Something funny happened on the way to the Funko booth this year.
Or rather, something funny happened at the Funko booth, as well as behind the scenes.
Funko — the creators of Funko Pop! vinyl toys and other product lines like Hikari, Wacky Wobblers, and more — are easily one of the most popular booths on the show floor, right up there with the giants of Hasbro, LEGO, and Mattel. However, unlike those three, they don’t implement any sort of pre-sale (like the latter) or Sails Pavilion ticketing system (like the former two). As their popularity continues to boom, their lack of a well-defined system led to mixed results at San Diego Comic-Con this year.
Funko is aware that the demand greatly outweighs their supply during the convention, which is in part why they announced before the con that, “in an effort to streamline the process and keep the line moving quickly,” they were moving to an order sheet system this year. The idea was that once people were in line, they would hand them an order sheet to fill out with each collectible that they wanted, so there would be no delay once they reached the register. They also announced that they would not be selling to exhibitors on either Preview Night or during the first hour of the show on Thursday-Sunday, presumably in an effort to sell directly to fans instead.
However, as is common practice at Comic-Con (or any event), people try to find loopholes.
According to Funko’s Marketing Coodinator Cameron Deuel, once the convention kicked off, Funko was “noticing a disturbing amount of people lingering around [their] booth before the floor was even open,” which likely meant that exhibitors were swapping badges with regular attendees and hanging around the booth, an unfortunately common occurrence at Comic-Con. This led to frustrating situations for fans who had been lined up for hours, as that combined with the already mad-dash to the booth made it one of the most frustrating lines of the convention.
“My friend and I got into line for Preview Night at 9:15AM on Wednesday,” Stephanie Kariott said. “We were one of the first 10-15 people near the escalators at the G Hall entrance. When we were let in, I booked it to the Funko booth, and as I’m sure you know, by then it was already a madhouse. I jumped in line and spent about 45 minutes not moving at all and not even knowing if I was really in line or if they were going to cap it off in front of me.”
Hours later, it was determined Kariott was in line, but that they wouldn’t be able to take her order on Wednesday. Instead, she and several other attendees were given VIP passes to return the next day to head to the front of the line.
This general situation carried on until Saturday, when Funko decided to make a change. For the last two days of the show, Funko devised a last minute plan and began distributing tickets on the show floor that attendees would require in order to visit the booth, instead of simply allowing the line to form and then capping it.
“The ticketed system was implemented on Saturday and Sunday only in an attempt to relieve the crowd congestion around our booth,” Deuel said. “The ticketing system was implemented after the first two days of SDCC. The crowd around our line was out of control and the idea was hatched during the second day of the show. By the third day, our team had created tickets for 3 separate phases to take place throughout the day.”
However, they didn’t actually inform attendees about the change — on purpose.
“The ticketed system was not communicated on social media and that was an intentional choice. We had a lot of issues with exhibitors switching their badges and camping out at the entrance to our line. The goal was to make sure Con-goers were given a better opportunity,” Deuel said.
The tickets were distributed at various locations, including at the booth itself, a situation which worked out well for at least some attendees.
“As I approached [the booth], I could already see the mass hysteria forming around the booth and accepted my attempt would be futile yet again. When I finally made it, I saw that they were handing out colored tickets and I managed to snatch one,” Ricky Cassvan, co-host of It Came From a Podcast, said. “I was told to come back at 1 PM since I was part of group 2. I got to the Funko booth at around 12:50 PM and was turned back until 1 PM, so I just hung around the area. Once we got in line, they handed us a sheet with everything they were selling. We were instructed to mark an ‘X’ next to each item we wanted to purchase, with a limit of one of each item per person. One and half hours elapsed by the time I got in the line to when I was finally let in the booth. They grabbed all the items I had marked and rang me up. After three years and several multi-day attempts, I had finally officially gotten into and purchased exclusives at the Funko booth.”
