The Biggest Little Fur Con of the West
In its 4th year of operation, Biggest Little Fur Con lived up to its name. When the count was tallied, BLFC 2016 had set another record, drawing 3,651 attendees; making it the largest furry event in the Western United States, and the third-largest furry convention in the world.
I had the opportunity to exchange emails with the con chair, Tyco, and in this article we’ll take a closer look at how this ‘little’ convention has achieved such unprecedented growth.
A fertile desert
One of the strengths this convention has going for it is its location. Nevada is known as a tourist trap state, with Reno and Las Vegas having a strong hotel and entertainment industry at its foundation. Many cities which furry conventions are hosted in don’t account for tourism first and foremost. Even if there wasn’t a furry convention going on, there’d still be plenty to do in these adult playgrounds.
For instance, the Grand Sierra Resort has a huge swath of activities unrelated to the convention. The convention website lists these activities, and whether they allow fursuits on-site. These include bowling, go-karts, mini golf, and a casino - which, of course, doesn’t want fursuits; they don’t need you hiding chips in your muzzle!
The draws come with disadvantages, though; many summer parties in the region make our gatherings look tame and minuscule in comparison. Burning Man and the Hot August Nights classic car extravaganza limit any chance at a summer block. This, in essence, why the convention has limited itself to the spring; but the lack of competition from larger winter or summer furry conventions may have led, in part, to its success.
Being a more tourist-oriented area, weekend bookings are also in higher demand than in business-oriented hotels hosting furry conventions, which usually have higher demand during the weekdays. Hotels focusing on weekend tourism need a good swath of rooms kept open for non-furry tourists, to ensure they aren’t strangling themselves of their dollars as well.
The director of operations said “this convention has grown so fast it has stretch marks”. Those have been a test and testament to those on the ground: from the heads of staff to the newest volunteer. When asked about the challenge faced by this unprecedented growth, con-chair Tyco explained “we've been forced to gain ten years of con running experience in four years, and that has been by far our biggest challenge.”
Love and dedication to creating their own experience has seen them through these challenges. The volunteer-to-attendance ratio keeps those who work on staff at the convention busy. BLFC is looking into ways to increase volunteer headcount through means such as better benefits. Tyco also plans to improve volunteer and staff organization to ensure that those they do have are used more effectively in future years.
It is on the backs of those that volunteer their time that allows the convention to continue to grow and thrive, and it is their love and dedication that the con chair credits most with the continued success of Biggest Little Fur Con.
Can growth be sustained?
While the attendance has gone through this growth spurt, like most cartoon characters who start to grow uncontrollably, one is left to wonder when they’re going to bump their head upon the ceiling.
One major issue that will limit further expansion is that the main convention hotel is relatively isolated from any surrounding hotels. A shuttle service would be needed to for any runoff hotels. BLFC’s 2016 attendees already took up around half of the Grand Sierra Resort’s hotel rooms. While BLFC can continue to grow, it’s going to start to be a problem as the reserved block gets closer to the filling out the hotel.
The convention has considered pushing for a mid-week con in order to not press into the hotel’s weekend activity and to keep things affordable for attendees. This has, of course, met resistance as it would require working attendees to use more vacation time. This could slow down the convention’s future growth; but being such a well-received convention, dedicated fans may make the sacrifice to attend regardless.
There was no indication of anything drastic such as limiting attendance at this time, as previously implemented at conventions such as FurFright.
When Sierra Nevada Anime Fans Unite handed off the 112-person PawFur to its own dedicated staff in 2013, it’d be hard for them to anticipate that in a few short years it would grow beyond their own SNAFU anime convention - breaking furry fandom's own first-year attendance records. This shows an amazing dedication by the furries toward making their conventions an experience to draw in more fans.
Will this Nevada convention some day be able to catch up with the Eastern titans of Midwest FurFest and Anthrocon, both of which still have a heavy lead of a few thousand attendees on the biggest of the little fur-cons? Only time will tell. However, with dedication, creativity, and maybe a little bit of Lady Luck, anything is possible in the deserts of Nevada.
