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FA:United convention closes doors permanently due to COVID-19

Your rating: None Average: 3 (8 votes)

Fur Affinity’s flagship convention, FA:United, announced that it would be closing their doors due to COVID-19, permanently. While many other conventions have ‘suspended indefinitely’, or ‘canceled for 2020/2021’, this marks the first convention to indicate a more definite suspension as a result of the pandemic.

FA:United had shifted operations out of New Jersey to Virginia back in 2016. This was a risky maneuver, since they shifted operations so far from their founding state. Furthermore, Fur’the More had shifted their operations from Maryland to the same area, making these the closest neighboring conventions in fandom history. However, they were held at different times of the year so they were not directly competing.

Unfortunately for the convention, they never were able to draw the audience they had at their peak in 2014. While there was a slight decline before the move in 2015, the 2016 move did create a dip in attendance of over 18%.

FA_United.jpg

Their last gathering in 2019 shows that FA:United never got the opportunity to grow in their new home to surpass where they were in New Jersey. In 2018 and 2019 they were showing a chance of recovery. Had things not gotten thrown into chaos by the current situation, it would be a wonder if they could have recovered to become successful in their new home. However for FA:United, the timing of this upheaval couldn’t have been worse.

With the closing of this convention, it has made many wonder how many more of our gatherings of less than a thousand attendees will be shed from the fandom roster before humanity gets a hold of this pandemic.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 2.5 (6 votes)

Well... it's a con sponsored by a profit-making company. I do hope that cons with fewer expectations of dollar signs at the end will carry on.

Your rating: None Average: 4.8 (5 votes)

IMVU did not acquire FurAffinity until the late 2010s. FA United was started in 2007. It was in response to the act that Anthrocon was moving from Eastern Pennsylvania(Philadelphia) to Western Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh) around that time. So basically it was to fill the need for a convention that was moved from the region.

From what it appears, the reason FA:United moved into Virginia a decade later was to accommodate that Dragoneer was moving out of New Jersey.

So the initial decision was based on the need of the community when starting, the moving decision was based on the need of the one. But, COVID and crony-capitalism are grander narratives I suppose, and circumstances can't respond to critique.

Your rating: None Average: 4.3 (3 votes)

This is really sad. FA-U was my first out of state convention, and the first con where I fursuited. Next to FurPoc/FurFright and Anthrocon, I did mor FAUs than any other con. Made lots of friends, and tons of happy memories:
meeting Neko kitty, doing a comic panel with Dikran, watching a photo shoot of Rhea Algoran, Avi Fox's suite party that was shut down two nights in a row, handing out bacon, Dragoneer's gross stunts, and the wildest charity auctions ever. We always came a night early, and had Chinese takeout in the lobby of the hotel. Fire Alarms. Jets training camp. Indian wedding......
FAU never really broke out of it's niche as a fun little convention. That's too bad, bacause FAU was one of the fandom's hidden gems- a small intimate fun con, where everybody knew your name, and there was a lot of old school fandom spirit. On my last trip to FAu I was fortunate enough to be on Con staff, and that made the experience even more special. That was the first year in VA, and Dikran and I got a HUGE suite.
Why did it fail? Well, I think it was the combination of a lot of little things. They never really promoted it. They kept moving hotels and dates. The dates they picked were near other, bigger cons, notably Anthrocon, not far away in time or distance. Taking a con that was really NYC's home con, and moving it to the mid Atlantic. An antagonistic relationship with other conventions. Nothing fatal in itself, but the net effect of these and other things were simply too much when you threw the Covid disaster into the mix. Sad, cause I look back in my album, and almost all of the best photos were me fursuiting at FA:U
Farewell, friend; it was a good run we had. I think this pretty much wraps it up for me-
Memories
Light the corners of my mind
Misty watercolor memories
Of the way we were

Scattered pictures
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?
Could we?

