The Truth About Comic-con Leaving San Diego
A candid interview with Comic-Con’s Director of Marketing & PR regarding the rumors about Comic-Con International’s possible change of venue
Barry Robb – www.uglycouchshow.com
February 28, 2010
Every summer for over 40 years, geeks of all walks of life have descended upon San Diego by the tens of thousands to attend Comic-Con International, a non-stop 5-day mega-convention celebrating comics, movies, pop culture and the visual arts. It’s almost a required coming-of-age pilgrimage for any fan of pop culture. And for 40 years, San Diego has proudly hosted Comic-Con and made welcome its 125,000+ visitors, but recent rumors and speculation about the host city of choice being subject to change have left long time convention attendees wondering where they will be going on their yearly vacation after 2012, when the convention’s contract with the San Diego Convention Center expires.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported that Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Anaheim have reached out to CCI in hopes of luring the convention away from San Diego with promises of more convention space, more hotel rooms, discounted rates for attendees and more. However, San diego area businesses are making their own efforts to keep the massive convention right where it is. Comic-Con organizers are expected to make a decision about the future of the con within a few months.
We asked David Glanzer, PR spokesman for Comic-Con International, to help shed some light on these rumors.
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Barry: Hey comic-con fans, Barry here from the ugly couch show. We’re talking with David Glanzer, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Comic-Con International. David, welcome and thanks for speaking with us.
David: Well, thank you for having me!
Barry: Comic-Con’s contract with the San Diego Convention Center expires in 2012, and there’s been some rumors online that Comic-Con might be leaving San Diego in 2013. Rather than listen to baseless rumors and speculations, we thought we’d go right to the source and ask, what’s going on?
David: Well, you’re correct; our contract expires in 2012. One of the things we’ve been dealing with is a limit in terms of space…We can’t allow any more people in the building.. and we can’t allow any more exhibitors to display on our floor. Those are two really big issues for us, primarily because that’s our main sources of income. When you cap your source of income, but your expenses continue to rise, obviously at some point you’re going to upside down. what’s happened over the last few months is convention facilities in other cities have put forth proposals basically saying why they think their city woudl be a good fit for Comic-Con.
Barry: It’s true that San Diego is the nation’s most walkable city. It’s not uncomfortably hot at the end of july, and there’s a nice breeze from the ocean. If that were the only factor, I’m sure the con wouldn’t even consider moving, but unfortunately it’s not. Can you tell us some of the pros and cons are, from comic-con international’s perspective, of keeping comic-con in San Diego?
David: You bring up a very good point, and that’s that there’s a great deal San Diego has to offer. One of our big problems is that we have a finite amount of space. One of the things we’ve done at the convention cetner downtown is to erect tents to try to maximize space behind the center. It’s not inexpensive to do that, but we just need more and more space.
Barry: I’m sorry; are you talking about the tents outside of Hall H?
David: No, no, tents outside on the mezzanine level. A lot of people don’t see them, but if you were to walk on the the mezzanine level or in the sales pavillion area, in the back there’s some areas that are…I think any other convention would use that as a smoking area or a lounge area. In many of those areas we’ve erected tents to handle overflow from autograph signings or segments of registration or things of that nature. We’ve really trying to maximize the real estate that they have…one of things that we also did in 2009 was utilize one of the ballroom in an area hotel, and it seemed to work well. We has some programming over there, and our attendees seemed to not really mind walking across the street and that worked out well for us. We’re looking at other ways to mitigate the issue of having to cap attendance.
Barry: The main events auditorium has steadily increased in size over the last few years, moving from halls 6cdef, to ballroom 20, to enormous hall h. We’ve got some footage of fans lining up hours in advance, some days before, to see the presentations. Is there a possibility of expanding the main events room or even moving it to petco park across the street?
David: Any of these things are things we’re looking at. One of the issues we are faced with is hard dollars. When you use a facility that is not a part of the convention center, typically you have to pay for that. Now you’re saying that…how much is something… can we defray the cost of spending x amount of dollars on this by increasing attendance, or exhibit space, how many more people do we have to get in to defray that cost… it really is a math problem. It’s something that the city is putting a good effort forth to address. They’ve met with local hotels, they’ve met with the city itself all the way from the mayor’s office all the way on down…they’ve put together a proposal as well that they hope will mitigate some of the issues we currently have. But I should say that these other cities have done that as well.
Barry: It’s said that Anaheim, L.A., and Las Vegas are attempting to lure Comic-Con International away from San Diego. What’s been put on the table?
David: I really can’t. I don’t think it would be fair to talk about their specific proposals. But what I can say is, each one of the proposals we’ve recieved really does attempt to address the concerns that we have, and that’s everything from the size of the facility, the number of hotel rooms that are available, the issues of meeting space… Each proposal we’ve recieved, it’s obvious they’ve put in a great deal of time, effort and energy in really trying to dissect the issues we are faced with trying to address those issues. And San Diego has as well. What we’re really tasked with now is trying to find out which proposal best addresses all those issues. Whichever decision we end up making will ultimately have to be the one that is most beneficial to the event.
Barry: 4 day passes for comic-con were sold out back in november, and single day passes for friday and saturday are already sold out. In the short term, is there a solid plan for the Convention Center to expand to meet the needs of the con, and if it does, will you increase the cap on the number of tickets sold?
