Wizard World without Gareb Shamus. The entire idea would have seemed ridiculous until just a few days ago when an SEC filing revealed that Shamus, the owner and founder of the company, had been removed as CEO. It was startling news which left everyone wondering what would become of the Wizard brand—once mighty in both media coverage and entertainment shows.
Answers are beginning to emerge. In an interview with The Beat, Wizard’s executive chairman Mike Mathews revealed that a new era has already begun at Wizard World, which will include outreach to the entire industry in a move to repair damaged relationships with both other industry players and fans.
In one of the most notorious examples of the bad blood which the old Wizard had given rise to, subscribers to the print magazine had not been given any make-up subscriptions for issues paid for but never mailed. However, according to Mathews, a letter is being sent out to old subscribers offering them a $100 credit towards Wizard shows.
“Where are we headed is to be an entertainment company,” Mathews told The Beat. “First and foremost it’s all about treating our fans in a supportive manner and providing them with the best entertainment we can, putting on great conference and having great VIPS.”
Mathews described the convention side of the business—currently planned as New Orleans, Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago and Mid-Ohio, with Big Apple and Austin TBA—as robust. “With the last couple of shows business is excellent. And we couldn’t be happier. We have a couple of shows that are spectacular—Philadelphia and Chicago—but the reality is we’d like to have a number of cities that are spectacular as well.” While plans are in place to grow the business over the next year, he said that the number of shows is not yet set. There is room for more, but at the same time, if a show isn’t making money there is no reason to put it on.
A planning meeting is being held next week to decide the number of shows for 2012. Much of the future plan depends on the new CEO, who will be announced early in January—the company is already in talks with a candidate who already worked with Wizard. Jerry Milani, Peter Katz, and Kevin Kelly will all be staying on with the company.
As for the other part of the Wizard business – news and entertainment – Mathews said that part will be developed as well, under the new CEO’s guidance. Mathews own background is in web network and monetizing websites – he founded Interclick, the internet ad agency that was recently sold to Yahoo for $270 million. “We’ve rebuilt wizardworld.com and are in the process of becoming a vertical ad network similar to Complex and Break.com. We are also running Toywiz.com and we are just finalizing deals with a number of music sites. When you think of us as an entertainment brand we don’t want to be just in a narrow category, but a broader category of entertainment.”
Although discreet about the process that led to Shamus’s ouster, Mathews did note that the stockholders had looked at recent company performance and decided that a change was needed. He also noted that “Gareb is one of these types of personalities who has taken strong positions over the years with various people in the industry and brands. And that kind of hurt us because of where we are trying to go—we’re trying to be a Switzerland of entertainment and we want to try to try to reach out to brands.” Accordingly, Mathews and other Wizard personnel are in the process of reaching out to industry players, dealers, and vendors and attempting to mend fences -– the fact that PR guy Jerry Milani actually was able to take steps to set up this interview is proof that things have changed.
Of course, one of the tactics Wizard had gained the most notoriety for in recent years was aggressively scheduling shows against other cons put on by entities perceived as competitors—most famously scheduling the Big Apple con the same week as New York Comic-Con and then moving it to the week before. More recently, the Toronto show moved its date to go up against C2E2 in Chicago, put on by Reed, which also throws NYCC. But Con Wars look to have ended.
While Mathews didn’t see moving the current shows that are already scheduled, “This ‘comic-con’ brand is an amazing business,” he said. “There is no reason why there needs to be tension. Let’s work together to make sure we have dates that work for all of us. We’re looking at things.”
“We really feel the way to be the Switzerland of the entertainment category is to have good relationships with all constituencies,” he concluded. “What we had wasn’t a long term success model and that’s what we recognized.”