One Town, Two Cons: Let’s compare and ask organizers about Furry community growth.

by Patch O'Furr

Thanks for help from Poppa Bookworm, and tips from Arrkay (Culturally F’ed) and Fuzzwolf (FurPlanet.) 

The newly established PAWcon is coming up on October 30 – in the same place as Further Confusion.  It made me raise a topic

In the 90’s, ConFurence was THE convention for all furries worldwide.  26 years after ConFurence 0 broke ground, the subculture has gained enough steam for some local populations to get multiple cons.  It’s a sign of a healthy community.  Areas or cities like that make great examples to learn from.  Do they succeed?  What does it say about fan support, and competition or cooperation to grow our awesome fandom?

Five places came to mind:

  • San Jose, CA (Further Confusion and PAWcon, since 2014)
  • Columbus, OH (Morphicon and Furlaxation, in 2012-2014)
  • Toronto (Camp Feral! and Furnal Equinox, since 2010)
  • Boston, MA (Maltese Fur Con and Anthro New England, in 2014)
  • Pittsburgh, PA (Anthrocon and Western Pennsylvania Furry Weekend)

Healthy growth can bring a downside.  Cons are growing large and well-attended enough to have critical security concerns.  This month, Oklacon and Rainfurrest both announced dramatic cancelations due to misbehavior.  Bad faith can get between organizers and their venues, and that gets bigger than internal fandom drama.  However, it’s also natural for problems to grow when a population does.  Be optimistic with a con every week, some place in the world.

Consider the hard work it takes to organize a con, and draw people to fly in from far away.  Organizing could be a paid profession.  Furries are lucky and loveable because theirs come from volunteering.  This brings a risk of burnout and decline.  It’s important to understand how and why.  The decline of ConFurence coincided with the start of Further Confusion, which may have unintentionally divided the pool of supporters.  16 years after ConFurence 10 ended, multi-con locations can show examples for how to sustain what we love.

There’s much more than conventions in the hard-to-measure Furry subculture.  They can only draw some members.  But they can be considered to lead it’s growth.  Con-goers, fursuiters, and fursuiting con-goers may be the most committed members of furry social life.  They spend the tourist dollars that float Furry’s best public profile.  Anthrocon’s $7 million tourism draw has earned more and more enthusiastic coverage.  In 2015, it achieved a new benchmark, with their first public parade that was cheered on by 5,000 regular people of Pittsburgh.  This is what the public sees.

Let’s look for insight from organizers.  Dogpatch Press sent questions to ten cons in five locations:

  • Do multiple cons divide a community?  Or do they just make separate opportunities that support each other to grow?
  • Why did multiple cons happen in your area?  Was it just demand?  Or did behind-the-scenes schisms make “fuck-you cons”?
  • How well have they succeeded?
  • Do they predict anything about starting second cons in new places?  Is it a good idea, or not?

Con attendence and size is good reference (relative to populations and budgets). In general, expect a flagship and a small, secondary startup in each place.

San Jose, CA


Here’s an interesting case with a strongly established con, and one that’s just getting on the map.  They’re in Silicon Valley, with the world’s most dense concentration of furries.  There was a dramatic backstory involving Fur Con staff conflict… but it resolved and I’ve heard they’re sharing some staff.

Further_Confusion_logoThe flagship: Further Confusion (since 1999)

3,500+ attendance makes it one of the largest cons, with a lot of history for West Coast furries. It started at The Doubletree and moved to the San Jose Convention Center.  Questions to and weren’t returned.

The newcomer: PAWcon (since 2014)

800px-PacificAnthroWeekend2015200+ people showed for the first one, a trial “pawraiser” to get ready for 2015. Their first hotel was slated for demolition, so they moved to the Doubletree, where Fur Con started.  Questions were answered by con chair Spike Crutcher.

1) Do two cons in one place divide a community… or just provide separate opportunities that support each other to grow?

(Spike:)  This one’s tough to answer, because it’s very much “it depends”.  Does the existence of two cons grow out of a division in the community that already existed?  In that case, having two cons will probably make it worse by insuring that the two “tribes” now feel they have to compete.

Does it come out of a cohesive community where different people just have different visions of what the local con should be?  In that case, it may help by letting each group pursue their own vision without tripping over the other … and it provides opportunities for people to get involved with a local con, even if they were reluctant to volunteer for the local con before because they didn’t really share its vision.  It also means that attendees can feel free to attend both instead of having to choose a tribe.

