Entertainment

Housewives Institute Bulletin: Growing Pains at BravoCon

More fans, more money, more problems.

Photo: Ralph Bavaro / Bravo via Getty Images

The melee wasn’t even finished before I started getting texts about it. “Is it really that bad?” a friend asked as I sat in the front row of Friday afternoon’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills panel. By then a tweet showing a stampede (to use the term loosely) into the panel and likening BravoCon to Fyre Festival was starting to circulate among the Housewives chattering classes. At that point, yes, it was that bad.

Around 1:15 pm, with the RHOBH panel set to begin, I snuck in with my press credentials and secured a seat in the front row. The problem was that security didn’t clear the hall – one of three at the event – and people just stayed on from the previous panel. With not enough security at the door and a line stretching halfway across the Javits Center, attendees took it upon themselves to storm the hall. Inside was a free-for-all: Those who had paid extra for VIP (about $ 1,000 for the three-day weekend) and SVIP tickets (about $ 2,500) didn’t have their allocated seats in the front, and there weren’t nearly enough chairs for everyone, so those remaining took over the aisles and essentially staged a sit-in in front of the stage. The atmosphere was borderline feral, with attendees yelling at the meager security and everyone uncertain about how the situation would play out. I sat on my chair texting away, camera at the ready because it seemed like at any minute a riot could erupt that would need to be preserved for Instagram history.

This was the first major indication that BravoCon has perhaps grown a little too big a little too quickly. The first one was held in 2019, just before our lives would change forever thanks to a little microbe with a very spiky shell. There were about 10,000 people spread across multiple venues in Midtown Manhattan, mostly surrounding the Hammerstein Ballroom, which was host to the biggest panels. Now Bravo was predicting it would serve 35,000 people over the three-day weekend, taking over the city’s cavernous convention center, with the Hammerstein Ballroom reserved for live tapings of Watch What Happens Livewhich will be rolled out this week, and the first Legends Ballwhich has already aired.

Eventually the Beverly Hills panel would calm down. The head of guest services got on the microphone and very efficiently cleared the aisles and put the crowd behind barriers to either side of the stage. The curtains dividing the room from the hall were pulled back so everyone could stand outside the “room” and watch. SVIPs were allowed to stay seated in front of the stage. It started only 30 minutes late.

That didn’t quell the chaos entirely, though. One woman standing next to me was stinking drunk by 2 pm, finished at least two drinks during the panel, and heckled the whole time. Lisa Rinna took the stage to a loud round of boos and responded by flipping everyone the bird. Security flanked the stage and the attendees the whole time. Brad Goreski, the panel’s moderator, seemed flustered and struggled to keep the conversation flowing, especially when the crowd was shouting orders at him. “Move on to Rinna!” someone demanded while he was asking questions of Crystal Kung Minkoff.

The weekend’s problems weren’t limited to the RHOBH panel. Lines were long and bathrooms were scant – so scant that even Real Housewife of Miami Larsa Pippen had to wait for one, but lei passed her time taking selfies with everyone queuing for the toilet. A bartender told me that many of the bars ran out of booze on Friday and they were out of rosé and vodka starting Saturday morning, which might explain why things seemed calmer and more orderly the rest of the weekend.

In fact, by Sunday afternoon, I would say it almost seemed sedate. Did they really run out of booze, or was that just another stab at crowd control? After Friday’s mishap, Saturday saw dozens of new security guards in blue shirts called in overnight to man the doors to each of the rooms hosting the panels. Also, the rooms were cleared after every event and credentials were checked to make sure people were sitting in the appropriate sections. Those SVIPs were going to get their money’s worth.

Speaking of which, the divide between the haves and have-nots at BravoCon seemed starker than at the first iteration. Two women I talked to (whom I previously met when we all went on vacation with Vicki, as detailed in my book) said they bought general-admission tickets because last time around they just breezed into all the panels they wanted. This year, however, they were shut out of quite a few. Getting a seat with a GA wristband often meant starting to queue up an hour before an event’s announced start time, eating into much of the day. One duo I chatted with in line likened it to waiting for four hours to get onto a roller coaster. When I asked both sets if next year they would spring for the VIP or SVIP badges, they said yes without hesitation.

One of my favorite things about the inaugural BravoCon was that to go from venue to venue you had to walk the streets of New York City. That made Manhattan, the fifth Sex and the City character and the unofficial seventh Housewife of RHONY, part of the experience. But the Javits Center could be in Cincinnati or St. Louis or Los Angeles for all its character. Why have this event in the city and just stick everyone in a concrete cave? Also, with so many venues last time, attendees could just run into Sonja Morgan walking down the street or catch Kyle Richards getting out of a car. Here, the Bravolebs were all kept backstage so no one got a glimpse of their favorite.

