Rolling Pone: An Interview on Pony Convention Finances and Doubtful Allegations by

Rolling Pone: An Interview on Pony Convention Finances and Doubtful Allegations
By Foal Duke, International Affairs Correspondent

Allegations of scamming at BUCK thrown into disarray... Allegations of financial mistakes more doubtful... We talk con finance... A lesson for the readers: speculation’s fine but don’t assume shit...




With the beginning of the last BUCK, or British pony convention (apart from Bronyscot, which exists in a far nicer part of the country), the biggest convention in Europe is under way. Ever since the shock revelation in the press release a month or so ago at the time of publishing, I’d been ruminating on just how one could run a convention in an atmosphere that – at least according to BUCK’s managers – hasn’t really changed much from the days Henry VIII started taxing beards to pay for his wars and decapitation fetish.


I was lucky, for various reasons, to run into an associate of mine whilst fucking around on this side of the Atlantic. This associate just so happened to work in event organisation for various comic conventions around the U.K. as part of his job, employed by a certain television network to hire writers, voice actors and so on to appear at their convention panels. We’ll call him Riley Escobar for confidentiality reasons. Whilst travelling via those rotten railbound coffins that exist as the ghost of National Rail, Riley and I got down to discussing the situation. We analysed some of the content of the press release, which I intend to address fully at some point in the near future.

Riley first laid out to me the difference between one of his conventions and something like BUCK. For a television studio, it is far easier to hire out voice actors and writers to come to their panels, as their VAs have a certain number of contractually obligated appearances per year. So, they don’t get paid, but their expenses do get covered. However, BUCK has no such contracts, being a private convention, so they have to pay for the guests themselves.

As for signing sessions – again, the actors at a major con don’t get paid by their parent network, due to contractual obligations / their expenses being paid. At BUCK, of course, the staff needs to find a way of paying for the expense of hauling Larson and his reserve wings out across the Atlantic.

On top of this, the TV network in question is a for-profit, so it can afford to keep some of the money back to make a profit on top of the expenses (and even afford charging for signings). BUCK, obviously, is not that large, so it has to charge – and as a non-profit, has to put that money towards the VA’s expenses, the fund for next year’s con, or the charity bin, otherwise they’d have to give the guests some of that ca$h too.

Although, you’d think it possible, as £20 a signing amounts to $5732.81 in our monopoly money.


Money Money Money: Voice Actors Costlier than Writers, Priorities Depend on Fame.

As the train stopped once, a very large bald man with a head like a pumpkin sauntered onto the train with his baboon of a girlfriend and a pit bull terrier that looked more like a bulldog that had its face caved in with a shovel. Unfortunately, it hadn’t. I mentioned to Riley how strange it was that BUCK generally would not hire voice actors – or, it wouldn’t be very likely, as a convention source kindly informed me at our Season 5 Finale meetup – and then went and hired Peter “Apple Blossom” New. This led Riley opining that, on balance, Peter “Chief Horsebando” New is known for his personality and quite funny, so it would make sense to hire him as he can provide more entertainment in panels and what have you, like Tabitha St. Germain.

Generally there is less to learn from with voice actors – their trade is interesting, but writers have far more varied experiences to one another than the voice actors, so there is more to learn and advise at the technical workshops, one of BUCK’s big strengths.

As he mentions this, I notice a warm sensation on and behind me – Skinhead Q. Fuckwit’s shaved badger has taken a piss up my leg and my precious Wal-Mart bike. I casually continue talking with Riley as I watch the dog trot back over to its master, and grip the Bowie knife in my pocket in rage.

This led us to discuss the cost of hiring voice actors against writers. It’s all about priorities, Riley states: for example, Sean Astin, a voice actor who starred as Samwise in Lord of the Rings and is currently voicing Raphael in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may be more widely known and famous in the general public, but his main credit was a trilogy of films that ended over a decade ago; whereas, Seth Green also stars in the new series of TMNT, but is also more prominent in the circles of people that attend conventions (dedicated fans, animation hobbyists, webcomic authors, our wonderful readers who love to donate to us, etc.) as he has appeared in far more cartoons, things which these people will be familiar with (such as Family Guy), and TMNT is still active right now. So, they’d be more likely to choose him for his greater appeal to the main attendee group.