See more: Vice provides photos from Biggest Little Fur Con 2016.
About the authorSonious (Tantroo McNally) — read stories — contact (login required)
a project coordinator and Kangaroo from CheektRoowaga, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, writing and finance
Note on the attache graph. Some conventions have not had a 2016 run yet. For those (Anthrocon, Midwest Furfest, etc) an estimation was made based on current growth rate.
Rainfurrest excluded in the above as there with not be a convention for them in 2016, of course.
Yeah, I was going to say, it's a little optimistic there… oh well, at least it shows if there is another convention in that area, it has the potential to be almost as big as BLFC! (If everyone hasn't spent all their vacation time at BLFC.)
"Optimistic" sure. The number I put in for AC was 6,800. The actual count was 7,310.
So, if anything it was "pessimistic".
It also puts a damper on the prediction of AC being overtaken by MFF in 2 years. I'd have to wait upon MFF's results, but if the projected growth of MFF maintains, AC is now pulling away from them.
FC seems to be dying.
Rainfurrest is already extinct.
FC just expanded with hotel facilities, is the slight attendance drop a concern?
I dont think a slight drop in attendance exactly qualifies it as dying. However, it will be interesting to see how FC fares in the future since it's no longer the only Furry convention operating in North America during the Winter. Anthro New England for example, is held the week after FC, and for furries living on the east coast, it obsoletes the need to travel cross country and risk getting your flight cancelled due to snowy weather to get to a furry con when there's one closer to home.
Has Further Confusion on the coast in California ever gotten many attendees from the East Coast? If East Coasters want a Winter furry convention, there is Midwest FurFest in Chicago in December.
Of course, flights to Chicago in December risk a much greater chance of being cancelled due to snowy weather than flights to San Jose in January.
In regards to FC It will be interesting study of the effect of new conventions on attendance to more older establish conventions. Stagnation at FC could be result of more options like Biggest Little Fur Con, Anthro New England, VancouFur, Furlandia or more. The idea is we furs have more choices, besides that FC being weeks after the holiday season may be an issue for some.
To me, FC is stagnating in growth, but not dying per say. I think the only conventions I have major concerns of is FA-United, which is moving quite a distance (from NJ to VA) off a year of decline; and of course Rainfurrest which is going to need to recover reputation amongst the hotels and come off a year hiatus.
I've staffed FC for the last several years (in low level positions), as well as been a vendor.
Speaking from my perspective, I don't see FC as dying or stagnating. What appears to be happening is that growth in the Western Coast Furry Market is being siphoned off to other conventions, particularly BLFC and Rainfurrest(until recently), as well as PAX and possibly Texas Furry Fiesta to a smaller extent.
While FC indeed peaked a few years ago, their 2017 numbers are currently only 45 people smaller than their peak in 2014, less than a year after the first BLFC. Let's look at the numbers:
2013: 3380 | 700
2014: 3560 | 1142
2015: 3527 | 2443
2016: 3536 | 3651
2017: 3515 | 5138
From 2014 to 2017, FC had a 1.26% drop in attendance, for a total loss of 45.
Meanwhile in the same time period, BLFC had a 449.91% growth, an absolute growth of 3996 people.
Do remember that regionally speaking, both FC and BLFC draw from the same market and in a sense are competitors, and that these numbers do not account for the years of Rainfurrest's operation or Pacific Anthro Weekend, both of which were or are growing and the latter of which takes place in the same city as Further Confusion.
There's also the human side of the equation to look at. If I recall correctly, PAW partially started due to a falling out among the senior smoke-filled-backroom types at FC... in 2014, when FC peaked. There were also issues with FC's venue in this timeframe, specifically growing pains of having to move into the convention center proper.
If FC's decline in membership - which has only been during 3 of the last 5 years, as 2014 and 2016 had higher numbers than the prior year - continues or accelerates as the growth of BLFC, PAW, and whatever replaces RF slows down, then I'd suspect that the AAE board discussions will get a bit more panicked.
But FC dying? The numbers don't support it.
Sadly, I probably won't be attending FC anymore, but that's because I moved to the East Coast and hate flying.
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