Tim DeBusk sat near the back of one of Memorial Coliseum’s expo rooms Sunday afternoon with tired eyes under the black bandanna tied across his forehead.
If he learned one thing this weekend while hosting the Cyclefest motorcycle show and expo, it’s that confusion spreads quickly among angry fans. And, on the Internet, it spreads like wildfire.
This weekend, confusion ran rampant among motorcycle enthusiasts around the nation who expected to meet Charlie Hunnam, star of the FX television show “Sons of Anarchy.” Hunnam was advertised to host autograph sessions at the Fort Wayne event Saturday and Sunday.
Sixteen fans had purchased $175 tickets for a special “Red Carpet Dinner” with Hunnam on Saturday night, and they received full refunds.
Late Wednesday night, the celebrity canceled his appearance, and on Thursday, a woman claiming to speak for Hunnam posted on his Facebook fan page that the actor had never agreed to attend in the first place.
Hunnam’s Facebook fan page said: “Charlie has asked that I, Tina Lou, reissue the apology to all the fans that were given the impression he would be at the cycle fest this weekend. He had no knowledge of the event & did NOT agree to attend. He feels (terrible) that his fans have been ripped off and suggests you demand a full refund.”
When fans read the Facebook post, which has circulated on local media, things got out of control, DeBusk said.
Saturday, two fans who attended the event started pushing and shoving him, and his co-promoter, Chad Mullins, had to go home to Dayton earlier than planned because of personal threats made after fans posted his home address online for angry attendees to “get revenge,” DeBusk said.
“People are taking that Facebook fan page as gospel, and it’s not,” DeBusk said. “People are calling us scams and calling us frauds. But it’s not like we’re faking this or it’s the first time we’re doing this.”
DeBusk walked across the expo room Sunday and pointed out two photos of other TV stars from “Sons of Anarchy” whom he successfully booked for events the past two years.
He said he had a contract with Hunnam’s booking agent this year, and the celebrity’s appearance was not false advertising.
“This isn’t cheap,” DeBusk said. “To put on a show like this is a lot of money.”
And of everyone involved, DeBusk said Hunnam’s cancellation will cost him and Mullins the most.
He said Mullins already paid $26,000 to host the event, and he expects they’ll lose $10,000 to $15,000 in the weekend all together.
In a parking lot behind the expo center, DeBusk opened a trunk full of 6,000 posters and 1,000 T-shirts advertising Hunnam’s appearance that will go to waste.
“What do you do with thousands of pictures of this dude’s face?” DeBusk asked. “This is a suing society. If I didn’t have the contract, I couldn’t print his face on T-shirts or advertise his name.”
Hunnam has canceled his appearance for a Dayton show the weekend of Dec. 7, as well, DeBusk said. The website for cyclefestusa.net was not working Sunday afternoon.
Last year, “Sons of Anarchy” stars Kim Coates and Theo Ross appeared at the Fort Wayne show and at a show in Indianapolis in November 2011.
DeBusk blamed some of the weekend’s confusion on the complicated process of dealing with celebrities exacerbated by hype in the local media.
He never spoke directly with Hunnam to confirm the celebrity’s attendance at the event. He only spoke with Hunnam’s agent, he said, which is usually enough.
Further complicating the matter, Hunnam doesn’t have a Facebook page, so his fans control his social media image for him by posting on his behalf, whether or not Hunnam approves the posts.
Because of the confusion and frustration, DeBusk estimates slightly more than 1,500 people attended the event this year, compared with about 4,000 last year.
Some attendees, such as Scott and Brooke Woodrell of Columbia City, made the best of a bad situation, and enjoyed the event without the celebrity fanfare.
“We wanted to see Charlie Hunnam, but we came out any way to see the bikes and spend the day together,” Scott Woodrell said.
Even so, vendors were less optimistic, manning nearly empty booths Sunday afternoon and facing grim prospects of calculating the weekend’s sales.
Dennis George of Cleveland, who has sold silver jewelry at Cyclefest since it started in Dayton five years ago, said he didn’t even want to know what his sales looked like this year. He guesses they’re down 80 percent from last year.
“Fort Wayne usually does good,” George said. “That’s why I’m here. Last time I was here, I did great.”
His booth was at the front of the expo center this year, but he said Hunnam’s cancellation cut down on his customers. Even so, he doesn’t blame DeBusk or his partner, Mullins, whom he knows to be a reliable promoter.
“I’ve been doing shows with him for a long time, and he’s very trustworthy,” George said. “It’s costing us big time, but it’s not his fault.”
Other vendors, including Bob Maravola, owner of Unique Biker Apparel, were not sure whom to believe.
“I think a lot is going on behind the scenes,” Maravola said.
Throughout the weekend, he said he heard many attendees, especially women, complaining about Hunnam’s absence, and some were even blaming the TV star for neglecting his fans.
But no matter who is right and who is wrong, Maravola said the true bikers showed up to support other locals and see the real attraction: the bikes.
“A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on building these bikes, and the public is all hyped up about not seeing an overnight star?” Maravola asked. “I’m disappointed in the public.”