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Ghosting the Attendees: the problematic trend of conventions hiding their headcount

Edited by GreenReaper as of Sun 16 Jun 2019 - 09:09
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Granddad loved ghost stories The term "ghosting a convention" is when a person attends and hangs around, but has not paid the organizers to do so. It’s seen as a major faux pas in the furry fandom due to the amount of time, effort and money their fellow fans put forth in order to put on the events.

Those who support the festivities through their patronage, therefore, should be praised for putting their time and money forth to support their gathering of choice. For the relationship between convention and attendee is symbiotic.

Instead, certain events seem to have started to shun the precedent of sharing how many furs attended their celebrations. Like a tree falling in the forest, the con did occur; but if you look back years from now, there will be no hard evidence of how many gathered. In essence, it is the attendees who have been ghosted.

Which is why I am writing this piece today, concerning a worrisome trend that a handful of events seem to have taken - including some of the largest events in our fandom. Conventions, as of late, have been trying to push away from publicly putting forth their attendance counts.

Update 5/24: An updated tentative count was released by BLFC in the comments below.
Update 6/16: FWA has provided their counts with the video of closing ceremonies in comments below.
Update 6/16: AnthOhio, which took place in late May after the article was written, has as of today not released attendance numbers on any internet media platform. They did release charity numbers of $13,000 raised.

The trend to obfuscate trends

Furry Weekend Atlanta has not released a head count for 2019 to the Internet, despite it having been two weeks since their festivities came to a conclusion. Likewise Biggest Little Fur Con seems to have decided not to announce their attendee count outside the Grand Sierra. And this wasn’t the first year BLFC buried their counts. In the year they had their musical theme, they placed it at the end of their parody credit roll (now offline), but otherwise never made any official announcement.

It is possible, in fact likely, that they released these numbers during closing ceremonies. But remember: the oral statement is like a tree; hopefully someone is taking note when it makes the sound.

It's not the case that these are smaller cons that don't have the resources or logistics to gather a tally. These are some of the largest events in the fandom. If getting and distributing a headcount is a challenge, that may be cause for concern; it should be one of the easiest things staff does over the weekend. If prior conventions could handle it, it shouldn't be a large logistical task.

Other numbers have been released, such as charitable donations and volunteer counts. Some fans asked after the number of attendees, but such inquiries have been given the same awkward, silent treatment as those asking for Growly’s head on a silver platter.

Given how readily other gatherings hand out this number, it seems there’s been a decision to keep these numbers under their hat when it comes to the Internet. For what reason is unknown; however, the trend appeared to start following Midwest Furfest’s leap to become the largest furry gathering in 2017.

I can only speculate as to the reasons. It may be a good way to incentivize people to show up to the close. Perhaps those up top feel that giving out such numbers is the act of a braggart. Maybe there is a concern that changes in their numbers can be used against them at the venue's negotiation table. Or perhaps, as happened previously with BLFC, growth has slowed from its former unprecedented rates — or even stalled?

Whatever the reason, there's been radio silence as to why, which will only create further confusion — who incidentally did release their numbers, despite minimal change since 2014. Worse, it risks the distribution of false numbers or estimates by data-less furs and unofficial sources. Nerds will fill in the blanks, confounding any desire to avoid comparisons. Nerds such as — checks notesGrowly, who ended up the one to add BLFC's verbally-given headcount to WikiFur. Well, that's awkward. Good thing they didn't kick him out, or who knows if anyone would've bothered jotting it down.

I mean, the very least the staff can do is give us who couldn't show up the numbers directly so we don't have to rely on those with shady pasts to give us our data, yes?

Importance of numbers - beyond bragging

I work in data, okay? Numbers are kind of a big deal. This simple tool lets us quantify and get a feel for scale. They help us determine what is accurate and what is not. With that people can make more educated decisions on what they are looking for, and perhaps find things they didn’t know they were looking for.

Some may want to go to the largest conventions to have the greatest chance of meeting the furs important to them. Others, being socially anxious, prefer not to attend an event that’s too grandiose. Perhaps people see a large staff count and don’t think their service is needed; but if they saw how many people were in attendance, it’d be clear that more help is in dire need.

Sure, there is a large amount of money going to charity, but without a headcount we can’t determine the dollars per capita, which would help to determine which conventions’ furs are the most giving per person. (Bearing in mind that some conventions have charity as an explicit organizational goal; while others are established as private clubs, for the benefit of their members.)