Memories
May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply to choose to forget

So it's the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the ability to be free

Your rating: None Average: 4 (2 votes)

They could have run it again. 500+ is easily enough to be self sustaining. It sounds like they just didn't want to do it anymore. There's a lot of missteps a convention can overcome and keep going, but if the core staff simply don't want to do it, it's going to go away. It won't surprise me if this happens with some other conventions. People may discover that they have other interests they'd rather put time into. Particularly with ones that will end up having to miss two years.

Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (2 votes)

Well, I think two things are at play here. One, Dragoneer is not big on delegating. Second, I think FAU ran on a shoestring. As someone who has put on events, there needs to be seed money. You'll be paying hotel deposits, caterers, printing, getting swag done and so on. Even for a small con, that can be tens of thousands of dollars. Usually, not so bad, because just as you've started spending, registrations start coming in. BUT, if you start spending money, registrations dry up, and you've already spent a bunch of money, then you're in trouble. It was at least partly that in PA, and I'm guessing it's the case here. With no guarantee of a 2021 con, it's hard to justify hanging on to people's money. That means you're broke, unless you had a bankroll to start with. Even Anthrocon, big as it is was in no hurry to cancel, and discouraged cash refunds.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the ability to be free

Your rating: None Average: 2 (2 votes)

I do find it a bit weird wondering if a convention with 500+ attendees will be successful; that sounds like a very successful convention to me, especially as it was growing. It is below the mean number of convention attendees according to Wikifur's numbers (mean of 867 attendees) but that is skewed by a few very high attendance cons. The median number of attendees for a convention is 341, about 200 lower than the attendance of FA United.

In fact, super large conventions are primarily a US thing. FA United is ranked 50th in size out of 137 conventions which range from 11 000 attendees to only 12. That's two orders of magnitude! Furthermore, out of those conventions which are larger than FA United, 70% of them occur in the US. Of the conventions which are smaller than FA United, only 25% occur in the US.

None of that means that the convention wouldn't have had difficulties and COVID-19 has been hard on everyone. It might actually be harder for large conventions to keep going as they will have more costs and less flexibility. I only bring it up to disagree with the characterisation and implication that FA United was small and not successful. Many cons are much smaller and keep going for a while; as two examples, Zillercon (15-40 attendees) and Lakeside Furs (20 - 45 attendees) which are both in Austria both ran for over a decade. Lakeside Furs is still ongoing and, while I don't know if Zillercon is still running, it lasted at least 17 years.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

Your rating: None Average: 3 (1 vote)

I certainly never characterized FAU as 'unsuccessful. In the changing world of cons, to make it past the ten year mark is an achievement. I guess the size thing is part of the US mentality. "Go big, or go home". My local convention is FurFright, and it had been self limited at 1500 for years. It now has a new hotel, and the limits have been lifted.
That is a real issue. As cons pass ten thousand attendees, it gets hard to find places to hold them. As society becomes more 'virtual' the demand for huge indoor spaces has diminished. Therefore, the choice of places to hold them is as well. Plus, huge venues are booked VERY far in advance. So, in that respect, it's easier to book a small con. Even there, hotels have changed. Lots of hotels were configured for the business trade. Now, it's mostly weddings. The layouts that we are used to are consistent with business hotels. Again, fewer hotels to chose from.
Finally, you need a war chest. Takes a lot of money to roll out a con- probably 10-50k in most cases.
One exception to this was Camp Tiny Paws. Designed for artists and crafters, I get the impression that this was done on a low budget, but they pulled it off. We'll see how they survive the pandemic.
Again, I've been to a Con with 100 total attendees and had a great time. Small cons are like big fur meets, but are fun in that everyone gets to know one another and socialize. Huge cons are mostly rushing from one big event to another, and if you socialize, it's generally with people you arranged to meet beforehand.

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

I think I forgot to say "as" before successful; "as successful in their new home".

As in would have been able to get back over 700 attendees.

FA:United was on my radar about this even before Coronavirus. This is because of a pattern I'm noticing.

