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?
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.
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!
My name is Roger Senpai. I’m a cosplayer that’s been in the community for well over a decade now. I’ve traveled all over the world to Anime and Comic conventions and hosted my own cosplay events. Now I’m writing articles for new and experienced cosplayers like you to help inspire, save you money and improve your cosplays!
There was an incident a few years ago where a convention had not booked out the entire hotel for its event and attempted to crack down on lobby conning…. Illegally. Because the hotel accomidated other events and non con guests the con could not close off the entrances to people without badges/hotel keys but they did anyway and got in trouble for it.
That’s an interesting point you bring up – if convention organizers are even allowed to kick out lobbyconners if they don’t rent out the entire venue. Never thought of that. Going back to that convention where they checked our badges every 5 minutes, they probably weren’t allowed to do so because they only rented out part of the convention centre. Definitely something to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.
the badge swapping concept works if the people aren’t in the convention hall at the same time.,i.e. Person 1 needs it for a panel at 12 and person 2 wants to go to a 4pm panel.
No amount of RFID of badge checks will change that unless people check IDs or have Picture badges (which would take wayyyyy too much time)
One con I go to had a badge scanner for an event that let the team know if someone was trying to swap a badge after “going to the bathroom”. It wouldn’t let it be scanned if it was scanned already.
Yes I suppose someone can still abuse the RFID system if they took turns entering the con (e.g. I go the panel at 2 pm and you go to the panel at 4 pm). But what if you both want to attend an event at the same time? Like a rave or a concert? Then you’re out of luck!
I’d like to suggest that if you’re broke and have trouble paying for a badge, think about volunteering or joining the convention staff. You’ll get a behind the scenes, special-access look at the convention, you’ll make lots of new friends who share your interests, and you might get a few meals and crash space out of the deal, in addition to a free or discounted badge.
Alternatively, you might consider hosting a panel or event; depending on the convention’s policies this may get you a cheap or free pass.
As a former con organizer AND as a former broke-ass teen who managed to finagle his way into some of the most prestigious fan gatherings in North America without paying, I have a few opinions on the matter of lobbyconning, both positive and negative. First off, nothing makes a convention seem like an exciting place to be like a big crowd out in front filling the public spaces, and lobby-conners help that image just by showing up. Secondly, I find a lot of this year’s lobby conners are next year’s badge holders. They show up one year to see what all the fuss was about, find themselves standing around outside while their friends go inside to enjoy events and vendors, and decide next year they are going to get their own badge and be a part of the fun.
On the negative side of things; lobby-conners are taking advantage of an event they aren’t paying for and are only tangentially assisting. They are parasites who contribute nothing material to the convention organization – which is having to pay for the convention that attracted these lobby-conners to the event in the first place, having to pay for the security that keeps the crowds from walking out into traffic or dueling each other with their cosplay swords, having to pay for the liability insurance it must carry in case one of these lobby conners trips and injures himself. The convention is, in fact, having to pay for the very lobby these lobby-conners are lobby-conning in.
To summarize: lobby conning is at best a rookie mistake. At worst it’s deliberate fraud. If you can’t sock away a few bucks to buy a con badge, start rethinking your spending habits; and if you don’t think a convention is worth the price of admission, then don’t go. Host your own fan gathering or cosplay picnic in a local park instead, and you too can see what it’s like to organize an event.
PS: glad to hear you enjoy Anime Hell at Anime North! See you in 2019!
Good points you make! I personally feel that getting a part-time job and paying for a badge is far more efficient than volunteering your way to a free weekend pass. Many cons require a lot of hours to be eligible for a free badge, around 15-20 hours. However, if you enjoy volunteering and helping out at a con then go for it.
Yes, it was interesting to hear both con organizers appreciate lobbyconning for making their events look popular and full. So it seems like there are some positives to having lobbyconners around.
Oh man I can totally relate to attendees being a liability, being a cosplay event organizer myself. While I’m sure organizing a con is waay more difficult than organizing a cosplay picnic, even a cosplay picnic you have to be mindful of attendees who are liabilities. WHich gets annoying especially if they’re not in your picnic area. You end up being liable for them.
I’d be interested to know how common the various types of Lobbyconning are. Certainly you’ve mentioned badge-swapping and misuse of con room discounts as a problem, but just how common are they? When a con sells out its tickets in a few days and people who couldn’t get in, legitimately, stay at a nearby hotel and come across to hang out in the lobby, is it really a detriment? The con has taken the maximum money it can and isn’t losing out. If badge swapping occurs at a sold-out con, is the con suffering?
I can’t speak on behalf of every convention out there, but from the ones I’ve been to…lobbyconning happens almost everywhere.
Does the convention suffer from lobbyconning? Well, that’s the point of this article!
I’ve never seen a convention sell out in just a few days. Attendance caps for conventions are not very common. And even in the case of Anime North, they don’t really run of space; they just sell out their weekend and discount badges first. You can still get in by purchasing single-day tickets, although that’s far more expensive.
On the other hand, large conventions also have to consider local fire codes for maximum capacity of a venue…
If the convention size is getting close to the capacity of the event, and folks lobbycon past the maximum number, the whole event can be shut down by the fire inspectors.
People also have another direction to go for “Free”… staffing a convention is almost always a possibility, and for a couple hours of work a person can often get crash space and food as well as a badge… I’ve been a convention volunteer and staffer for years and it’s actually really fun… I staff a bunch of cons that I have little interest in just because I have other friends who staff and attend those conventions. Not only does this get you a fun weekend (for a little work) but it also helps support the fandom.
Yes that is true. Convention organizers have to factor in the maximum capacity for fire code reasons. I think that’s why Anime North has an attendance cap; in case of inclement weather and everyone tries to go inside, they have to enforce badge check to ensure the buildings/hotels don’t go over capacity. With that said, I have to say that some cons do take this very lax. Like one time I was lining up to buy a pass and we were basically funneled into a tunnel meant for trucks/receiving. If a fire did break out…I’d say we’d be in trouble!
Are you sure it’s only a couple of hours? Never seen a convention offer you a free hotel and badge with only 2-3 hours of volunteering! It’s usually more than that, around 15-20 hours at least.
I lobby con because 1- attending alone 2- lack of programming I’m interested in. My state has several small conventions and it’s not worth the $50 in paying for a badge I won’t get that value as a return. I’ll pay for my hotel room but not the badge. I did before but the conventions recycle the same guests and panels each year. That’s repeated amongst the other conventions in my state. As for the exhibit hall, I take a yearly vacation to Japan. I bring back all the goodies I can pack in my luggage. As I’m attending alone as a cosplayer I feel like an outsider and an object. I’d wander the halls not knowing what to do. I looked pathetic and friendless doing it. People will come up, ask for a pic and leave (Feeling like I’m just an object) and not recognize the person behind it. At least my escape with lobby conning is I can look like I’m busy or waiting for someone and browse the web on the phone while feeling great about wearing a costume.
I will say I would be interested in badge buying again if the conventions offered “team up” gatherings where solo ppl can go do things together and not recycle the same programming.
I’m sure you have your reasons for lobbyconning. Wow $50 for a small convention. I’m from Canada so $50 USD is a lot of money. Everytime I attend a con in the U.S, my wallet cries. 🙁