An Exhibitor's Guide
In wake of a shooting at a Zombie-themed convention in south Florida the previous weekend it could be expected that there would be some reluctance for people to attend a convention the following weekend. However all the vendors I spoke with agreed that Animate Miami felt even more sparse than expected. While some insisted that attendance numbers had risen with each subsequent year, I'd place attendance closer to 3,000 (a generous estimation) than the 10,000 reported. Numbers aside, here's what I experienced.
Accommodations: (Four Stars)
The staff at the convention, and the hotel staff were both top notch. Professional, courteous, literally checking in with every vendor to make sure everything was okay a few times a day, helping vendors with any minor inconvenience. Well staffed and offering free lemonade and donuts each morning, this was among the best customer service I've ever seen at a convention. I feel bad for having anything negative to say about the weekend because it was easy to feel that the people working the convention really put their hearts into making it a success. Internet was free, phone reception was fair (though I saw some booths struggling my immediate neighbors had no issues with Square), and a few free power drops were even provided to help us recharge phones. They also enforced their convention bylaws and booted a vendor nearby that was selling vaping products and having customers ride segway-like boards, which was fairly dangerous given the proximity to their neighbors, that also took up the bulk of the aisle space in front of any booth around them. (the enforcement was a very good thing) Being a Hilton Honors member also really paid off for a hotel which was literally connected to the convention. Parking was easy, loading in and out was extremely easy, and beyond one egotistical artist who told my booth that we were in the wrong venue, everyone (artists, exhibitors, staff, volunteers) I spoke with was extremely friendly.
Attendance: (One Star)
Animate Miami was well under capacity. I would describe my row, a corner booth near the middle edge of the dealer's room, as being very sparse 60% of the time, half-full 8% of the time, full 2% of the time (generally due to a cosplay group), and completely barren 30% of the time. It was disheartening, and one of my immediately neighbors left mid-Saturday... A fair number of other artists and vendors also abandoned their booths on Saturday I was told, which I'm led to believe was true based on what I saw. Cosplayers at Animate Miami were generally good, with a few dozen really outstanding costumes. It's worth noting that being able to speak even a little bit of Spanish was extremely helpful for maybe 5% of the people I interacted with. There were a lot of families, but I'd say the bulk of the people there were teens and early 20's, 50/50 male female ratio, generally anime and gamer enthusiasts. Various VIP's and Special Guests also roamed the halls, and the original visual reference for Disney's Tinkerbell stopped by briefly to chat with us. She is exactly as friendly as you might imagine, and still looks very recognizable as Tinkerbell's body reference. Though generally new faces I hadn't met at previous conventions, perhaps 5% of people I spoke with were people I'd met before, and one older gentleman knew me as "the 72 Hours guy", which brought a huge smile to my face. Most attendees seemed interested in retail wares over art, and sales were generally low for everyone I spoke with.
All in all I felt like Animate Miami was enjoyable, but not worth the booth price. While the service was truly top tier and the pricing reflected this, the attendance and fanbase were more on par with a 1k-1.5k attendance convention, with most of the attendees on a tight budget. If you sell anime, manga, or general retail goods this is probably a fair venture, but if you're an artist or unique goods vendor it's a rough gamble. If the prices lower I'll return, otherwise I'll probably sit Animate out for a few years because it's too difficult to make back your money.