Oh lobbycon. It’s not something I think about much. But Katsucon announced that only registered attendees and hotel guests may enter the convention building (The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center). In their words, they have implemented a “closed profile” policy. This basically means if you want to enter the convention; you’ll need to either have a weekend pass for Katsucon or hotel room booked.

While I’m sure they have their reasons for enforcing this policy, what was more interesting was the reaction to the announcement. People were complaining about having to buy a pass for Katsucon. While for most, this may seem strange. After all, who would get upset for having to pay for an event?

But the REAL heart of the issue is because some can’t “lobbycon” anymore. And this made me curious about whether lobbyconning is a major issue for convention organizers.

Is it really bad to lobbycon? Everyone has their reasons for showing up to a convention without buying pass: saving some money, only showing up to hangout with friends or take some photos. Lobbyconning is a part of the con experience and even convention organizers acknowledge that it’s here to stay. In this post, I interview 2 con organizers that tell me how lobbyconning affects their bottom line and whether it’s a major issue for them.

What is lobbyconning?

For those who don’t know; lobbyconning is when you attend a convention but don’t pay for a badge and generally just hangout in the lobby area of the con. Or any area that doesn’t require a badge, like a hotel lobby). You are conning (attending) around the lobby where you don’t have to pay or show your badge, hence the term “lobbycon.”

Why do people lobbycon?

I admit that in the past I used to lobbycon a bunch of different conventions in order to save money. But as time rolled on, I felt bad for hurting the event financially (which I’ll get to later in this post). These days I want to give value and support the community, and lobbyconning is not the way to go. So either I pay for a badge or I don’t show up at all.

Since I know what it’s like to lobbycon, I completely understand why people do it.

Reasons why we lobbycon:

  • First and foremost reason – they don’t want to pay for a badge. A weekend pass may not seem like much for a person working full-time. But for a poor high school or college student, it may be too much for them.
  • The convention programming isn’t enough for someone to justify paying for a full weekend pass. Let’s say you’re a photographer who just wants hallway shots of cosplayers. With that in mind you could care less about the programming inside the convention; panels don’t mean much to you, and the Masquerade is too dark to shoot inside anyway. Why not just lobbycon take photos outside of the paid area for free?
  • For a cosplayer, maybe they only want to do things that don’t involve requiring buying a pass. If you only care about photoshoots, instead of paying full price for a weekend pass, why not just lobbycon and do your shoot for free in the vicinity of the convention? That’s actually how many cosplayers and photographers go about it.
  • What if you just want to hangout with your friends and do nothing else? It only makes sense to lobbycon the convention area to chill with your friends without having to fork out money for something you’re not interested in (i.e. the convention).

So you can see now; there are several reasons why people prefer to lobbycon rather than pay for a badge. And if a convention allows them to do so, they certainly will!

Does lobbyconning hurt convention organizers? How do they deal with it?

I was able to get a hold of 2 convention organizers and asked them about it. Here’s what they had to say:

(NOTE: I edited out some of their quotes because they want to remain anonymous for this post. I’ll name them Convention Organizer #1 and Convention Organizer #2.)

Convention Organizer #1:

Well for organizers its really tough to accept Lobby Conning. Logistically speaking after all of the planning, setup and production expenses are done there has to be enough money made from the sales of tickets to justify another show the next year.

Lobby Conning is difficult to accept as the organizer has gone to great lengths to bring attractions, events, and guests to entertain attendees. And to have a certain amount of people just hang out at the lobby which has been paid for by the organizer for the day is kind of unfair.

Now one could argue that the show doesn’t have enough attraction for “those” lobby goers to spend their money at, so they’d rather hang “outside” with their friends and just take photos or chat. Organizers have to accept that as a matter of fact in many cases.

Convention Organizer #2:

To start, we definitely have lobby conners at (super secret convention!). (The hotel) actually lets us know how many people stay at the hotel over the weekend, and there are usually quite a bit more people staying with our discount room code than passes bought.

Given our size it does hurt the con, and as the lobby con culture increases I can see it being even more challenging for new cons starting out. Speaking from experience, lobby conning can really delay the growth of the con or even lead to its death.

Actually, I can attest to what Convention Organizer #2 is saying; about how lobbyconning can lead to an event not happening again. Because I’ve experienced it myself.

I remember a few years ago; a relatively large convention decided to hold a small, one-day event in Toronto in the middle of autumn. The event took place in the same hotel as Anime North. So a lot of my friends from Toronto were pretty excited to cosplay in the same venue as AN!

Unfortunately, most of the cosplayers used the hotel to hold photoshoots or hangout with friends. The tiny dealer’s room was the only paid area, so I don’t think anybody paid for a badge.

Because of that, it was the first and last time I ever saw that convention do a mini-event in Toronto. Looking back in retrospect, this mini-event would probably be still around if everyone purchased a badge to support the event. So I believe it’s true that lobbyconning can kill a small event just like this one.

Lobbyconning is a problem but it’s part of the process?

Convention lobbycon
Maybe not everyone in this photo paid for a badge. But according to one convention organizer, lobbyconning helps make the event look more busy and attractive.

While lobbyconning can hurt a convention financially, what surprised me is their acceptance of the practice:

Convention Organizer #1:

Honestly Lobby Conning isn’t something which I appreciate at all, but I DO realize it is a part of Convention Culture. But having said that, if the Lobby Conners start to “Obstruct the lobby enough to effect the flow of traffic” this is where I have to start breaking up the crowds. Its not fair (or safe) for anyone if there are too many people Loitering in a public space. People can get hurt, or may have trouble getting where they need to go.

Short and tall of it Roger, Lobby Conning is not fair to the Organizers, but is a part of Convention Culture, so its not going anywhere.

