ReedPOP, purveyors of the most recent Star Trek convention in New York City, have a reputation for putting on some of the best conventions around, including New York Comic Con and Star Wars Celebration. While providing some fresh alternatives to the Star Trek convention scene, the company’s background did not prevent issues from arising at its first ever Star Trek event.
“I guess they don’t know who I am?”
Just ask any Star Trek fan in attendance at ReedPOP’s Star Trek: Mission New York who Walter Koenig is, and they won’t be able to say it fast enough. Yet, walking into the Javits Center for his appearance at Mission NY on September 2, Koenig was held up at the registration desk due to his ReedPOP handler having not arrived. In tongue and cheek fashion, Koenig made the above statement. He was kidding of course, but it was an inauspicious start to ReedPOP’s first-ever Star Trek convention, one that saw some truly inspired panel programming and gave fans room to move around the venue, but also one which suffered from its fair share of growing pains, most notably fans being turned away from the star attraction panels.
Given that the only major Star Trek conventions have been run by Creation Entertainment for many years, it was notable that ReedPOP was handed the mantle of hosting an official Star Trek convention for its Mission New York celebration this year, which instilled a breath of fresh air in an event that many feel has become stale with the same guests, panels, moderators, and more. ReedPOP rose to the occasion for the 50th anniversary celebration of the franchise, and did not disappoint in scheduling its panels.
Greeting fans were a diverse number of presentations, all of which were heavily featured and promoted. Convention goers were able to attend discussions on Star Trek history with “The First Convention” panel (appropriate as The Big Apple was the site of the very first Star Trek convention in 1972) and the Smithsonian’s effort to restore and preserve the original Enterprise model; science-based presentations featuring NASA-led panels with its astronauts, scientists, and engineers plus what aliens might truly look like and SETI’s quest to find life in the galaxy. Other fun events included a reflection of The Animated Series, a Next Generation musical improvisational comedy, as well as typical celebrity panels and more.
The most telling moment that Mission NY was not your typical Star Trek event was the “Women in Star Trek” panel, moderated by TrekMovie’s Amy Imhoff with Marina Sirtis, Nana Visitor, and Terry Farrell. The questions, and especially the responses, were honest and thought provoking about the treatment of female characters in Star Trek, but more importantly, the group discussed how the actresses were treated behind the scenes. Despite the panel being scheduled at the same time as the Voyager cast on the main stage, Imhoff, Sirtis, Visitor, and Farrell spoke to a packed house. It can be argued that the attendees of the Voyager panel missed out on what was the most engaging discussion by the franchise’s actors and audience ever before at a convention.
Problems arising should be anticipated for any first-time convention, even though expectations may have been higher for ReedPOP as it has hosted several successful New York Comic Con shows at the same Javits Center, as well as the highly regarded Star Wars Celebration. It was disappointing to see so many interesting new panels (even headliner events like the Star Trek: Discovery panel) scheduled opposite one another, a problem common to cons with multiple ballrooms.
While ReedPOP may have hit a home run in regards to its offering and promotion of panels, they also failed in the same area, as fans were turned away from the popular and main celebrity attraction discussions such as the The Next Generation and Voyager cast panels, as well as the Walter Koenig and William Shatner appearances. The Main Hall only sat 2,500 people and could not accommodate all fans who wished to attend these moments (this is something Creation does extremely well, only selling tickets for the number of seats it has, ensuring all fans paying admission access to all panels).
Finally making extra accommodations on Sunday, ReedPOP did allow access to all fans remaining in line waiting for the Shatner panel – which was the very last scheduled event of the convention. While all those in line at the start were granted entry to the Main Hall, more fans left the line when initially told by ReedPOP personnel that being in line did not guarantee them entry. ReedPOP also capped that line, limiting the number of people it would allow to attend. These issues were on top of blocked-off VIP seating in the middle, which often went unclaimed, as well as empty balcony seating.
ReedPOP did respond to its seating issues in a statement from its Global Event Director Mary Franklin:
“We are working with CBS on an official wrap of the event that will be coming soon. As for future Star Trek Missions, we are looking forward to our conversations with CBS on future possibilities for their event.
We worked in close conjunction with the Javits Center staff on their allowed capacity of the main stage room. One balcony was closed by the building for repair of the chairs and the other we reserved for studio and CBS guests. The number of reserved seats on the floor for the purchased VIP ticket holders did not change for any of the panels. For the last panel of the show, William Shatner, the Javits allowed us more capacity, and for that we and the fans were very grateful.”
