray Park) pulled out within weeks of the event.

So what does the future hold for AlphaCon? For sure, Midlands Marketing will not be hosting AlphaCon 2002. And all VIP ticket holders will still receive their CD "AlphaCon 2001" in review done by TFN Digital. Within three to four weeks (and possibly a small fee?) someone other than Dan should be making it available to the VIP guests and possibly for sale elsewhere. In defense of Midlands Marketing to some degree I understand, because the coordinators undoubtedly spent more money than they should have on the convention, and estimates simply couldn't be met for fan attendance to come close enough to breaking even. Perhaps for the first one they really overshot, but doesn't it deserve a second chance?

No one has let the fans down. In fact, AlphaCon 2002 has great promise and potential, with the first attracting fans from 29 states. That alone says something about the work invested in the production and the potential for future endeavors. Not to mention literally a dozen Star Wars actors, the treatment of celebrities and the extras like the VIP receptions, great booths and very personal lectures by the actors themselves.

Either way, AlphaCon is no more. I believe this have been the convention to land the original Luke Skywalker for a weekend, or perhaps another large number of other celebrity guests. It was poised to become the new standard for conventions, and it was a great show. Let's just hope that with some changes in expectations and improvements from the outset on both ends that convention returns like The Mummy did, with a vengeance.

Can OmegaCon be far behind?

Joshua Griffin
May 14th, 2001

Also, if you would like to contact Dan Lundquist (former event coordinator at AlphaCon), write him here and if you would like to post reaction or comments about the editorial and convention, click here for the official AlphaCon 2001 thread in the Jedicouncil.


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