At first glance, the idea of a two-day convention themed around soccer and hosted by NBC’s Men In Blazers (Roger Bennett and Michael Davies) may seem silly to some, especially when you consider the prices involved. They’re looking for $225 for a general two-day pass and $425 for a VIP one (although they are offering a student and military discounted pass of $125). However, this makes some sense in terms of the growing convention scene worldwide, and this may well prove to be a desirable experience for a lot of soccer fans. It may also pave the way for an expansion of conventions in the sports world, and that could be positive.
Why would people pay that much to hear others talk about sports? $225 is more than most match tickets cost, and a traditional mindset would hold that watching sports live would be superior to watching people discuss them. Conventions offer a very different experience, though, and there can be plenty of value in them. First off, this isn’t just the Men in Blazers: their already-announced panelists and guests range from Barclays’ Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore (one of the most powerful figures in the global sports world) to Liverpool chairman Ian Ayre to Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano to other well-known soccer journalists and commentators such as ESPN’s Bob Ley, NBC’s Rebecca Lowe and beIN’s Ray Hudson. That’s an impressive lineup, and it’s easy to see why some fans might find it well worth the price to hear these people talk.
Conventions have a big impact beyond the sports world, and plenty find value in them. Over 200,000 annually attend Comic-Con in San Diego, which has gone well beyond just comics to cover movies, television and much more. Conventions like the Penny Arcade Expos cover comics, video games, tabletop games, music and more, and there are plenty of more narrowly-focused ones, such as Essen Spiel, GenCon and Origins for tabletop games. (Or things like CatanCon if you want to focus on just one family of tabletop games.) Just about every fandom has its own conventions, and there are gatherings for things well beyond what’s traditionally seen as geek culture, including specific railways’ history, food and wine festivals and even everything from The Association Of Lincoln Presenters to The World Taxidermy And Fish-Carving Championships. Music and film festivals may not be called “conventions,”
but they’re along the same lines too; people who have a strong interest in things often like the idea of getting together to listen to experts on the subject and meet others who share their interests, and that shouldn’t be seen as unusual.
Gathering sports figures to address fans in panels on key issues seems to be a relatively-newer idea, but there have been some promising implementations of it. On the sports journalism front, the Blogs With Balls conference series has been very valuable over the years (arguably much more so than other big-name conferences that discuss blogging issues without bloggers). On the baseball front, PitchTalks has done a good job of pulling together interesting journalists and bloggers for panels in both Canada and the United States. Those are just a few of the success stories we’ve seen, and they do show that the idea of conventions, conferences, panels or whatever else you want to call them has some merit. In some ways, it’s continuing the democratization of media; anyone willing to pay to attend a particular conference or convention can now listen to and talk to sports figures who might once have only been available to traditional journalists.
In a world that’s becoming more jaded about access, some will undoubtedly sneer at the idea of paying to hear soccer figures talk. Many fans may decide it’s worth their money, though, and BlazerCon may offer a valuable experience for its attendees. It may also help grow the game. Davies and Bennett have said as well that they’re not expecting to make money in year one and that any proceeds will go to military family aid charity Hope For The Warriors.
It is worth noting that this isn’t the first soccer convention out there. As AA’s Dan Levy pointed out, there’s a long-running National Soccer Coaches’ Association of America convention, and that’s had a lot of impressive speakers and events over the years, including legendary Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson in 2015. It’s been useful for more than just coaches, too. However, an event that sprung up around a coaches’ association may not be the perfect one for all soccer fans, and BlazerCon may well be more to the liking of some. There should be room for both. We’ll see how BlazerCon develops, but at the very least, it’s an interesting idea. It has the potential to perhaps turn into more, too, and it might help expand the idea of the convention in the sports world.