Riley has found that a VA generally costs around £10,000.

Riley says that writers, on the other hand, cost more around £5,000 and make fewer requests, partly because VAs can have more leverage, especially if they are well known in the field, such as Tara “Your Waifu” Strong. Writers generally tend to settle for business class flights and a decent hotel, rather than the swank. Basically, anything other than the local BnBs – again, this is common sense.

I converse casually as I walk over to Puppy on the far seats, shaking with the dilapidated train and scratching my inside leg with the knife as I do. I bite my lip, my anger growing.

One thing that really caught my attention in the press release from BUCK is the claim that there simply isn’t a market for this sort of event in the UK. Naturally, I was skeptical, and taking a methodical approach, I wondered why it seems to work with another form of convention with equally limited appeal that was very comparable and would work as a test case – furries.

Riley pointed out that furry cons have a more diverse array of content than the show – there are webcomics, bits of animation, that sort of thing, and many VIP guests are well known in other areas of the creative industry, so they can being in a wide range of content from across more genres, and thus command the appeal to bring in more attendees from the furry base (perhaps it attracts more sponsors too?). Furthermore, when the show finishes the fandom will be less likely to have these large conventions, as fans and creators get involved in other additional fandoms and focus more effort on them, leaving less time and effort for them to do much more than watch the show and maybe attend the weekly local meet-ups (which will hopefully then have become lifelong friends).

I ponder this as I produce the blade from my pocket in front of Fatso and Pooch.

This is something I’m still skeptical of, even as I write this, because I always felt that the majority of furry convention VIPs are from within the furry fandom (and it has just occurred to me that we may be seeing a move to wider ‘internet/alternate culture’ conventions that are mostly or partly pony – one hopes mostly – similar to how furry conventions started out as part of a science fiction convention and blossomed, but in reverse, and have you ever heard such a cringe-inducing term as ‘internet culture’?). Nevertheless, it’s still something to look at if you’re thinking of running a con.

And to add to my scepticism: so we have a TV show that has limited appeal, with a fandom that hosts sizeable conventions and by rights, ought to die with it, rather than continuing onto the Next Generation of the franchise.

Star Trek, anyone?

As for the other UK pony convention I asked Riley about, UK Ponycon, which serves as another test case, this is more an all-ages convention that appeals to all generations of the franchise, so it is not quite the same and may have other reasons to be more enduring – I ponder its decade-plus longevity as I lift up Poochy’s leg with the blade in hand.

This is something I will inquire about further. Watch this space.


I Want to Cum Inside Event City (Disclaimer: Figures Not Exact)

Another thing that has always been an issue with BUCK is the venue size – claims of ‘mismanagement’ or the ‘stage being too big’ about Buck 2014 (the second one I’m inclined to agree with) from the attendees got me mulling this over. Riley states that with a con increasing in popularity, there will inevitable be a shortage of tickets, then complaints, and then demand to move to a larger venue. But, going from around 800 at the con’s first hotel venue to the next year’s 1200 requires a jump to a larger venue such as Event City, which is for hosting far more people than 1200 – and therefore far more expensive. There is no inbetween.

Another potential test case – the amazing Galacon, in Germany – is comparable for its location at the Forum am Schlosspark in Ludwigsburg. The venue seemed to have the same sort of theatre-seating room arrangements and capacity, but was a ton cheaper than what you’d have to pay on Airstrip One. And it was quite far out from the nearest urban centre, rather than slap bang in the middle.