Numbers also shape our history. ConFurence, bless them, kept giving out their numbers in spite of the fact their attendance numbers were slipping in the late 1990s, so we could find the point where furs started to leave their gathering.

This month there was a possibility that Furry Weekend Atlanta would become the third largest furry convention over Biggest Little Fur Con. Since both abstained from sharing their numbers as of publication, that couldn't be determined officially. Instead, the history books will show that some fan created an unhealthily long article complaining about the growing opacity of convention headcounts.

[Based on the feet-on-ground numbers provided to WikiFur at time of publication: BLFC is still third-largest, but FWA has closed the gap a scooch. A difference of 242 people in 2018 to 159 in 2019. It looks like they're destined to be spring sibling cons for their respective West and East coast markets.]

But let’s not forget what may be the most important thing: Fans like numbers. The bigger the fan the more they like numbers.

Get any technology nerd in a room and they will give you verbal diarrhoea about servers, packets, and bit-rates. Get a football nerd and they will start spamming you with stats of that one player on that one team back in 1970 and historical significance of that game decades ago. A car aficionado will tell you how fast your car can go, how it can handle, how quick it can go fast, how much money it costs, and how each car is some quirky fursuit-like entity of expression crafted by the manufacture.

Thanks Doug DeMuro.

If you take away those numbers, it’s not going to enrich those fandoms. It will not make those hobbies more fulfilled. It is only something that is taken away. And if numbers are good enough for every other fandom, then let us not be the first to shun them.

It’s okay to like numbers and share numbers, it’s okay to be a fan.

Do not ghost those whom did not ghost you

At the end of the day, I’ll call this phenomenon what it effectively is: ghosting the attendees. It is the convention staff saying that those who paid to participate and join their convention are not important. That the fan’s contribution toward their event means nothing and therefore doesn’t count toward anything. Like an attendee ghosting the convention itself, it should be seen as a shameful and selfish act on behest of those that commit it.

I agree that volunteerism and charity should be more important than a headcount, and I have no qualms if conventions highlight those numbers first and foremost. However, to eliminate the count entirely is to scoff at those that show up. The reality is, if they didn’t show up, the amount of charity and volunteerism that would occur is zero. You cannot deem those numbers more important and neglect to mention the attendees. The very least you can do for those that paid both time and money to be present is to make them feel like they contributed to something larger with their fellow furs.

The people who volunteer have something to be proud of, but providing the number of volunteers is amplified when providing the number of furs they served. Without that, it belittles the volunteer’s effort, because they can’t go around saying how large the organization they volunteered for was.

If there are those that use the numbers to make the growth of conventions feel like a rat-race instead of a sense of pride on the continued success of our spaces, that is their issue. If people present these numbers in a way that denigrates necessary smaller gatherings, that is their problem - and perhaps worthy of criticism itself. But to hide our numbers in the shadows as if it is something to be ashamed of? That’s a bigger problem that’ll impact the morale of the fandom at large. It sends the wrong signal to furs that their growth is something to fear or regret, not something to take pride in.

Biggest Little FurCon had 5,804 and Furry Weekend Atlanta had 5,645. Fly the banner and blow the kazoo. They were able to do that thanks to you. You earned those numbers chief, don't let them hang bro.

I hope conventions take into consideration before further obfuscating their attendance. It may be well-intentioned, towards those within or without, or merely neglectful, but its effect on our fandom and those showing up and contributing to our functions will be chilling.

Like a ghost.


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What a dick!

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Random theory? Conventions don't want hotels to know their paying guests since people have started not exactly staying at the main hotel or paying con bookable rates. (Which are oftentimes higher than other available rates.) If the hotels get wind of the fact that people aren't paying con hotel rates, they may start holding back amenities from the convention or charging for those amenities.

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This can't be the explanation of why BLFC no longer makes official attendance announcements, since there aren't any other hotels in the immediate vicinity. The relative isolation of the Grand Sierra Resort also means there's no possibility of an 'overflow' hotel which could allow the con to expand even more. Right now, BLFC's room block is 1200 out of a total of 2000 rooms. It's unknown at this point whether the hotel will ever allow the block to become any larger percentage-wise than that.

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Am I looking at the wrong hotel? I know plenty of people who stayed at multiple hotels that weren't the Grand Sierra Resort and yet went to BLFC. It's just a few thousand foot walk to at least five hotels.

