The Man Making Sure All 150,000 People at New York Comic Con Have Fun
When I find Lance Fensterman, New York Comic Con’s ringleader, on the floor of the cavernous Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, it’s two hours before the doors open on Friday. He’s talking into a walkie-talkie, clearly trying to smother the flames on yet another show flare-up; he’s calm, even laughing, but there’s a certain intensity. I’m surprised he has time to sit down and chat.
The floor is almost empty. The tall, angular Fensterman, 38, looks a little jumpy.
He calls himself an entrepreneur, but isn’t quick to share details of his past business exploits. “I’ve done a little bit of everything,” he says, steering the conversation to New York Comic Con and ReedPOP (Fensterman is also the Global SVP for show organizer ReedPOP). He launched Comic Con in 2006 and two years later, formed the ReedPOP, which now runs 23 pop culture events around the company. It does not, however, run San Diego Comic Con.
“We’re not affiliated. It’s totally separate,” Fensterman said, adding that there is typically no conflict between ReedPOP and the nonprofit that runs the San Diego event, which is in July.
But some distinctions extend beyond location and date.
New York Comic Con is “a reflection of New York City,” Fensterman said, and is “a little bit less Hollywood focused, a little bit more comic book, publishing, television focused.” Of course, don’t tell that to George Clooney; on Thursday, he dropped in, unannounced, on the Tomorrowland panel.
The big show
New York Comic Con is a show that Fensterman has seen grow exponentially since 2006. At that time, they had trouble attracting big media, entertainment and publishing companies. The first official event (comic book conventions existed in New York City decades ago, but they were truly for nerds only) had just 20,000 attendees and exhibits over just 25,000 square feet of the convention center. This year’s New York Comic Con sold 150,000 tickets, covers 200,000 square feet and boasts 2,000 speakers and presenters.
As Fensterman manages this growth, he tries to pay attention to fans’ desires. If there is a secret ingredient to the growth, a fulcrum, “it’s always focusing on what fans want,” he said. One of his primary goals is including enough different panels to make sure they’re “representing for all the tribes of popular culture.”
It’s not easy running the show
For Fensterman, it’s all about the logistics.
“It’s…getting [everyone] into the show safely, getting them around safely, and giving them the best opportunity to see and experience what they want to experience,” he said. It’s how to make such a huge event as personal as possible.
That task is growing increasingly difficult as surges of pop culture fans flood every corner of New York Comic Con. Many people are settling for single-day tickets — or can’t get one at all. So Fensterman and ReedPOP launched Super Week this year as a way to grow and reach more fans. The nine-day citywide pop culture festival is a pressure value for the four-day Comic Con.
Fensterman anxiously checks his phone, waves to VIPs walking by and looks like he’s ready to move onto the next important show task. He gently tells me he has to wrap things up. But before he goes, he reveals his favorite and least favorite things about the big event.
His favorite: the fans. It’s “the look on their faces, the Facebook messages I get, the high fives.”
His least favorite: the fans. “It’s when we don’t get something right, meaning not organized enough, which limits the fun the fans can have in any way,” he says.
And with that, Fensterman marches back across the show floor, probably to douse yet another fire.
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