Even if you didn’t attend Comic-Con International in San Diego just ten days ago, you could probably tell from CBR’s coverage of the event that it’s a massive show and keeps getting bigger each year. It’s well known that CCI is an important event within the comics industry, where publishers pull out all the stops to announce new series and changes within their companies. It’s also become an increasingly important convention for Hollywood, with bigger and bigger names attending the convention each year. For genre fiction, it’s Hollywood’s best place to roll out teasers for fans.
2004 saw the biggest Comic-Con International yet, both in terms of size and attendance. If you had the chance to walk a bit on the floor Saturday afternoon, you know exactly how crowded it really was. Attendance figures rumored on the convention floor ran anywhere from 80,000 to over 100,000, but those were just rumors. The truth is the convention once again saw huge attendance growth over previous years and shows no signs of slowing down. CBR News caught up with David Glanzer, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for CCI, to learn a bit more about how the show went and what changes we’ll be seeing next year.
“Well, the numbers are finally in. Over 87,000 people attended the show this year. This number does not include exhibitors,” Glanzer told CBR News Monday evening. That number is an almost 20% increase over 2003, which saw just over 70,000 people attend the convention according to our chat with Glanzer last year. Exhibitor numbers are roughly the same as 2003, with about 1,000 companies in attendance according to Glanzer.
“It is important to mention here that we never forecast or estimate attendance in advance,” continued Glanzer. “It is impossible to pre determine what attendance will be. We always hope for as many people as we had the previous year. But the truth remains; we do not forecast numbers.”
The physical convention was also bigger than ever, utilizing all eight halls of the San Diego Convention Center. Booth space occupied the same space as in 2003, but the final space, Hall H, was used as a 6,500 seat theater for the largest presentations.
“The larger Hall H seemed to be a success. While there were long lines for programs in that room, by the time the programs began, there was unrestricted access. There were enough seats so people could come and go as they wished.”
For comparison’s sake, Comic-Con International ranks up there with some of the biggest conventions held annually in the United States. According to this July, 2004 article, the largest Comdex show held in Vegas was back in 2000 with over 200,000 people in attendance. That was during the peak of the dot-com boom and shortly there after the convention saw a sharp drop in attendance and is currently regrouping. The 2004 Consumer Electronics Show saw 129,000 people attend (129,328 to be precise according to this article). And the most recent Electronics Entertainment Expo held in Los Angeles saw 65,000 people attend.
During the convention, rumors had it that the convention had grown so much that the massive floor space of the San Diego Convention Center was no longer large enough to hold it all and that the future will see more programming held off site. Glanzer noted that already some programming is held at off site venues, such as some of the film festivals, and that trend would likely continue as the convention grows. This isn’t unusual for major conventions. Shows like the Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas, takes place not only in the city convention center, but also hotel banquet and convention halls around the city.
“Comic-Con’s history has seen many events at areas hotels, and I can only assume this may continue,” said Glanzer. “As you can imagine, ideally we would hope that everything could be contained in one facility, but that isn’t always possible. This is another area that will be discussed thoroughly in the coming weeks.”
For a couple of years now CCI, as a convention, has been criticized by some for putting Hollywood first and comics second, or at least that’s the perception. For many, 2004 was a reversal of sorts as many within the industry commented that this year’s convention felt more like a comics convention than in years past. Glanzer noted that CCI made no changes in planning the 2004 convention to shift the focus more heavily on the comics industry.
“Nothing was done to change the perception of our event. The truth is we have always been primarily a comics convention and still are. Just look at the number of guests and programs devoted to our industry.
“Long time attendees know that we have always had a connection to Hollywood. A look at any of our program books from the 70’s will show that we had television stars as guests and well as famous film directors, not to mention the nearly 24 hour film retrospectives that we continue to this day.
|David Glanzer at CCI 2003|
“That being said, however, more recently guests from Hollywood have generated their own publicity. The movie studios have taken notice of events like ours, and our event in particular, to build momentum for their future projects.
“So while current movie stars and presentations by movie studios may dominate the general news coverage of Comic-Con International, movie programming really only accounts for a small percentage of the programs occurring during the four-day event.