Yes, they're not "super close" as we've come to expect overflow hotels to be, but there are plenty of people who went to BLFC that were NOT in the Grand Sierra.

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It is surprising - or perhaps, not surprising - how strong the correlation can be between the strength of attendance figures and their time to publication. This is not always the case; a delay may simply be a matter of data siloes or limited personnel. But it is frequent enough to notice, as someone who ofen has to dig up such figures from the depths of social media (or failing that, request them directly).

This story also reminds me of a convenient artifact of the registration system used by a very long-running Russian convention, which I uncovered only recently in the process of adding other regional events to WikiFur's furry convention map

The way their system works, users "register" for the event - but this is not linked inherently to a payment (as might be expected by those uses to attending such events), but merely indicates receipt of details that might result in payment at some time in the future - including at the door. If they do book and pay for a room, they are deemed "attendees"; but failing that they remain reported as "guests" by the system. These might as well be considered "ghosts", inasmuch as it is - perhaps deliberately - unclear how many of them actually turned up; indeed, it seems that the majority may not.

Judging by a tweet from a few years ago, the "completed" figure of people attending (residentially or otherwise) is known to staff; but not normally reported, either during or after the event in their archives.

This doubtless has the potential to inflate the stature of such an event; but this may backfire, as the only reasonably firm figure we have is the much lower "(residential) attendees". This is clearly an under-estimate, as some "guests" did in fact arrive - but it seems likely that we shall have to switch to focus on that figure for past and future events, unless further information becomes available.

There are other issues with such use of figures - for example, I read concern from potential attendees about the ability of their latest venue to cope with a number of people who never actually attended previously. And of course, when roughly a third of the convention is missing in action, it is not that hard to tell.

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There is another reason why the Russian furcon uses this system IMO. To keep their numbers intentionally low so the Kremlin does not consider them a problem. It's no secret that minority and or fringe groups in Russia have been suffering various forms of persecution on the grounds of moral deviancy outlined by the government. Russian furs do not need that kind of trouble. Plus, with this kind of system, if there is a some kind of "crackdown" on furs & furcons,it would be difficult to pin down who was actually a con attendee. This could save people's futures.

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Well they're doing it wrong, because it looks like they have 400+, but actually it appears they have fewer than 300. And surely, if it was not certain who'd actually attended, they would just arrest all of them until they admit to being members.

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With all due respect when I go to cons of any kind I try and stick to the topic at hand. I keep shop talk, and particularly talk about TCP packets, bitrates, CPU threads, the Linux kernel modules and other items out of conversation. I do this everywhere I go. I do make an exception when it comes to my interests though such as games, and Sonic.

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A decentralized, volunteer-based fandom has upsides and downsides. An upside is open access and low costs. A downside is being run on a shoestring with little contingency budget for things like malicious vandals/trolls deliberately causing security costs to cripple or cancel the con.

This was a thing since the beginning at Confurence (alluded to here )-- I have a long private message on file from a direct source who talks about a self-named "Team Evil" of trolls doing nazi-like RP and undermining, like booking the con's Executive Suite reserved for con space ahead of the event to deprive the goers of the space. There was other deliberate interference to interrupt business in the dealer room; and then there was the so-called "embezzling" issue that shows how operating on a shoestring can tie you in a tangle.

The way people in-the-know tell it, in the 90's they didn't have Paypal, and a year-round account to process credit payments was prohibitively costly for one weekend. The workaround was having a comic shop process credit payments -- but then after the con, the shop fell into unbearable debt/tax issues (or bad dealing by the owner) and the money wasn't there to share out. Resulting in the con founders taking on debt to cover it out of duty to make things right for the dealers, while being bashed online at the same time as if they'd stolen from anyone.

That's part of structural weakness these cons have always had, that's deliberately leveraged by the current-day "Team Evil" of hate groups in fandom who want to wedge their nasty asses in where they're not wanted. So cons have a dilemma about hiring professional security instead of relying on volunteers, and potentially jacking up costs or scaling down the cons, because we can't have nice things.

How this ties to attendance could be interesting. I don't know exactly how running shows at nightclubs works in every place, but it's generally very regulated, with terms like a certain amount of security for every 50 or 100 people. When Frolic furry dance in San Francisco was facing the loss of its long time venue, one of the issues was attendance regularly overflowing and certain activities on the street bringing... risks. (I take the fifth about what went on in that alley.) A really good reason they'd stayed in that (awesome) space was because it was a historic venue (one of the oldest operating gay bars), so it was grandfathered in past newer regulation. They didn't have to hire as much security as other more expensive places would. They always want to keep the door cost low.

