Rollercon 2015 – The Inside Story

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Many of you have been waiting on the edge of your seats for more news about Rollercon 2015, and its 10th year of operation… We have some insider words from the maestra of Rollercon, Ivanna S. Pankin, herself:

“RollerCon 2015. A freight train was bearing down on us, and we didn’t even know it.

In January, we were actually feeling super confident that 2015 planning was half in the bag, and most of what was left was the nuts and bolts of scheduling 500+ simultaneous events. No problem!  We were feeling really ahead of the game, in fact. Our planning crew met at the end of 2014 to hammer out improvements while the entire convention was still super fresh in our minds. We made lists. We traded advice, anecdotes, offered problems and helped each other find solutions. We whiteboarded the shit out of everything.

I feel really proud of the amazing people on the RollerCon team, and especially how well we collaborate. After 4 years in the same venue, we had the basics figured out, and most of our planning was how to make everything better.  It is pretty magical to be part of a planning crew that is so competent, watching everyone in action and looking forward to all the great ideas we had coming to fruition in 2015. Hubris!

Then the train hit us.

On a normal Monday in February, I fended off a normal Riviera attempt to have me sign a 2016 contract. I was pretty unhappy about the dog hair in the competition tracks areas in 2014, and I wanted to see a huge improvement in the cleanliness of our convention rooms in 2015 before I signed anything.  The very next day, I got tagged in a facebook rumor that the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Association (LVCVA) might buy the Riviera and implode it. I thought it was bunk – the Riv just asked me to sign new contracts the day before! So I emailed my reps – and to my complete and utter surprise, I got ominous silence back. By Thursday, the rumor had a slight flavor of hysteria among RollerCon facebook groups, so I sent a short message just saying basically: Don’t panic. Even if this *unconfirmed* rumor is true, these things take time. We have a contract so we have no reason to think yet that the Riviera won’t honor it. “Don’t worry!” I told everyone. Sigh.

On Friday, the convention bosses called me. When I realized there were several executives on the call and I was on speaker, my heart dropped to the floor. The rumors are true, he said, and there is to be a vote tomorrow – but the vote is just a technicality.  The LVCVA offered the owners of the Riviera more than the hotel could ever be worth;  the sale was a done deal. The worst news? The Riv would close in May – before RollerCon –  and be imploded before the year was out. A terrible nightmare came true with one apologetic phone call: a convention that was 10 years in the planning had to be replanned in a new venue – in 144 days.

The LVCVA – who purchased the Riviera – is a government organization whose primary purpose is to bring & keep conventions to Las Vegas – so RollerCon had a relationship with them, already. They provided info pamphlets in our registration bags, assisted us in finding new venues over the years each time we outgrew the last, and even sometimes invited me and Bacon out for fancy events in the name of keeping RollerCon in Vegas. In hindsight, I should have known something was up in December, when I got a super extravagant Christmas gift from LVCVA (wine and a crystal decanter I’m terrified to use because I will certainly break it immediately). They never sent me a Christmas gift any other years!

When LVCVA bought the Riviera, they told me, they took responsibility for the contracts for all the events already planned there. So the LVCVA and Riviera bosses assured me that they would find us new options; make appointments for us to see other venues, and work with us and their limitless contacts in Vegas to make the transition as smooth as it could be. I was in Las Vegas by Thursday night with a couple nice dresses (and a strict demand that Trish not even bring any shirts that said “fuck” on them) – with my convention resume handy.

A convention resume is just what it sounds like. In short, it’s a summary document that says how many guest and convention rooms you book, on what days and at what rates, explains how the bookings come in and when, and details how much food & beverage your convention attendees consume.  RollerCon books enough rooms to be taken seriously at any convention space – but I’ve fought hard to keep our room rates super low, and that works against us when we’re shopping new hotels. We take up a LOT of convention space, too, though, and (aside from my demands for maps, porters and endlessly refilled water), we aren’t a high maintenance group. We police ourselves, which helps make the hotels appreciate us. We eat and drink (mostly drink) a fair amount, but unfortunately, not really compared to conventions that have a lot of banquets and luncheons and stuff like that – we’re water all day and cocktails at night, so it adds up, but not in comparison to, say, a Teamsters or professional convention (who are also usually unfazed if they have to pay premium room rates because it’s usually someone else paying for it).

The upshot is, compared to other conventions, we’re big enough to take seriously and we’re fun and harmless, but we’re cheap and more than a little weird. But we bring a lot of healthy notoriety and press to our host hotel, without the typically corresponding destruction that other notorious groups (like say, bikers) might cause.  We don’t bring in a great deal of money by Vegas convention standards, but, according to the Riviera, we’re lovable weirdos – and above all, fun.

Photo credit Tyler Shaw

Photo credit Tyler Shaw

Up until that week, I had always wondered how we compared to other conventions. I’ve been to one or two and RollerCon is definitely nothing like them. And I knew that the Riviera staff and bosses loved us (at least most of the time; maybe not at 3am on Saturday night when half-naked people were frequently seen running through the hotel in a raincloud of blue glittery outfits and pool water).

But I didn’t know if other hotels would be interested.

Truth be told, we were running out of aging hotels that were big enough for us, and none of the newer properties would give us rates even close to what we got at the Riv. I knew that inexpensive room rates were going to be a hard sell at any new property, and that it was something our attendees *counted on* every year.  But what I didn’t know was how hard it would be to talk them into the 24/7 pool AND letting us anchor our floors – both of which are just as critical to the success of the convention.

Still, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t getting much (any) sleep and that I was consumed with how to make things work in 1/3 the time it usually took to just massage improvements into our normal planning cycle… things looked super promising by Friday. We visited a few properties and they seemed very interested in us. I could tell that things were going to work out, and I really, really meant it when I said (in a statement posted to the RollerCon page on facebook) that I found the comments on the internet really heartening. I am terrified – but it feels like the community believes in us. That really helps my state of mind – obviously, because I’m still not wearing a straightjacket!

We narrowed the options down to a few hotels we liked, and then we waited for proposals.  And waited, and waited. It’s a good thing it’s not possible to die from insomnia. I thought we’d have it sorted out Every. Single. Day. Every day (including today) at 5 I was forced to acceptthat the bosses were on their way home and we weren’t getting a contract that day.

We’ve decided on our favorite of the proposals now, and it’s just down to a handful of pretty crucial details. At first – a few weeks ago – we didn’t want to start planning in case we didn’t like the contract; we didn’t want to waste our time planning in one venue if we might end up in another.

Instead, I watched too much TV at night to stop the bees in my head from driving me mad, and in the daylight hours, I painted my house, obsessively checking my email every 15 minutes (it’s a very lovely shade of incredibly bright blue, thanks for asking). But I was driving everyone close to me as insane as I was feeling, so last week Bacon and I started convention room planning as if we DO have a contract.

When we announce, we’ll be armed with maps and diagrams and dimensions and color-coded documents of all sorts, ready to knock your socks off.

But we can’t TELL anyone anything yet. We can only wait for our contract.

So that’s where we are now”.

And here are some more updates, coming in thick and fast today! Stay posted, we will be updating this page:


FANCY FRIDAY QUESTION: Guess who bought the San Diego Derby Dolls extra banked track for ROLLERCON 2015?!:: WE DID!…

Posted by RollerCon on Friday, March 27, 2015

Who is good at counting?THAT’S RIGHT!NINE TRACKS AT ROLLERCON 2015 THIS YEAR! 5 dedicated training tracks.3…

Posted by RollerCon on Friday, March 27, 2015

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