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The ’80s, ’20s Rule: OC Draws from Past, Future

Once and future events—last year, this year, and next—at the Anaheim Convention Center show growth in two key niches at the facility. It’s the result of efforts by destination marketers to play to Orange County’s strengths and bring high-profile—and high-dollar—businesses, groups and attendees, and even celebrities to the area.

A 1980s-themed consumer event called NostalgiaCon will visit the area in July, following last November’s debut of collectibles show DesignerCon. A tech-targeted International Science and Engineering Fair will be here in May 2020.

The first two draw on the area’s status as an entertainment locus; the third convention is part of a push to develop OC’s reputation as a place to hold revenue-rich events for sectors like medicine and education.

Area promoter Visit Anaheim has consciously pursued the latter following the center’s 2017, 200,000-square-foot expansion called ACC North—which pushed the facility’s total space to more than 1 million square feet—and maintain its status as the largest West Coast convention center campus. Executives say the former focus is a bit more organic—people and potential clients already tend to think of an area built around Disneyland Resort as amenable to entertainment events—needing nurturing more than goosing, plus a healthy dose of monitoring for new hopefuls at the center.

Con Jobs

“We have always been an association destination,” said Junior Tauvaa, senior vice president of sales and services for Visit Anaheim, “but in the last few years we have been diversifying.”

ACC North’s additional space enabled Visit Anaheim to pursue more and larger shows—bigger clients can book more space, or two shows can run concurrently—and because the new square footage is “flex space,” it can be used for the traditional exhibit hall or show floor need, as well as for education sessions, Visit Anaheim President and Chief Executive Jay Burress said.

Meanwhile, the city and center have an established standing as a locale for entertainment confabs. These include the just-concluded National Association of Music Merchants show—the biggest at ACC, with more than 100,000 attendees annually (see story, page 24)—Disney’s biennial fan fest D23, which draws upwards of 60,000 people and often involves major announcements by the entertainment giant, and still-substantial lesser lights—running 25,000 to 50,000 apiece on average—such as WonderCon, BlizzCon, and VidCon, which pull in comics aficionados, gamers and YouTube entertainers, respectively.

Visit Anaheim a few years back even considered making a play for Comic-Con, the massive San Diego event that had been bursting its southern city seams and exploring other venues, but organizers of the show—the nonprofit which also owns WonderCon—told the Business Journal they preferred not to hold both events in the same venue.

Fan Base

Tauvaa refers to these as “fan base” functions and says they don’t need a lot of work to bring to town: organizers approach them and Visit Anaheim’s job is to cultivate the campus’ character—and monitor results afterward.

“We have been going after that business but those shows have been successful and continue to grow organically.”

DesignerCon sought out Anaheim when it outgrew its longtime home at the Pasadena Convention Center. It had been there 13 years, starting at 1,100 square feet and maxing out at 97,000, with 500 to 700 vendors and exhibitors, and 3,000 more on a waitlist, founder Ben Goretsky told the Business Journal in June.

It drew “a little under a hundred people” its first year, he said, and 37,000 in 2017, its last year in Pasadena. The show—a gathering of people who make and collect kitsch, pop and fine entertainment-oriented art—expected to draw about 65,000 here, expanded its run from two days to three, and blocked out 1,000 rooms at area hotels.

Goretsky said OC was a draw because of its location, which is near Disneyland Resort and midway between L.A. and San Diego, and some of its art offerings.

Tauvaa said last fall that DesignerCon would have to prove its bona fides by drawing a sufficient amount of total business to the area. The consumer show charges $35 for a three-day pass and has a smaller exhibitor list than NAMM, which has about 2,000 exhibitors. The center’s second-biggest show, Natural Products Expo West, will have 3,500 exhibitors in March.

Tauvaa told the Business Journal last week DesignerCon, “looks like it delivered on … room nights” and is confirmed for 2019.

In the Day

NostalgiaCon fits into the fan base niche and aims to draw its own passionate hordes to Anaheim.

Founder Manny Ruiz projects at least 30,000 attendees at its inaugural show July 4 to 6, along with “several hundred” exhibitors. The show booked 500,000 square feet and “thousands of hotel rooms” for a three-day run from “10 hotels at varying price ranges.”

Tickets range from $85 per day to $300 for VIP access to the weekend’s festivities, which include panels on “the icons and legends of an entire decade from sports, films, television, toys and cars,” celebrities of the era, and musical acts including Thompson Twins and Dokken.

“There is heavy demand and passion for all things ’80s,” across generations, Ruiz said.

Ruiz founded media companies Hispanic PR Wire, Hispanic Digital Network and LatinClips, and sold them in 2008 for $5.5 million to PR Newswire in New York, which itself sold to Chicago-based Cision Ltd. (NYSE: CISN) in 2015 for $841 million. He’s run big events as well, including media-focused Hispanicize at venues in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Miami.

He’s attended VidCon and other local events and said Anaheim was a top choice for its Disney-centric location in “the number one state for nostalgia.” A NostalgiaCon press release noted “proximity to Hollywood [to] tap … retro pop personalities” and other West Coast retro events for classic cars and flashback concerts of 1980s-era bands.

Ruiz told the Business Journal the event will be here at least through 2020, noted “room to grow” at the center, and said he wants to start events for other decades.

“The ’90s are ready for their time to shine,” as well. “Nostalgia is the business of the past and … cannot be disrupted; the economic potential is endless.”

STEM Winder

International Science and Engineering Fair fits the second niche: organizations in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, and the companies in industries such as medicine and manufacturing that draw from them.

Such shows at the center tend to include significant educational elements and top-drawer clientele willing and able to spend more while here.

ISEF contributes to that with an educational event for 1,700 students—the next generation of such professionals—as well as 2,000 volunteers and thousands more attendees from 80 countries.

It’s been in Phoenix for a decade and Anaheim won next year’s bid with the backing from the city, Irvine-based Broadcom Foundation, and OC tech and research heavyweights such as life sciences accelerator OCTANe in Aliso Viejo and University of California-Irvine.

“We are really excited about this,” said Paula Golden, president of Broadcom Foundation. “It’s an opportunity to look at all of the exciting things happening in Orange County’s STEM community.”

The foundation is investing at least $250,000 in the event, which is the culmination of a year’s worth of science fairs at which students globally present independent research for a chance to attend. Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Society for Science & the Public produces ISEF, sometimes referred to as the “Super Bowl” of STEM.

Golden sees it as a week-long conference that can “serve as a catalyst … to help stimulate that STEM pipeline,” she said.

“The event should not be an endgame.”

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