With con attendance on a steep upward curve, there may be a rise of structural issues such as increasing risks and liability and scrutiny (Boozy Badger got into a different issue about legality here, which may put certain cons in a very grey area.)

If you don't know the exact size of the con, neither may regulators or others who'd use the transparency against them. If you like what cons do, maybe let them run their own show like they feel is the best way to run it, or be one of the volunteering and higher paying stakeholders who can help them get a better budget and urge them to use it.

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Those moon nazis keep ruining our parties

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In BLFC's case, it's real simple: we need to discount the no-shows from our official count. That requires sitting down with a physical book and counting physical labels, which takes time. The leaked number doesn't reflect that discounting and our official attendance number will be lower.

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Thanks for the comment in regards to this.

Was the number 'leaked' or was it a tentative one that was announced at closing ceremonies?

The term leak has a negative implication, and someone updating a wiki in good faith based on a number given out to the general public orally wouldn't necessarily be a leak.

Nothing is in stone, and accuracy does take time. So if time is taken for the sake of accuracy then having a tentative estimate attendance updated to a more finalized number is more than reasonable. MFF had that happen last year as well.

Standards could be established around that concept of tentative numbers and then more accurate being given later, it'd be much healthier in the understanding of processes that we are humans after all and accuracy is not instantaneous.

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I guess "leaked" is not really the right word; it was announced to volunteers and staff as a tentative number, and probably spread from there. Likely what happened is as it spread, it lost the caveat of "this isn't final and needs to be decreased for no-shows." I suspect we have around 150 no-shows and will be counting ASAP, so the real number is probably closer to 5650. I'll go update wikifur right now.

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Thanks, I'll note the update on the article as an addendum. I'll hold and see if FWA gets an official number at some point, they're basically equal in size at this point within margins of error. It's kind of crazy.

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Yeah, I noticed that too! We shall see where the chips land and report as honestly as I'm able, but a small part of me hopes they take back the 3rd place spot purely so we can go back to being the biggest little fur con, instead of the littlest big fur con. ;3

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There are 162 events in the map I linked above. Even discounting camping and semi-annual bowling events, I think you're squarely in the "biggest" camp. Europe only has one that's bigger than 3000, and that only just.

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Just step on the dream, there, Green Reaper.

Just crush it.

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I do; I will. Of course, they could always create a secondary event, like Furry Siesta. Then they could potentially hold both titles simultaneously!

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My first thought as I was reading this was that perhaps some conventions have decided they don't want to play the game anymore of seeing how high they can rank among other furry conventions, and they would rather just put on the best convention they can without being concerned about or distracted by such concerns. The game is a dubious one, for regardless of what a convention's leadership may wish, fans are interested and do pay attention to such things.

Tyco mentioned running the numbers to exclude no-shows from the attendance figures, so it's worth pointing out that some conventions do in fact include those who preregistered and paid in advance but didn't actually attend in their attendance figures. It's one of those cases where each convention follows their own procedures and they are likely not consistent across different conventions. Even that assumes it's a good faith attempt to put out an accurate figure, and even that might not always be the case. I'm aware of at least one instance where some observers speculated that the "official" attendance figure was inflated because the actual figure would have looked bad.

It's worth noting too that not all conventions want to be bigger. Before it was cancelled several years ago, FurFright put a cap on their attendance because they knew it would be logistically impossible to continue putting on the kind of convention they wanted to if it continued to grow. Mephit Fur Meet has some room to grow but doesn't want to become too large for fear of losing the family reunion feel that regular attendees appreciate.

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Well said!!! I don't like to see these cons get bigger than they already are. I thought BLFC was way too crowded at times, and both FWA and BLFC the term Elevator Con was mentioned a lot. I'm not as concerned about ghosting more as crowding is more my concern. These cons will get more popular. I'm hoping Mephit Fur Meet doesn't go beyond its limit, as I love that small con - where else I can chat with Foxes and Peppers nonstop for an hour. i can't do that at BLFC. Joe Bear

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This whole whine is pretty self serving. Why not just say what you mean. You report on furry news and if some events don't provide that information, you can't report it and that upsets you. I'd say each event is fully entitled to share as much or as little information as they wish within what the law requires for their tax classification. The public doesn't have the 'right' to know any more than that.

