Conventions have been a staple of fandom for many, many years but in the past fifteen years or so, they have really taken off. The attendance of Comic-Con International in San Diego never rose by more than fix or six thousand until 2002 when it started jumping by 10,000 and then leaped by 20,000 in 2006. Other shows have started popping up all over the country, and there were Wizard World conventions almost literally every other weekend by 2014.

Many shows, of course, try to get name celebrities to do autograph signings. I’ve heard of many celebrities who don’t do as much acting as they used to make their living doing shows like these. Erin Gray, who played Wilma Deering in the 1979 iteration of Buck Rogers, even established an agency specifically to help such actors book appearances such as these, based on her experiences.

Along with these appearances, many celebrities, in conjunction with the shows, began offering special photo opportunities. For an additional fee, an attendee could spend a few moments with the celebrity, apart from the chaos and din of the convention floor, and receive a clean, professional photograph of the two of them. This was partly to stem the tide of fans on the convention floor taking selfies with their now-ubiquitous cell phones, but everyone also immediately recognized the money-making potential as well.

A more recent convention phenomenon is that of the VIP pass. By buying premier tickets, much more limited in number than standard admission tickets, attendees would get additional privileges. This varies from show to show, but might include early entrance to the show floor, additional swag, reserved seating at panels, access to after-show parties, etc.

Which all makes complete sense financially. By providing different levels of access at different price points, conventions are able to generate more income from those who have more means. This gets closer to the “ideal” business model where every consumer is charged the most they can afford. This “à la carte” style pricing means an attendee can be at the show relatively inexpensively with a one-day general admission, or they can easily rack up several hundred dollars in fees before setting foot on the show floor.

Where this becomes potentially concerning, though, is when those levels of stratification lead to fractures among the fandoms themselves. When paying more for a greater level of access then socially dictates the depth of your passion. “I’m clearly a bigger fan of Arrow than you are—here’s a picture of me and Stephen Amell at one of his VIP parties to prove it!” As far as I’ve witnessed, I haven’t actually seen this behavior exhibit itself yet, but given mankind’s history in creating divisions among the haves and the have-nots, it’s not difficult to picture this happening. The VIP status is still relatively new to the convention scene and, depending on how cons continue to evolve the practice, they could potentially aggravate the issue of segregation. Hopefully not, but it’s something to consider and keep an eye on as conventions continue to modify their formats.

About The Author

Sean Kleefeld
Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
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Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and “Kleefeld’s Fanthropology” columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.