Ghosting the Attendees: the problematic trend of conventions hiding their headcount
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.
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.
How many attended?
— isatis @ blfc (@furgetful_fox) May 20, 2019
Yeah I'd also like to find out
— Alpha Floofio (@furrygraywolf) May 20, 2019
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 notes — Growly, 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.