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Personally, I don't care about attendance numbers beyond bragging rights.

i get why a news site, as strained as the term is, like flayrah would but I don't think the majority of con goers care.

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I attended both FWA and BLFC, and had my fursuit debut at FWA. I remembered Tiger Nick announce it literally under his breath (I caught it) but Tyco did not say total attendees at BLFC closing ceremonies - he said we were ahead 'By a few hundred more than last year', then he went gunhoe to the total number of volunteers and etc. BLFC felt so different to me than FWA, as I believe BLFC is a party con while FWA is more personal and social based (I have lots of furry friends in the South) I believe both cons are destined to fall either on back to back weekends (which allows me to attend both on the same two week vacation block from my employer, a big bad telecomm giant) or this...I heard rumors that BLFC willhost its 2020 con the same May 7-11 dates as FWA. That means I'll only attend FWA as Furry Weekend is very dear to me, and I'm cool with the RFID wristband now as they worked perfectly under my bear paws (I'm still wearing mine, and I'm sure Growly is too!!). I got my room at GSR for $400 a night (thank my roomies for helping me or I would have paid almost 2K). GSR only alloted 1600 rooms, as I got my room out of con block on rack rate. If I attend BLFC again, ill stay at Harrahs. Great article and thanks for posting this. It was mentioned on FurCast earlier tonight. Joe G Bear

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I did see the furcast episode and I did enjoy the conversations it brought up on their show about logistics and stuff.

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While this article was criticized for only providing examples of two such situations and not three, unfortunately that is no longer a proper critique. AnthrOhio, which occurred 2 weekend numbers have not released their tentative attendance numbers on their site or their social media feed.

They have released their Charity Donations at $13,000.

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Literally their closing ceremonies...posted by them. This article has a good point, but weak support.

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Thank you for sharing this video. I will be adding an update to the header.

It should be noted:

1) The article did denote that it was likely that the gathering had released its attendee count orally at the closing ceremonies. Second paragraph in the "Trend to Obfuscate Trends" section.

2) The video you linked was only uploaded yesterday (June 15, 2019) while this article was posted on May 23rd, 2019. Now I may be a decent researcher, but I cannot watch videos that have not been posted yet. Such ability to time travel is outside of my scope.

3) Given how quick this comment was made after said video was posted tells me a lot of information about the person who posted the comment.

Either they were one of the 23 viewers of said video, or were the poster of said video (or someone who knew the video had been posted by someone else). Given the personal inflection of the comment it is more likely it is the later than the former.

This article is nearly a month old, the odds the someone would find the FWA video posted just yesterday and then this month old article at random is highlight unlikely. Therefore, it is far more likely that it was someone who had read this article and held resents over it, which posting the video alleviated.

If that point is true then I will give this advise to 'anonymous', if you are passive aggressively going after someone over an article about releasing of attendance numbers of all things, then what's going to happen when people critique things of more vitality of the gathering? And they are just an attendee that doesn't have a platform like this?

It's concerning is all I would say if it is true. And the anon knows it if it is true or not.

I'll leave it at that.

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Take a look, buddy. It’s the con’s account. I’m just subscribed, haha. Way to make it personal.

Did you bother to personally reach out to any of these cons though, like is pretty standard protocol in journalism, asking for comment? That’d have given you a HUGE up in credibility here. Just a suggestion.

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It's was also "standard protocol" for conventions to release their numbers in a press release or their Twitter (after it became a thing) following closing ceremonies, yet here we are.

I had noted a person had asked about the numbers here:

To me, I am treating that tweet as if I had asked the question myself, and that the failure to respond to said tweet counts as a "no comment". If I ask the question someone else asked and I am given the answer while they were not, then that would make me privileged over the average furry, which has its own ethical issues.

Now, can the system be made better by making it easier for conventions to format post-convention press releases? Sure. And that is something that could be looked into, and could be developed on our end which would probably make the process easier and better for all parties involved.

Basically what you are saying is that I would have to call up a convention every time it closed individually to acquire the numbers, To me if the numbers are released at closing, it's kind of a pain that I have to call them to get numbers they already have but chose not to release to their platforms (all the while they released the other numbers).

If there is a better way to acquire these we'll look into it. It just seems quite odd that in this modern era that I'm going to have to call furry conventions each weekend to do what was done so readily before we even had the internet.

The release of attendance numbers I would find to be more "standard protocol" that was violated more than "contacting person/organization you are writing about" thing. Do you think all the press organization run their pieces by the President before they publish them?

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