“I will add also, that Comic-Con International seems to be something different for everyone. CNN this year described it as a Sci-Fi convention, other reports called it a toy convention rivaled only by Toy Fair in New York, and to those in the know, it is a comic book convention.”
The most often heard complaint this year from attendees and exhibitors would be the heat of the convention floor. Certain areas of the convention floor, those with more heavily trafficked booths and what not, were at times so hot it was close to unbearable. Some suggested that the air circulation in the original portion of the convention center wasn’t as good as the newer extension, while others felt that the large banners hanging from the ceiling prohibited air flow. The heat is a major concern for the convention and they’re working on improving things for next year.
“From someone who had to wipe their brow more often than not, yes, it was definitely warmer in some sections of the center than others,” said Glanzer. “I am told that a faulty valve in the air conditioning system was primarily to blame. There was a technical explanation given to me, but to be honest, I didn’t quite grasp it. Suffice to say, we will be closely monitoring the air conditioning before next years event and are assured that it will be better.
“As for banner placement; one exhibitor told me that their banners redirected air conditioning away from their booth. They plan to hang banners next year in a manner that will not interfere with airflow to their space on the floor. So banner placement did not prevent air to circulate into the center in general, but hampered flow into at least one exhibitor in particular.”
One big change this year was the registration process. The convention used new technology in the hopes of speeding up the registration process and eliminating the long lines of years past. The changes met with mixed results, with some reporting it went smoother while others found the process to be trying on their patience.
“First of all, yes, there is always room for improvement.
“Back when we had 40,000 people attending our event, we had about 20 to 30 registration stations. Even with those stations, getting into the center could take a while.
“With the numbers increasing over the last few years, we decided to utilize an online registration company. This allowed us to pre-register people up until the day before the event, and also made for more registration stations, about 60 in total. Some of which were self-serve.
|The crowds were thick for registration during Preview Night.|
“While we used this new technology, the registration process was still handled in-house on site. I believe there were a couple of rough starts to the process especially on Preview Night, and in the mornings of some days. I can assure you that all registration problems will be addressed in post convention meetings.
“The jury may still be out in regards to the effectiveness of registration this year. It seems some loved it, and others … well didn’t quite like it. But again, this will be thoroughly discussed in the coming weeks.”
Glanzer mentioned Preview night, which was busier than ever in 2004. Preview night is held the Wednesday before the convention officially opens, opening up the hall floor for three short hours. This gives attendees a chance to register early and to get acquainted with the convention floor before it officially opens. This year, the size of the crowd roaming the floor Wednesday night resembled a typical Friday afternoon. Glanzer noted that there are no plans to increase hours for this one evening and that Preview Night serves its purpose perfectly, as a preview of things to come.
Those who stayed in downtown San Diego know that if you didn’t jump on it early, getting yourself a hotel room close to the convention center proved challenging. This year saw the opening of the Omni, a new 20 story plus hotel, while another hotel, the Clarion, was closed and being retrofitted. There are at least two more hotels being added in downtown San Diego, another Hilton hotel at the southern end of the convention center and a second Marriott hotel opening in the Gas Lamp Quarter.
“Downtown San Diego has long had a hotel space issue, even before the expansion of the center,” said Glanzer. “As you can imagine, this has also been a concern of ours for some time.
“We are hoping that the addition of new hotels in the area will alleviate some of the hotel space problems we experienced this year.
“That being said, I might also add that this was a strange year for hotel rooms in San Diego. Not only was Comic-Con International taking place, but a major tennis tournament was in town, as was the opening weekend for horse racing at Del Mar, and yes, the arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan brought many people into San Diego as well as downtown. Hopefully, we’ll see less events on top of one another in the future.”
In conclusion, Glanzer said the greatest success of 2004 was the feedback he received from exhibitors and attendees noting they had a really good time at Comic-Con International this year.
“I would have to say our biggest success is that people enjoyed themselves. I know this sounds like a canned answer, but I have to tell you, honestly, that when you’re in the thick of it and your days are filled with nothing less than putting out multitudes of fires, it’s wonderful to hear people excited about having attended.”
Comic-Con International in San Diego returns in 2005 on July 14th through 17th.