David: Yes, to answer your question first, there is…right now the mayor has put together a task force that looked at the issue of expanding the convention center. That task force said that it would be a good idea to expand the convention center. And that expansion is not just for Comic-Con. It makes sense for the center to expand so that they can hold not only large events but multi-events in the same facility. If you go to some convention centers around the country, especially Orlando and some others, there are these nice sized facility where you can have two or three events running concurrently and not really have to feel like you’re overcrowded. So I think that could certainly help San Diego… while it may attrract a Comic-Con or other big event, they should be able to handle a couple of other smaller events at the same time too, which will keep the facility booked and will keep downtown businesses happy and of course the tax revenue from what people spend will help the city in the long run. now as far as the second part of your question-
Barry: Well, let me expand on that real quick. In the San Diego Union-Tribune it was said that task force that you spoke of endorsed a $753 million proposal to expand the convention center by 1.27 million square feet, including 385,000 square feet of new exhibit space but they said that there’s no guarantee that it’ll happen. A question would be, is that based on whether or not Comic-con stays, or would it be something that they would do to get Comic-con to stay?
David: Neither. I think Comic-Con factored into that. But I think it was only one of many different factors. Meaning that I think that the task force looked at the size of San Diego, the size of the facility, the fact that I think last year when we had an economic downturn most convention facilities had trouble with bookings, but San Diego did not, or not as much as other cities, and in fact San Diego had to turn away some conventions because they just didn’t have the facility size. I think the task force loked at a bunch of different variables, obviously Comic-Con was one of them, but I don’t think Comic-Con was the deciding factor for them. Their determination was that by spending this money, by being able to do this, it will help the city in the long run. And if it keeps Comic-Con in San Diego that’s icing on the cake. The paper is correct in that, because the task force and the mayor have said that this is a good idea, this is something we want to move forward on, now there’s different governmental agencies that have to address the situation, and part of that is the port district, …where the money will come from for that expansion …the nuts and bolts of making that happen. It’s still potentially a long process.
Barry: And the second part of that question from before was will you increase the cap on the number of tickets sold in the short term.
David: In the short term it’s depending on if we can alleviate the crowds on the floor. In our experiment last year of having a big ballroom where we had programming, we were able to pull a few thousand people off the floor at any given time. Right now three of local hotels are talking about letting us utilize some of their big ballroom space. If that ends up happening, if we’re able to put a major program, or at least a lot of our programming in those area hotels, that has the benefit of dragging people off the floor. If that is the case, then we could be able to go ahead allow more attendees in, which, you know, could be a good thing. But we don’t know if that will work. Some of these are unknown variables to be honest with you. If none of that happens, we will always be probably around 125 to 175 thousand people in the facility, and the reason being is, we have that finite space. That number can go up or down by a few thousand probably, depending on the configuration of the space. As an example, people say, “Well, exactly how many people can fit in the convention center?” that’s like saying, “How long is a piece of string?” And the reason for that is because, if you had just one booth that was a 10 by 10 foot booth in all open space,well you could fit maybe half a million or close to a million people in there, but that’s not the case obviously. And what happens each year is the room is configured differently depending upon the exhibitors who come or go, expand or contract their booth spaces. So it’s always going to around the 125 but it may fluctuate a bit depending on the configuration of the floor.
Barry: Is there any negative to splitting parts of the con up? Like, putting some events in some buildings and putting some events in others?
David: Well, yeah, if we had our choice, we’d love to be in just one facility. That’s the way it’s always been. We’ve certainly seen and been to other events that have basically taken over part of the city. When San Diego hosted the Superbowl a few years back, the whole downtown corridor was superbowl headquarters. It’s really interesting, when you are downtown for Comic-Con, you have that same feeling, although it isn’t offical. Meaning, I can walk around or any attendee can walk around and you will see a good majority of the people in the downtown area wearing badges or carrying bags.
Barry: Yeah, I feel like I’m at Comic-con when i’m walking around the Gaslamp.
David: Exactly. The thought now is, well maybe because we don’t have the space in the facility, maybe we go ahead and do specific programs at different hotels, and thereby making comic-con feel even larger still, benefiting from those hotels and restaurants and meeting spaces and things like that…that’s the idea. But will it work? We don’t know. That’s what we have to weigh right now. What is the best scenario when you have other facilities saying, “Look, you can try that experiment, or you can come our facility, and everything can stay in one building.”
Barry: Ok. Well that’s all the questions we had for you, David. If there’s anything you’d like to say to the Comic-Con fans out there before we let you go…
David: Thank you for your support! Honestly, I think it’s amazing that this has gotten as much press as it has. One of the things that I think is really heartening to all of us in the committee staff and the board is, there’s a lot of support out there from the fans. It’s amzing that this show is 40 years old and now for the first time really we’re being told how much we’re loved and how much the city wants us. we really appreciate that. And that is primarily because of the people who come to our convention. We have a unique event, we have an event that is homegrown and it is what it is because of the people who come every year to it, and for that we’re incredibly grateful.
For more information about Comic-Con International 2010 including our 2010 Comic-Con Survival Guide and News and Stuff, visit http://www.uglycouchshow.com