Riley pointed out that in Germany, the train links are more direct, running straight through from France and the rest of Germany, and from Russia – especially Russia! – and Italy and other surrounding countries. So fans have an easier time getting there, instead of having to go to London and take the Tube of Death to another station and sit on an overcrowded coffin all the way from there to Manchester. I don’t personally see how that’s much of an issue, myself.

Riley states that it is likely also cheaper in Europe, especially flying guests in – flying them from the East Coast, though, is a lot cheaper than the West Coast, due to mileage and other things. There is also the possibility of there being a bigger con culture in Germany.

To be fair to Riley, he says he is not sure, and emphasises that really, you’d have to ask the staff at conventions in Germany for this – it’s a whole different ball game, he says.


THE FINALE: BUCK’s allegations of bad money handling are probably wrong.

As we part, I start what this has all been leading up to: I tell him about the allegations of poor financial management – and worse, misconduct – that have popped up once or twice at BUCK.

“These are based on the fact that their hiring costs, ticket prices, and debt don’t seem to match up, at least to the naked eye. Do you think the discrepancies are justified and above board?”

He pauses in thought.

Only the sound of the tannoy is heard.

The train stops at my station.

He proffers a disclaimer: “I don’t have access to BUCK’s accounts, obviously, so I won’t know precisely how good a job they did.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”
But from my job experience, I’d wage the ‘discrepancies’ make sense. No scams or mistakes.”

And with that, we make our goodbyes, and I lug my shitty vehicle off the train with a Bowie knife in one hand and a pair of pit bull testicles in the other.


Afterword

So there you have it, folks! It is very likely the allegations of scamming were just that: allegations.

(Like they were in any way believable).

HOWEVER, while allegations of financial mistakes also seem more doubtable now, I’m not entirely sure, because as a journalist, second and third opinions are always needed, I need to find out more information, and admittedly I’m biased, as I’m pissed at this happening. BUCK was always a good con, and you can’t help try and look for someone to blame. Just make sure there IS someone first.

What do you think? How similar is Galacon to BUCK? Are furry conventions? Do you live in Germany, and if so, what is the convention culture like? Let us know in the comments.


Also, look out for Horsecon 2017, details coming soon – if you donate more than $20, you get to keep a ball signed by MA Larson from the ball pit. $30, you get a free pair of wings with it.

Comments (23)

  1. somewhat well written article. But why pacing it with your hate for dogs?

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    1. Maybe because he just doesn't like dogs, which is personally reasonable since dog bites send hundreds of thousands of people to the ER each year (in addition to dogs being filthy and noisy). It's his blog anyway, so he can write about his hate for dogs all he wants. Also, the dog in the article actually PISSED ON HIS LEG. Did you want him to rant and rave about how awesome dogs are after that happened? Get real, you mindless dog worshipper, any one can criticize dogs if they want. If you don't like it GTFO.

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    2. Yea. And we should also ban all cats. My great grandfather was mauled to death by some rampaging stray cat while he was just minding his business on a safari in southern Africa.

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  2. The signings were actually 10 quid, not 20.
    And yeah, Peter New is a total badass. After the signing he was hanging out in cafeteria and vendor hall and taking pictures with the rest of the people who were brave enough to pester him about it. And on one occasion he actually came up to a fan and proposed to take a picture with him after he saw said fan freaking out after saying hi to him.
    And his panel also was a total blast. I really was glad I came.

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  3. I've done Galacon and Buck and I'd say they're about even in some regards but not others. It's hard to compare the music line up because BUCK has a rave-y concert and Galacon has the gala, but form what I've heard, the Gala has always been a bit eh, whereas I've been impressed with how the BUCK events have been run (even if the music is mostly dreadful brony trash and I've just sat there drinking expensive alcohol). BUCK had an awesome venue in 2012 and 2013 but had to move because of size reasons which is a shame, as it's a great venue. Galacon's venue is excellent too. As far as panels and such go, both are pretty much the same selection of badly run brony rubbish (and I say that as someone who has done a panel at BUCK twice). Most people just don't care to put the time and effort in which makes it just an embarrassing session of ums, ahs and ego stroking. Staff panels were done much better at BUCK 2013 because they took less stupid audience questions. The polsky panel was arguably the best panel I've been to. Charity auction wise, BUCK is ok. Nothing particularly special but Galacon...my god.... I hate to be rude to perrydotto because I'm sure she's a nice lass and all but holy fuck somebody needs to take the mic away from her for the auction. The charity auction should not be an ego stroking event. TWICE I've seen a table full of items left unsold because she was unable to just hurry up with the auction. This means less money for charity and less happy people with money they've donated and items in return. That's just bad form, and it has angered me both years to watch.