Did it come out of “drama” between people who worked for the one local con?  In that case, it very much depends on whether the second con can come up with its own vision that goes beyond just “we exist primarily because person A didn’t like person B”.  That might get things started, but it won’t keep two conventions rolling for very long.

2) Why did your area get more than one con… was it just demand?  Did it involve behind-the-scenes drama?

(Spike:)  In our case, it started with “drama”: the instigating factor was a disagreement within the staff of the local con about who should be the con chair, which led one member of that staff to decide that the solution was to found his own convention instead of working for a con chair with whom he disagreed.  Unfortunately, while this could have been framed in a positive way, he elected to position the new convention as directly in competition with the existing one, even going so far as to announce initially that the new convention was planned to be up the street from the first convention and on the same weekend, before there was even a contract to that effect.  This made the drama very obvious and got things off to a horrible start, with the new con derisively dubbed “SpiteCon” by a significant portion of the local community.  Of course, one person does not a convention make: most of the people who wanted to help out a second convention were doing so because they wanted to help their friends and their community, not because they were involved in the drama or had anything against the original con.  That helped shift the message in a positive direction, aided by the new convention’s signing an actual contract well away from Further Confusion’s dates.

Our primary strategy at this point is to emphasize that the second convention is pursuing another vision of what a local con can offer the community, rather than being in competition with the original convention.  The working hypothesis is that a local market can support two cons as long as they’re not just duplicates of each other … so we’re letting Further Confusion be the local “big con” while positioning PAWcon as the smaller, social, party con.  After all, some people like big cons, and some people like small ones.

3) How well has yours done?

(Spike:)  Attendance at the first year of PAWcon was modest but respectable, and the folks who attended generally offered positive reviews (after all, Job #1 of any convention is that attendees enjoy themselves!).  The second event is scheduled for Halloween weekend this year.  Our primary challenge at this point is balancing the high costs of operating in the San Francisco Bay Area with a desire to have a smaller, more personal convention.

4) Does your story predict anything about starting second cons in new places – is it a good idea, or not?

(Spike:)  Our story is unique to the situation that we found locally in our area, and something that is working for us. Every location in the Fandom will have to consider their own needs and style to determine what works best there. Some places may find it works to have two events, and others may not. It’s really up to the community as to how much active events they are willing to support.

Columbus, OH


Here’s two small, similar-sized cons (with 300+ attendees), not much bigger than some of the largest furmeets.  This local example includes a defunct con that had a short lifespan, including some scandal.  The remaining con carries on.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 3.20.03 AMThe flagship: AnthrOhio (since 2003)

It’s renamed from Morphicon (due to name confusion with a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers event.) It grew from a park picnic, and was established as a 501(c)(7) non-profit org. Questions to and weren’t returned.

The fallen challengerFurlaxation (2012-2014)

799px-Furlaxation2013bannerEstablished as a non-profit 501(c)(7) social club. Many difficulties were cited for ending.  Some require diplomatic mention – there was controversy about a crime record of the chair, Lightpaws, and some allege it was a “fuck you” con, but I’m not sure why. The answers to the questions were nice.

(Lightpaws:) Two cons in one place can help provide more to the community in my opinion. It gives local furs more to do in the years time, just as long as both conventions don’t position themselves too close together. Most furs are on low budgets and incomes and by having two local cons, it allowed them to have more to do with the community thus making them happier.

The Columbus Ohio area chose to start a second convention because it was mostly fursuiters who were the core of the leadership team in the start of Furlaxation. It did well with a new concept to bring new ideas to furry conventioning.

Furlaxation did well in the first two years it was open, but the venue building had serious problems and with the attendance coming up, it didn’t grow fast enough for us to be able to afford to move the con when the building was being closed. Also the Columbus Ohio area had very little to offer in the way of good convention staffers, which also made the convention suffer in it’s 3rd year. Because of the venue conditions and the level of staff dedication, we closed the con after the end of the third year.

If people are going to start a convention where there is already an existing one, they need to make sure that both conventions are in contact, working together, and not competing against each other. By working together you can pool resources and ideas to make a really cool experience for all. But you need to make sure the area can support 2 conventions. Look at the attendance of other cons in the surrounding states. If conventions are not at 1,000+ or more, then 2 in one town may be a bad idea. Start smaller as a furry meet, and see if the fandom will support your event and grow from there.