More issues arose for those with VIP badges, which cost $400 each and promised fans guaranteed priority seating. Although that guarantee did come with a caveat, as VIPs were told to arrive 30-minutes before the start of each panel to ensure a seat; never mind panels they might have wanted to attend were still occurring at the time. In addition, once the room was closed off to fans due to seating, those same VIPs were not allowed access to the reserved seats set aside for them. The first two days in the Main Hall, non-paying VIP guests were allowed to move into those reserved seats. However, something changed on the final day, and people were removed by the red shirt ReedPOP staff members.
It’s true, ReedPOP did have a disclaimer on its website stating that tickets did not guarantee access to all panels, but it was hidden on the last menu option for “first time” convention goers, a selection convention regulars, who go to several cons a year, would have no reason to make. Considering that organizers sell more tickets based on who their scheduled guests are, burying this information seems like an unfortunate choice. It would seem the only thing the price of admission truly guarantees is the opportunity to spend more money in the dealers’ room and for celebrity autographs and photos.
Often conventions of this nature turn into overcrowded affairs where fans have no room to walk or even breathe. A positive aspect of hosting the convention in a venue as large as the Javits Center was the ability for fans to move around freely and visit the dealer’s room without being pushed and shoved, as well as the ability to just sit down and take a break. Sadly, this positive also turned into a negative as so much was spread out.
The lack of vendor choices in the dealers’ hall was surprising and was cited as an issue by many of the convention goers. There were plenty of corporate options: Roddenberry Entertainment, Avonos, Star Trek Timelines, Simon & Schuster, Titan Books, and even the United States Postal Service. But private vendors who sold more unique Star Trek merchandise, especially vintage collectibles, were limited to just a few, with only one offering anything other than recent books. Unfortunately, that vendor seized the moment and raised prices exponentially for the occasion.
Some vendors lamented the fact that potential customers were camping out at the Main Hall all day, both inside and out. With the vendor hall a several-minute walk away, many fans didn’t risk making the trek and losing their chance to get into the big panels. Holding the event in such a cavernous arena more suited to comic conventions – which typically draw tens of thousands more visitors – ReedPOP also did not mark areas well enough for fans to find secondary panels, the autograph room, or even the main hall itself.
Actors were upset at the distance they were away from fans in the designated autograph and photograph area, which was hidden at least two sections away from the dealers’ room. Typically, actors are only paid for autographs and photos sold during these events, which means if fans could not find them, it was difficult for them to be compensated for their time. At one point on Saturday, one of the stars of the spin-offs had only sold three autographs.
While the extra amount of space did allow fans more room to move around, it did take away from the overall socialization that tends to occur among Star Trek fans at these proceedings. Socialization is one of the main draws for these types of events among Star Trek fans. Just look at social media to see the number of people who reunite with friends they only see once a year at Creation’s biggest event, Star Trek Las Vegas (STLV). Granted, STLV has outgrown its current venue (the second time it has happened), and while space might be at a premium, everything is located in one place. Fans don’t have to jump on the subway to continue hanging out — restaurants are within walking distance, not a cab ride away. Additionally, all hotel accommodations are centered on the strip, unlike the hotels in NYC which required travel by train to go back and forth.
New York City is one of the most exciting cities in the world and a terrific choice to host a convention. Sadly, the Javits Center is not located anywhere near the amenities that fans seek after a long day. Its location forced attendees to jump on the subway or take a cab to return to hotels or even visit a restaurant. Additionally, as fans were spread out through the city, getting together for the evening was almost impossible after the long journey back to hotels.
The Future of Star Trek Conventions
New fans are discovering Star Trek every day thanks to J.J. Abrams’ new Kelvin timeline films, easy access to the back catalog of shows and movies via online streaming services and Blu-ray disc, and the highly anticipated debut of Star Trek: Discovery (which did not have a major announcement at the convention – although they did share news of a partnership with IDW Publishing and Simon & Schuster regarding comics and novels set during the new series). Many of these fans were in attendance at their first Star Trek convention at Mission NY. While most did not allow the issues to impact their time negatively, there were still some who walked away with a bad taste in their mouth.
Hits and misses are always to be expected for a first-time event of this size, and while this was ReedPOP’s first-ever Star Trek convention, it was not its first-time hosting a fan event. ReedPOP should be congratulated for attempting to fix at least one of the issues, although it was sadly too late for many fans. Hopefully, in its statement regarding an official wrap-up of Mission NY, ReedPOP’s reflection will include all the positive and negative feedback they received. It would be fantastic to see both ReedPOP and Creation learn from the successes and failures of Mission NY to make appropriate changes to ensure a stronger fan experience at future conventions.