    I can't compare the two for guest treatment since I've never been a guest at galacon but I have mixed feelings about BUCK. The guys are really nice, no qualms there, but both years I was mucked around a bit in some wya. The first year I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing the first day. I'd never been a guest before and was never told about the green room, what line for ticketing I should be using, etc. Still, I had a fun time and I'm not about to hold that over them. The second year I was doing the fanfic writing contest but...there were no pens or paper....so I had to run out to the nearest shop and buy a bunch myself (and no, I was not told I'd have to provide them or anything, it was supposed to be there). The other thing was that I was told conflicting information at the last minute about whether or not I was supposed to be announcing the contest winner on stage. This might not sound like a big deal but I'm not a confident guy and I was petrified of doing it but also kind of excited and I spent a good while thinking up what I wanted to say. Then I was mucked around a bunch with whether I was actually doing it or not which had me trying to text members of staff and awkwardly standing around the stage entrance to then find out I wasn't doing it. Again, I had a fun time and I'm not going to shit over the convention for it but it did leave a sour taste at the end of the con.

    Regarding financials....hoo boy. I've spoken a bit to people at BUCK about finances and it does seem like UK cons are hard, so I won't try to guess as to whether they're good or bad at getting good deals/locations. I will say though, Manchester is a shit location, and no matter how many times they say it's central UK, no it isn't. Birmingham is the further north you can call central UK in regards to the location of most of the population. But then Birmingham is a shithole so, swings and roundabouts. In general I think the UK is just bad for cons of BUCKs size. Probably a bit big for a lot of hotels but too small for a really serious venue, which leaves it having to rent space in massive expensive venues.

    tl;dr brony conventions are gay as fuck and fuck all bronies

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    1. Incidentally, anyone who pays for signatures is a mark and I hate you

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    2. I pay for signatures. Go eat a dick Knighty!

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    3. BUCK sure wins the music scene, but Gala definitely on the organisation part - I've found their panels to be more interesting, entertaining and informative. And BUCK 2014 location was cold as hell!

      Regarding the Perry and auctions - although she takes her time, its an awesome show - its not charity, but a show and people love it! I've been to Crystal Fair and their charity auction was emotionless car-fair trading auction... and BUCK, meh, just a regular auction. The charity event is always the last thing on Galacon and always the one of the top attended events!

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    4. The vendors must love that. :/

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  4. OBLIGATORY VERTIAL TEXT MAKING FUN OF A TRANSGENDER AND/OR PEDOPHILE
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  5. All I can remember is that some of the least expensive VA costs to a US con is around $1,500. I wouldn't recommend quoting me on that but there are also some VAs that can go as upwards as a cost of a Honda Odyssey LX (It's not Tara Strong from what I can recall).

    I don't know all the nitty gritty details but when it comes to the really small brony conventions I know one VA actually gave out free autographs and pictures rather than charge $20. Again, I think it varies with the contracts and so forth and fame does dictate the value of a particular VA.

    I think what makes furries different from bronies is that furries don't have a centralized point and can easily be fragmented to oblivion while still being completely functional. Those not in the fast track on the brony side are definitely going to be left behind and in the dust. It's also why most pony panels tend to be mediocre is because with the VAs and writers having most of the limelight it really gives no incentive to put on a good panel (Hell, I've been to a few panels at BronyCon 2014 that only had not even 20 people in it...Ironically it was one of the best panels they had).