Well, unless they paid, of course. There was a lounge for the SVIPs that also served as something like a green room for the talent. While hanging out in there, I spotted Kenya Moore, Luke Gulbranson, Shep Rose, Heather Gay, Ciara Miller, Austen Kroll, and several others, who were all happy to chat with fans and pose for pictures. If any of these people walked the convention floor without an escort, they would be torn limb from limb like a moldy scarecrow. The SVIP room also featured plenty of drinks, lots of water, tons of food, and more Lays potato chips than you would find in 20 stoners’ pantries. (Lays was a sponsor.) The other way to see some Bravolebs was to pay extra for one of the “Bravopolooza” events. Held throughout each day and limited to 100 people, each event offered a grab bag of Bravolebs and the chance to interact with them, without prior knowledge of who would be there or if you even watched their show. These, which cost around $ 100, were sold out before the weekend even started.

For those who didn’t buy tickets or weren’t SVIPs, however, the only way to get a picture was to wait in line for one of the photo ops. Many fans waited two and a half hours for a Sonja Morgan and Luann de Lesseps photo op, to which the stars were more than an hour late. According to one person in line, Luann came in for about five minutes and then left. She eventually returned, but the duo went to their next event before the line was gone.

But while the upsells and the corporatization and lines are unfortunate, they’re also the kind of thing that’s baked into any convention experience. Bravo is here to make money, not lose it, and if these strategies allow them to deliver a quality event for fans in the process, so be it. And it’s hard to deny that this year’s experiences – like the giant carousel in the middle of the convention floor, with different themed opportunities for taking photos – were a step up from last time, as was the Housewives Museum and the outfitting of the stages. (Although one of the stages was so cavernous the sound echoed, and it was almost impossible to hear unless you were smack dab in the middle.)

Also stepped up was the Bravo Bazaar, where you could buy everything from She by Shereé joggers to Onyi Home Essential candles. (Sadly, they only had one-wicks available.) There was underwear from the cast of Family Karma, Gina Kirschenheiter’s CaraGala skin care, and Kenya Moore Hair Care without the marching band. There had to be about 50 booths, many of which boasted drop-bys and photo ops with whichever Bravoleb had paid for them. (Rather than getting a booth, Lisa Rinna opted for a Rinna Beauty truck parked near the Javits Center, a move I was surprised didn’t happen a lot more.) Sadly, all of those with liquor brands couldn’t sell them and instead had to give out free samples. Sorry, no Loverboy for you. Personally, I picked up two Karen Huger three-wicks and a pair of She by Shereé socks, which were $ 30 but 20 percent off, in the spirit of BravoCon.

Like everything else, the booths did not come cheap. I talked to the owner of Royce & Rocket, a new luggage brand that sells suitcases with built-in shelves and packing cubes that retail for about $ 700, who said she paid about $ 10,000 for her booth di lei. Sales were a little bit lower than she anticipated, but she appreciated that hers is a bigger-ticket item, which might explain why everyone wasn’t plunking down their Capital One cards. She said she knew nothing about the Housewives before signing up, but she did know this would be the perfect event to build brand awareness with a cohort of women who have money to burn and like to travel. Don O’Connell, CEO of lab-grown-diamond jewelry brand Charles & Colvard, which throughout the weekend gave out free gifts to some of the network’s biggest stars, also said it was mostly about building brand awareness. “We knew they would bring the crowds,” he said about BravoCon. “Now it’s just about marshaling the crowds.”

To me, that really gets to the heart of everything that went wrong during the weekend, including the Great Beverly Hills Melee of 2022. Housewives fans are always underestimated – our intelligence, our taste, our thirst (specifically for liquor), our commitment to something we know is completely absurd – but it was surprising that Bravo itself seemed to underestimate us. It underestimated how many people would be there, how drunk they would get, how much peeing they would have to do, and just how rabid they would be to take a shitty picture of Andy Cohen over the heads of 400 other thronging fans. (They did know I would make an excellent moderator, and I had a blast hosting a panel with a collection of stars of non-Housewives shows on Friday morning.)

That underestimation can and hopefully will be corrected in future installments of what seems like it will be an annual (and quite lucrative) event. Then all that will be left is the good – and despite my litany of complaints, many of which were shared by the dozens of attendees I chatted with over the weekend, there was a lot of good, and we were all still glad that we went . The gossip was flowing, the camaraderie was heartwarming, and people’s dreams were being fulfilled, as long as their dream was for DJ James Kennedy to get up in the middle of a panel and ask for the bathroom while his mic was still hot.

The weekend reminded me of many things. First of all, that Lays are fucking delicious. (Reminder, the Housewives Institute will consider any and all corporate sponsorship opportunities.) But mostly that, as Andy Cohen said, Housewives fans are the best fans in the world. No one is as engaged, and no one is as passionate. One of the bartenders told me they had worked ComicCon the week before, and the biggest difference is how much more Housewives fans drink. But the second-biggest difference is how much they love all of this. ComicCon fans are into Marvel or into Harry Potter or into anime; Bravo fans are into every show, every personality, every stray thing that has to do with their biggest passion. That is why this event will continue to draw the crowds every year. Now all we have to do is see about marshaling them.

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