Toronto, Canada


This reverses the typical situation.  The old, long-established con is a tiny intimate outdoor camping event (many fans call it an “un-con”).  The newcomer brought the first hotel-based event to Canada’s largest city, where it was surprising that they didn’t have one before.

300px-FeralThe first step: Camp Feral! (since 1998)

It’s the third oldest furry convention in the world, and was the first to be held outdoors. (The largest for camping, Oklacon, just died.) This is actually outside of Toronto, but it counts because for many years it served their community by itself.  An incredibly long history by Fred Patten is hosted at Dogpatch Press.  Questions to got answered by Roo, the chair:

1) Do two cons in one place divide a community… or just provide two separate opportunities that support each other to grow?

(Roo:) We are lucky in Toronto in that both cons are organized in the same city but take place in two separate locations: Furnal Equinox is held at a hotel in Toronto where Camp Feral is held in a summer camp about three hours north of Toronto. We also are lucky in two other ways: dates and time. Furnal takes place in late Winter, Feral takes place in late Summer. Also, Furnal began recently where Feral began in the 90s. We’ve never really had competition, only cooperation.

2) Why did your area get more than one con… was it just demand? Did it involve behind-the-scenes drama?

(Roo:) Again, Feral and Furnal are two different beasts, which I think would be a good way to avoid issues in cities with two cons. Feral was started back when there weren’t many conventions (and is now the third longest lasting con in history). 1997 was a good year to start organizing a con and 1998 was a great year to launch. Furnal started in 2010, around the time the big ‘boom’ of cons began, which I’m sure has made it a lot harder to grow but they have the Toronto market covered and last I heard broke 1,000 attendees in 2015.

I’ve heard inklings of a second ‘Toronto hotel con’ starting up over the last few years. Nothing has happened, though, aside from larger-scale fur meets.

3) How well has yours done?

(Roo:) It depends on your method of defining ‘well.’ Many people go by headcount of attendees, or how much money was brought into the charity auction, or number of fursuiters. Camp Feral is holding our 19th event in 2016 and recently decided to end our cap of 150 registered campers. We hit 163 attendees in 2015 and are looking to have even more next year.

To us, doing well means that the people who attend leave feeling it was an experience of a lifetime. We prefer a smaller group and are limited to a smaller group by the site regardless. Lasting this long and still keeping people happy is probably the best metric of success I can think of!

4) Does your story predict anything about starting second cons in new places – is it a good idea, or not?

(Roo:) I have always said when people approach me to talk about a new con they are starting, whether or not it’s in a city with another con or a nearby event: make your event unique no matter what. Region or city shouldn’t be the only reason someone goes to a con…it’s the Chicago furry con, it’s the Toronto furry con, it’s the Sydney furry con. There should be something more to stand apart. It’s the furry con that focuses on furry musicians, like a big festival, on top of the traditional convention events. Maybe it’s a furry con that focuses on workshops and panels so it’s closer to being a university than a ‘hotel convention.’ Maybe the con has a variety of gaming rooms and gaming panels and is the ‘furry gaming con.’ Whatever the reason, the best way to be successful is to avoid the trap of saying ‘Our city doesn’t have a furry con, we should have a furry con’ and using that as the only motivation.

If there is already a convention in your city I would hope the reason a second is being considered is for one of the reasons above. I don’t see why a city couldn’t handle two cons as long as they were different and didn’t step on each other’s toes.

A convention launched out of spite, or drama, or to directly challenge an existing con is (in my opinion) a mistake, because it started from something negative. Even if this is the reason the idea is sparked, turn it positive and make the con a unique and entertaining experience that differs from the other rather than a carbon copy with a different name, different themes, and different staff. One city can’t support two identical cons, one is going to have to give.

The Level-UpFurnal Equinox (since 2010)

LogoLightBigCanada’s most-attended con, at around 1,000.  It’s organizing involved some community drama that’s too complicated and local to mention – as far as I can tell, online communities split up with protest about managing the con, but eventually reintegrated. It would be interesting to hear more for this topic, but it’s enough to get the following great answers from con chair Scani:

1) Do two cons in one place divide a community… or just provide two separate opportunities that support each other to grow?

(Scani:) Here in Toronto, we have Furnal Equinox, a convention that takes place at the Sheraton Toronto Airport hotel, and Camp Feral, which takes place at a camp up in Algonquin Park (about three hours north of Toronto).