    The beauty about Star Trek conventions is that The Ultimate Fantasy killed conventions in Houston, Texas, for about 28 years. G fucking G, mate.

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    1. $1,500 would be their appearance fee. Now we need to pay for their airfare, cost of transportation to/from their departure airport (including parking if they drove there), hotel costs during con, a daily per diem, the cost of providing them an assistant and driver during the con (typically these roles are filled by volunteers, but we might incur hotel and rental car expenses for them), and quality refreshments in the green room. Altogether we're looking at a $3,000+ buy in for a single VA.

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    2. You're right, I meant to add in that is the appearance fee or base fee. It does sound about fair, really. Especially since many of the VAs come from Canada which obviously throws a wrench into US cons (last I checked it's 65 cheaper to fly to Seattle. Doesn't say much for driving north, though). Of course most of the VAs tend to lodge at a different hotel than the con itself, although here in Texas we all tend to have our own vehicles (and yes, there have been a time or two that transportation could of been handled more professionally).

      It's still a hefty drop in the bucket when some venues can go as much as $20,000 for the weekend. At $40 a ticket you'd have to have at least 500 congoers to break even there. The AV equipment can be a few thousand dollars, etc.

      Oddly enough one convention I'm familiar with set aside funds for the VAs to have their own mini-vacation outside the convention itself to go sightseeing around here. It's a good thing I don't know all the numbers because that would drive me nutty.

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    3. That should be 65 percent, whoops.

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    4. $20,000 for a weekend for a venue? hahaha those sorts of prices would be awesome. 1 hall in the NEC Birmingham costs £100k per day (at full price) for rental alone.

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    5. I never said I was intelligent, just merely poking fun at my ignorance in the sense most of these horse cons are done in hotels. It's easy to assume conventions done in actual convention areas to cost much, much more but I wouldn't know (and I'm sure many of those conventions have sponsors being comic and/or anime conventions and all that jazz).

      You just have to note most brony conventions hover at around 2,000 attendees at its average. You really can't go all out unless one is BronyCon.

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  6. The one thing that makes pony cons a bit unique in the small fan convention scene as most do not invite and pay staff from shows and comics to make appearance and sign autographs, that is usually only done at larger and corporate baked cons. It is the VA and other show staff that puts the most financial strain on pony cons, but at the same time is what caused them to grow so fast in the first place, so it really all comes down to the ability to project what funds cons will have to work with from year to year and what they can afford to do and pay to have appear.

    The crux of all this is that convention need to be ran like corporation and need people that have experience in running businesses and handling resources. If you are not seeing what problem is, then maybe you have yet to realize that most people that volunteer their time with convention, including the higher ups and board members, do not tend to be people this this type of background. I see a lot of excitement, big ideas and grandiose plans for cons, but little in the sense of what is practical. This is one of, many, things that contributes to the collapse of a con, they simply run out of money. One of the other big things is people get tired of the politics and egos involved, people using these conventions to accomplish some ulterior motive, such as gaining clout in the fandom and a way to get close to the show staff.

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  7. PURPLE TRANNY!
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  8. Nice fair and balanced article. HN is interesting, it stirs all sorts of drama but tends to be decent about UK conventions!

    The other factor with it ending is the organisers being worn out. They've had enough of the stress. Normally someone else could take over the reins when this happens, but as BUCK is a brand they're very protective of, this isn't possible - someone else would have to start a new con with a new team under a new name. I still think there's room for this, but what makes people like the BUCK management special is that they're "doers" - we can talk about how it should be possible to make something this popular work until the cows come home, but on the internet, that's all we do.

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    1. To add. Prospective "doers" also need to know what they're doing - far as I know BUCK are willing to give advice. And if someone beats you to it, do the pony thing and work together - don't just run a competing con in the same place at about the same time (GBBC and MLC, I'm looking at you)

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