However, tickets were also distributed elsewhere on the show floor, to mixed results.
“Tickets were purposefully distributed away from the where our line began in order to give other SDCC-goers a chance to have access to our booth,” Deuel said, explaining that they were hoping this process would put an end to exhibitors in their line.
Because they didn’t communicate any of this to attendees, it’s unclear how many actual fans knew about the process, versus how many attendees simply lucked into it by chance.
Artist Agnes Garbowska posted a video on Instagram of Funko tickets being distributed at the entrance to the G Hall. You can see how easy it was for Funko collectors and other attendees to walk straight past the ticket distributors, without knowing what the tickets were for or that they should be looking out for them.
“The painful part is I probably walked right past the guy handing them out if there were any left by the time I set foot in exhibit hall,” Louie Rob, who tried to join the Funko booth one morning, said. “I didn’t know about tickets until I was physically at Funko’s booth. I assumed at this point I might as well try for the next wave, and started asking how to do that.”
Asking Funko how to join the line the next day though proved difficult, at least for some.
“They were just more focused on explaining why I missed out, and that the line was capped. They couldn’t seem to answer when the next opportunity would be, which I assume is because they had no clue, but didn’t want to put it so bluntly,” Rob said.
For as difficult as Funko’s regular Comic-Con exclusives were to obtain, there was one that was even harder: the Bryan Fuller exclusive. The piece was limited to only 144, and was only sold during a special autograph signing by Fuller on Friday. Michael Richert reported that he and several other attendees circled the booth like “musical chairs” as they hoped to land in the right spot at the right time.
“At 12:51 I noticed a bunch of peoples hands shoot up and people start filling the line. The line that wasn’t supposed to begin until 1PM was capped at 12:53. I was so frustrated with how poorly that was run that I never returned to their booth,” Richert said.
However, a few lucky ones did manage to make it in, but even the attendees who scored reported mass chaos.
“The line process was a madhouse. Funko’s booth is in a very bad space for such an event. The security guards and the Funko people did their best to keep people moving, but all that happened was the creation of a constantly circling mass of people among the normal mass of people,” M, a female attendee who wished to remain anonymous, said. “When it was time for Funko to open the line, which they should have done well before they actually did, it was a nightmare. There were some people who were quite literally shoved out of the way by people who could physically overpower them. There was a crush of people frantically pressing forward and the Funko people did their best to manage to get people into a line.”
One of the most consistent comments from attendees was confusion over why Funko devised their own ticketing system, rather than utilizing the common ticket drawing system up in Sails Pavilion that’s used for several autogragh sessions and some exclusives.
“Having a hoard of people mill around your booth while your booth was closed for three hours is unsafe, when it could have (and should have) been a very simple ticketed signing,” Richert said.
When we asked if the company had considered using a Sails ticketing system, the company declined to answer — but if the ultimate concern was to keep exhibitors away, then that system has had good results for both Hasbro and LEGO. Because the line forms upstairs in the Sails Pavilion, and sometimes happens later in the day (like with LEGO’s minifig drawings), it’s harder for exhibitors to make it upstairs from the show floor. Plus, it cuts down on the chaos, as there’s no question of whether or not someone is in line, or what’s happening. In fact, the one night the Hasbro line did get pretty out of control was Wednesday’s Preview Night, the one night that Hasbro didn’t utilize the Sails ticketing system and instead simply had a queue form at their booth. Bleeding Cool’s Joe Glass reported being punched in that line while trying to score a Star Wars Stormtrooper exclusive and the ensuing chaos.
Perhaps Funko wasn’t expecting the chaos that happened this year at their booth, which is why their own ticketing system was devised so late — maybe even too late to get a spot up in Sails. But why weren’t they expecting huge crowds of people, especially after similar situations took place last year?
While it’s obvious that Funko wasn’t quite up to the challenge this year, we’ve got hope that next year is the year they’ll finally get their process right.
Did you stop by Funko’s booth? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.