It's interesting but when a convention goes down in attendees after getting into the hundreds of attendees (300+), there is a pattern of death within the decade of the first year of decline.

Examples include: Great Lakes Fur Con, Rocket City FurMeet, Conifur Northwest, Fur-st, FA:United, Wild Nights and ConFurence.
Exception to the Pattern: Mephit Furmeet (had decline in 2009, still going and numbers have about evened out)

It's almost frightening how this is the case. But it seems that once you get a mass of people showing up, a decline is a signal that something may have went wrong.

Your rating: None

Megaplex (originally Pawpet Megaplex) is another convention that saw a precipitous drop in attendance and later recovered to become much larger. After a peak in 2005, it's attendance dropped by more than half by 2007, then recovered to exceed the earlier peak in 2009, fell slightly in 2010, and has continued to grow ever since.

I'm on Mephit FurMeet staff so I know a fair bit about what's going on with that con. The year of lowest attendance was the year IndyFurCon took place the same weekend. MFM places a high value on the atmosphere and sense of community among its attendees and doesn't want to grow beyond the point where that would be unsustainable; we think somewhere in the 800-1000 range is about where that would become an issue.

There is speculation that the FA: United attendance figure for 2015 was inflated and the actual attendance was under 500, based on anecdotes from attendees of such things as dances being cancelled due to low attendance, and an unusually low fursuit parade participation rate compared to other conventions that year (and FAU itself in preceding and following years).

Your rating: None

You are correct that Mexaplex would be an exception as well. I had overlooked the third and fourth year when skimming the numbers that it went over 300 before going back down for a bit.

It doesn't look like the suiter number was publicized for their last two years which makes it tricky to say. I do think it does show a trust issue that the comment speculation has been "there's more here than the COVID thing."

But it is too bad, regardless of the cause.

Your rating: None

(I just edited my post to add which year I was referring to in my FA: United comment, which I didn't realize until now that I had forgotten to include.)

Your rating: None

It depends on the size of the decline in attendance and whether it's within the range of planning. If the decline is so large that a convention fails to fill it's contracted room block, that's pretty much a death knell. That's what killed Confurence.

Duckon lost almost half it's attendance the year the furries broke off to form MFF (World Con was also in Chicago that year), but kept going for several more years because they'd planned on the drop.

RCFM was doomed far more by some monumentally bad decisions as far as hotels and staffing than by any decline in attendance.

FA:U could likely continue, but after a couple years off, it would be a lot like starting a brand new convention. Sure, you should have seed money, but in two years, how many of your old staff will still be up for doing it again? Some have likely moved to new locations by then. So then you have to try to fill those positions. You aren't a new convention in people's minds though so there would expectations which could be very hard to meet. I totally get that the staff of some conventions just won't want to climb that hill again.

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

I can only address FAU, as it was the only one where I played a very small role. FAU was in it's heyday when it moved from Phidelphia area to the Northern New Jersey suburbs, making it a popular con for the furry community in New York City, for whom FurFright/Furpocalypse was the nearest con. Even then, there were scheduling issues. One year, they were a week away from Anthrocon. Another year they were very close to Furrydelphia, then they picked a date after school had opened.
FAU also shot itself in the foot in a number of ways. They were notorious for long lines and running late. They ran out of food and closed the poolside picnic. Plus, they were never big enough to book the whole hotel. There were a series of issues between FAU and other guests. Not a lot, and not everyone, but they were there. Several years there were weddings booked during FAU, which apparently had not neccesarily been pointed out to the blushing brides, some of whom did not enjoy cavorting with furries. Though, some did. There was an Indian wedding one year, and the guests seemed to love the fursuiters.
So, it's complex. I think that 'failure to thrive' is symptomatic of issues internal to a con, and not evidence that small cons or lack of growth cannot prosper.
What I DO think is key to success is to have a broad and dedicated volunteer base. Many cons have shut down when key people have left.

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Sonious (Tantroo McNally)read storiescontact (login required)

a Kangaroo from CheektRoowaga, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, philosophy and writing