It sounds easy but one of the hardest decisions in the show promoting business is whether to charge admission and if so, how much.
Back in the day when shows were very frequent there would even be some shows at various shopping malls. My good friend Mike Kushner ran them at Manalapan Mall in New Jersey and there were also shows at both Paramus Park and the Bergen Mall among other locations. Now, if a show is in the middle of a mall, you’re not going to be able to charge shoppers. On the other end of the spectrum is the National Sports Collectors Convention where admission to the IX Center this year was $18. Of course, you will get to see items at that show you would never see anywhere else, you get some nice items when you walk in the door and you have a chance to visit with and purchase items from most of the leading dealers in the country. Somewhere between these two types of shows is the great middle, A.K.A. everything else.
Now there has always been something interesting about asking people to pay admission to spend money. For promoters, there is the cost of renting the room where the show is being held. Let’s say the cost of a room is $500 and one can fit in 12 tables in the room. At $40 per table, the promoter is still $20 in the hole so he would either have to do one of two things. The first option is to have a table to sell his material and hope he would take in enough money to make up the difference or charge, let's say $2 admission at the door. If he or she draws 100 people that is $200 and turns the deficit into a $180 profit. And yes for some promoters, the admissions are what makes a show profitable.
We are also presuming there are no autograph guests to pay. Back in the day when Mike Gordon ran shows at the Parsippany Holiday Inn, he charged $2 at the door and also had the first tables on the right when you came in. Eventually he ended up at the Parsippany Police Athletic League and the show again had admission charges but if you used the ad from the Newark Star Ledger, the admission was free. Since he was able to make some sales at his own tables and often got first crack at any walk-in items, that system worked well for many years.
In Dallas we have had several variations. We have the GTSM "autograph" shows which are held once a year at the Irving Convention Center. At that show, Friday is free admission with a $10 charge on both Saturday and Sunday. The concept of free admission on Friday with charges on Saturday and Sunday has been fairly normal in the Dallas area for years. Meanwhile the "Awesome" Card shows in the Dallas-Fort Worth area charges $3 for admission and $5 during the first hour of the show. And the Dallas Card show group originally charged admission but no longer does, as he is able to use dealer table fees to cover his costs and turn a profit.
I chose a $1 “suggested donation” for the small charity fundraising shows I’m promoting in the Dallas area. The reason is I wanted everyone to feel they contributed to our goal of sending kids to camp and a buck is something everyone can afford. We also use the front desk to sell extra door prize tickets (on that note, I’d like to thank Scott Prusha of Panini for the big package we received this week). So everyone who comes in the door will receive not only some more of the packs we had from our previous show but also a free 2014 Panini HOF card set.
We’ve been fortunate with my contacts to be able to provide value for everyone who comes and not have to rely upon dealers who, as we noted, usually, bear the brunt for the costs in this business. Of course, we would never turn down a nice item from a dealer who wishes to contribute.
But that was the logic in which we chose, frankly without much thought, a $1 suggested donation. It won’t work for everyone, especially promoters who are running larger shows but we’re anxious to know how they balance admission charges with making sure a good crowd turns out. I’d love to hear thoughts from small promoters and show attendees as well. There is no right or wrong answer to this question as a promoter or a customer, and your feedback is always appreciated.