Convention Organizer #2:

However, as a congoer myself I also see the perspective of not purchasing passes because the pass does not provide anything interesting. That’s why we feel as con runners it’s our responsibility to make the passes as interesting as possible while providing the best value. The attendee should WANT to buy the badge because the convention has included activities that are enticing enough to warrant the purchase. Which is why we try to make the badge actually worth the price. Including everything that (our convention) does is very costly for us as a con, and we could certainly do less, but we think it really pays back to the attendees and hopefully pass purchases increase because of it.

To sum up: on a personal level I am fine with lobby conning (even though it hurts small cons) if you don’t find the purchase worth it then you shouldn’t be required to buy a badge; but again, too many lobbyconners and the event you like to attendee for free may cease to exist.

You could argue that lobbyconners highlight a convention’s lack of good programming. But I don’t think it’s always a true indicator.

In my experience, I’ve seen people lobbycon the biggest and best conventions of North America that had stellar programming. A convention can “checkmark” all the boxes of activities available for attendees (e.g. panels, video game room, late night rave); there will still be lobbyconners. I’d argue that these people weren’t going to pay anyway.

I’ve helped out with several events for years now. And I’ve realized that there are always going to be people who will never pay or be happy, regardless of circumstance. You could have the best programming, the best video game room and even have Shigeru Miyamoto show up at your convention; they still wouldn’t pay for a badge! You can’t make everyone happy. (NOTE: If Miyamoto ever showed up at a convention, I’d gladly pay full price in a heartbeat!)

But what was also interesting is that while lobbyconning can be an issue, BOTH of them mentioned something else that’s a bigger problem for them – badge swapping.

Badge swapping lobbycon
Badge swapping seems to be a bigger problem than big bears lobbyconning! Image by Q K from Pixabay.

Convention Organizer #1:

The issue REALLY comes when Lobby Conning becomes “Badge Swapping”. Once this happens it really hurts the bottom line of the organizer who has spent a LOT OF MONEY with the venue, guests, attractions, etc. and to have someone attend without an entrance fee to help offset the costs involved is not fair to anyone. Even the attendees who did pay to get in.

There really are not that many examples of this in reality, I’d say about 5% – 10% maybe 13% of con goers will actually “swap badges” so its not as bad as some organizers will claim.

Convention Organizer #2:

While I personally am more chill and understanding of lobby conning than I think most con runners would be, I can’t support badge swapping. I don’t mean giving a friend a badge to check out the dealer’s room because you have to leave the con on Sunday, but using the same badges to sneak people in. Using badge swapping to sneak into an event is the equivalent of stealing from my perspective, as it actually costs the convention money for each person that sneaks in for free.

I can see why badge swapping is far worse than lobbyconning. While people that lobbycon may not necessarily be hurting the convention financially (i.e. some wouldn’t have paid regardless), badge swapping is actively taking away from the convention by sneaking in. I didn’t realize that many people badge swap with each other, which is pretty crazy.

This leads to my next point…

How do convention organizers deal with people who lobbycon?

(NOTE: Most of these are from my observations. They may not necessarily reflect what the convention organizers actually want to do.)

When it comes to lobbyconning, I’ve seen conventions indirectly and directly deal with them in a variety of ways.

With one of the con organizers I spoke to for this post, he told me that they switched to wristbands instead of issuing badges in order to combat badge swapping. This makes sense because it’s a bit more difficult to pass back a wristband than a badge; ripping off your wristband usually means it’s void and no longer valid.

I’ve been to a convention where lobbyconning was taken very seriously. At this con, not only couldn’t you enter the building without a badge. But even when you purchased your pass; the security guard would walk back and forth every 5 minutes asking to “show” your badge. I was getting very annoyed by this, and so were many others; I couldn’t even talk to my friends without the guard asking to see our badges for the 100th time.

While in this scenario you may have prevented lobbyconning, you also pissed off your honest paying customers. To me, this approach is far too extreme. Fortunately, this was the only year that the con decided to do this. If it continued, then I myself would have stopped attending.

And I’ve been to cons that are the complete opposite. At one convention, I knew tons of people who hung outside of the building and didn’t pay for a badge. The con organizers didn’t seem to mind though. You figure they would be bleeding cash. Yet despite this, this convention is one of the largest in North America with over 30,000 attendees (as of 2018). To me, it shows while there will always be those who won’t pay, the majority will support the convention and buy a weekend pass. You could say that this convention has a pretty lax policy for lobbyconners, but it doesn’t seem like it affects their bottom line too much anyway.

Otakuthon this year also did something very interesting as well; they used RFID badges. Basically, your badge is a scan card where you “tap” in and tap out of the convention. My Otakuthon 2018 review has a video of it in action! I can’t say if they were trying to deter lobbyconners/badge swappers with the RFID system, but to me it’s the perfect balance.

While you could technically lobbycon in the convention centre lobby, there’s no way you could badge swap since you have to tap in and out of the convention area. If you tried to pass back your badge, the system would still have registered you “in” and you would have gotten caught!

Bad or not, lobbyconning is here to stay

Hopefully this post enlightens you a bit more about lobbyconning and how it affects (or doesn’t affect) con organizers.

I’m generally happy and appreciative that convention organizers spend their time and money and put in their hard work to give us conventions to attend. To let people lobbycon and use their facilities for free and be humble about it is even more impressive.

While talking to 2 organizers isn’t enough to draw a proper conclusion of how lobbyconning affects their bottom line, I think hearing them out definitely paints a good picture. I actually wanted to get the opinion of a couple of big conventions. But sadly they never got back to me. Oh well, guess I’m not cosfamous enough….one day maybe!

How do you guys feel about lobbyconning? Do you think it is part of convention culture? Or is it something that is holding back the potential of cons? Let me know in the comments below!

Is It Bad to Lobbycon?
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