First of all, I love Feral — it was the first ever con I attended back in 2006, and it has always been a great event to attend. I think everyone needs to go to it at least once, you can’t get much more “furry” than being out in nature.

And our two cons do share a good relationship. We advertise at each other’s events, we have some shared staff, and actually, Potoroo (chair of Feral and long-time of the Toronto furry community) was one of our initial advisors.

Most of the time, a new con sets itself apart by serving a new region. But when you’re setting up shop in an area that already has an event, you need to fill a need that the existing event does not provide. When you do it right, the events can complement one another, and bring in new attendees to the con scene that have those interests rather than cannibalizing the existing audience.

I know in Toronto, we have some furries who want to get in touch with nature, and some who want to party in the big city. But I think it’s cool that we have events in the Toronto area – Feral and FE – that can cater to both of those audiences.

2) Why did your area get more than one con… was it just demand?  Did it involve behind-the-scenes drama?

(Scani:) The first FE (in 2010) was the first hotel con to take place in Eastern Canada in two and a half years. The ones before that were in smaller cities – Ottawa and Montreal.

Toronto is Canada’s largest city and it had never hosted a hotel-based furry con, which just seemed… weird. It’d be like having US fur cons serving every region BUT New York City or Los Angeles.

So FE’s founders definitely saw a need to serve a community that, until then, had to travel out of town to get a hotel con experience.

3) How well has yours done?

(Scani:) We had really modest expectations in our first year – this sounds ridiculous now, but we were thinking 150, maybe 200 attendees. 330 attendees showed up, we set a new Canadian furry con attendance record, and we ran out of conbooks!

Although attendance is just one metric to assess our success, it’s a great indicator of how our community has really rallied behind FE.

4) Does your story predict anything about starting second cons in new places – is it a good idea, or not?

(Scani:) Again, it depends on the motivations of the individuals involved and how the events position themselves. I think if a new event aims to complement what is already there, it has a much greater chance of success.

If you’re trying to hurt another con, because you don’t like the people or just want to see it burn, it’s a recipe for failure. “This con sucks” becomes your marketing campaign, and you can’t sell spite to anyone – especially furries. We really have a low tolerance for drama, no matter what others might say.

At the same time, incumbent events should not always see new events as a threat. New conventions are a great opportunity – future staff can gain volunteer experience, and attendees can go to a smaller event that they’re less socially intimidated by. In both cases, they have the chance to build confidence, and eventually “graduate” to the larger event. Plus, new cons are an opportunity to experiment with new ideas – programming, operations, etc.

Overall; do I think starting a second con is a good idea? It depends on the circumstances. But for Toronto, I think it has been a win-win. We have a very healthy regional hotel convention, and while I can’t speak for Camp Feral, they have also enjoyed substantial growth over the last five years.

Boston, MA


It’s only “kind of” an example for double-con locations.  After one event fizzled, the second caught fire.TheMalteseFur-Con2014Logo

The fizzled startMaltese Fur Con (2014)

The attendance of 197 was on the upper end of a fur meet.  Their closing message: “Due to financial constraints and extremely low pre-registration numbers, we are unable to support the operating costs of this convention.”  Questions to weren’t returned.

The strong comeback: Anthro New England (since 2015)300px-ANE

Established as a 501(c)(7) non-profit corporation.  They had 757 show up – which I believe is close to record first-time attendance. This dramatic difference in outcome probably shows the importance of careful marketing preparation to draw reciprocal community support. Questions to their twitter and weren’t returned.

Pittsburgh, PA


The biggest fur con in the world wasn’t enough for the local area.  There was demand to add more than one annual event to the calendar.  The secondary event has been low-key enough that it’s 14 year history reads like all the fun you want to do with your friends every month.

The Flagship: Anthrocon (since 1997)

It started in Albany, NY… is an introduction really needed?  Questions weren’t returned.pint-glass-logo

The spinoff: Western Pennsylvania Furry Weekend (since 2001)

This makes a great example for how a small area meet can stay low-key, but formally serve a wider community that has momentum.  AC is only one weekend a year, and you’d want more if you live there, right?  It began as a humble home FurBQ.  In 2006, it’s growth to 66 attendees established a small hotel-based convention. It continues on the higher end of a furmeet, but with formalities of a con (and matching the size of Feral! is enough to deserve mention.)  Questions to weren’t returned.