Economic Powerhouses: Anime Conventions

Diehard fans of anime are known for many things. Most of these things are negative. What they never receive credit for however, is creating economic opportunities.

The word anime is the Japanese term for animation, and in the United States is often used as a catch all term for colorful graphics, vibrant characters and fantastical themes.  Anime has grown in popularity in the United States and other nations, creating many fans of the genre. Just like fans of Star Trek and other major media, these fans regularly hold conventions.

Anime conventions are exactly what they sound like, a gathering of individuals who meet in order to engage in some common interest. In this case, the interest is Japanese produced media. These types of conventions have gaming rooms, panels, workshops, and a massive marketplace.

Going undercover at the Anime Central (Acen) convention held in Rosemont Illinois, conventions are a very a big deal. Acen lasts officially over four days, but most of the activities take place on three-day weekend. Thousands of fans come from all over the country to experience this convention. While 2019’s numbers are still unavailable, in 2018 alone the convention had 32,653 unique attendees and a total entry count of 91,609 fans over one weekend. The number of attendees has only gone up year after year, and 2019 felt like it had quite a few people.

What Acen also had a lot of were booths promoting products and product vendors. According to their website, Acen had roughly 462 industry partners, vendors, and artists the event. Anyone with a booth needs to pay to be there, the listed pricing being anywhere from $1,350.00 to $155.00 for a booth. This does not include other incidental expenses incurred, including personnel costs, transportation, hotel rooms, etc.

Artists, whom man the smallest but cheapest booths offered, swarm the convention looking for a spot. It appears that the sheer amount of artists looking for a spot has gotten so large, the convention had to adopt a lottery system to decide who could get a booth.

From a business standpoint, it is easy to see why a booth is so coveted at the convention. Asides from the direct sales at the convention, it is a great marketing opportunity. There are a lot of talented artists out there, so competition is fierce. Having the opportunity to show off your art to a crowded marketplace filled with people who are predisposed to liking your art is a golden opportunity.

This chance is also taken by bigger fish in the industry. Crunchyroll, a subsidiary of Otter Media, who is a subsidiary of Warner Media had a huge booth at Acen. Many other major companies also had booths there, including some unexpected ones. The Bristol Renaissance Faire and Medieval times both had booths at the convention. Neither have much, if anything to do with Japanese entertainment, but someone on their teams felt it prudent to take advantage of the marketing opportunity.

Others not directly related to the industry also find financial success from Acen. The Donald E Stephens Convention Center where the event takes place is entirely rented out for the event, and so are some of the connected hotels. The hotels themselves are also usually booked, usually months in advance. Acen even had special travel deals with airlines due to the massive influx of people.

Ride sharing partners with companies like Uber and Lyft have a lot of opportunity as well. Streams of cars marked with ride share stickers routinely shuttled in and out of the convention filled with attendees. Often the attendees would take rides to places to eat, with those places enticing convention goers with discounts.

Acen Dinning Specials

It is also no secret that convention goers drink a lot. Exploring the attached hotels, you can find people stumbling drunk, day or night. These con goers need to drink somewhere, and they often patron the bars and nearby liquor shops. Is it bad to have people drinking? Maybe for the janitorial staff. However, people making messes is why janitors get paid.

In addition, this drinking benefits the local governments, as alcohol is a highly taxed good.

In fact, an anime convention produces a lot of tax revenue. Taxes paid for a hotel room, sales taxes collected by venders, and other taxes would not be collected in that area if the convention did not take place there.

What is interesting about the convention itself, is that it does not pay any income taxes. Acen is run by the Midwest Animation Promotion Society, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Meaning, any of the money the convention collects is untaxed.

The Midwest Animation Promotion Society (MAPS) has a lot of money. looking thru their publicly available tax documents, it is almost surprising to see how much money the convention has. MAPS as of their last filling (2016) has $2,272,104 in the bank. In addition, their revenue appears to be trending up every year.

Acen Revenue

On brief review of the tax documents, its show that much of the money it takes in goes directly into the conventions. The conventions draw in people with money to spend and major companies looking to market their media. There is money flying around at these conventions, and everyone benefits from its existence.  

Anime conventions are economic generators like no other. People come from all around the country to attend one, and often save up their money just to spend at the event. From a business standpoint, it may be worthwhile to look into how to profit from this gathering of anime fans. Anime conventions are still considered a new industry, and due to the nature of the event many would cast off the industry as too niche. However, there may still be many pain points that have not been addressed, and a cunning entrepreneur may find ways to make some extra cash, if not a living.

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