Discussing Comic-Con International's Future

While the specific programming and events surrounding this year's Comic-Con International haven't yet been announced, one of the topics sure to be driving talk at this July's edition of the pop culture behemoth has already been firmly established: will CCI stay or go?

The convention's current contract with the city of San Diego and the San Diego Convention Center expires after the 2012 show, and a recent spate of news reports have drawn into sharp focus the choice the non-profit organization that puts on the event faces. After what some would argue was a period of indifference on behalf of San Diego, it appears that the combined forces of the city government, the convention center and local businesses including hotels have begun to lobby Comic-Con hard to stay put. On the other side of the equation, several cities in California have begun to pitch the organization on why they should move Comic-Con 2013 and beyond to their respective convention centers.

To help explain why all this talk has cropped up now and what it all means for the future of the show, CBR News contacted Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer for his take on the recent talk. Below, Glanzer describes the process that Comic-Con has been going through to help decide where the show will land, what cities have submitted proposals for the event and why no decision has been made yet or will be made too quickly.

CBR News: Everyone has been seeing news stories about San Diego and other cities courting Comic-Con for future dates in local papers and on blogs. It's an awful lot of noise and a lot to chew on. Have there been some recent development on the con's future that precipitated all of this attention, or is it just a few reporters bringing the issue out in the open?

David Glanzer: Well, I wish I could remember who the reporter was, but there was a reporter that contacted a couple of different cities and got comments from them, and then contacted San Diego and us for comment. I think that got the ball rolling. The thing is, this has been ongoing for a while, and nobody thought to write about it.

Somebody had asked had we already made the decision or leaned one way or another, and the real answer is that we have not. I told somebody that I wish it was as easy as sticking a pin in a map and saying, "We go here next." It is not. There are a great many variables. It's something that's very time consuming, and I hope we make the right decision. I think we will. We have a very dedicated board and a smart board, and I have no doubt that whatever the decision is it will be the right one.

What's the timeline and plan been like from Comic-Con's point of view? Have you been reaching out to cities to see what your options are for a while? Have they been contacting you? Why is now the time to be talking about where the show will land in 2013 and beyond?

Typically, contracts are done right around now - about three years out or so. So the city of San Diego, spearheaded by the convention center, certainly have started making efforts to address some of the concerns we had. We've, throughout the years, been approached by other cities, but again, with contracts typically being done three years prior, I think they wanted to make a pitch as well, and so they did. It's an amazingly difficult process. It truly is.

What are the options you're weighing right now? Is your decision more a matter of looking at each proposal and seeing which one might fit Comic-Con best, or do you have a list of requirements for the show you're checking each proposal against?

I think every city put forth a dynamic proposal. It's clearly obvious that each city has put forth a proposal that contained a great amount of time, effort and energy. Each proposal endeavors to address some of our concerns, and what we are now tasked with doing is being as diligent as we possibly can in reviewing those proposals and trying to make the determination as to which one would serve Comic-Con and our attendees best. And I have to be honest, it is not an easy task. There are many numbers of pros and cons to every proposal. We're tasked right now with trying to weigh them all and see which ends up being most beneficial.

One city everyone's been talking a lot about is Anaheim, in terms of being one of the "new kids on the block." Are there a few cities that have all put in equal pitches? Have you been getting more invites out from anyone in particular, be it Anaheim or whoever?

Anaheim certainly has been in the news, as has Los Angeles, and they both submitted proposals as well as San Diego. It's interesting that you mention them being the new person on the block, because they're not, really. We've had discussions and communications with those cities for some time now. And that's not uncommon when you have a successful event. Sometimes people just call and say, "Just letting you know, we're doing this expansion" or, "Keeping you posted on what we're doing with this place in case you guys ever decide to move." So there's been some relationships established there anyway, just in the course of normal business.

Certainly, those three proposals are serious proposals. Like I said, a lot of thought, effort and energy went into them. It's an incredibly difficult choice on our part in regards to which way to go.

History is such a big part of Comic-Con as an organization and comics culture in general, and the show has a lot of history with San Diego as a location. It must be hard to make this choice with that kind of intangible connection to the way things have always been.

We can't deny the fact that we love San Diego. San Diego is a great vacation destination. San Diego is a great city. That's very true. But we also have to look at exactly what it is that we can or can not do here that another city might be able to address. Or one of the things that's happened of late, again spearheaded by the San Diego Convention Center - they've coordinated with some of the big hotels in the city to put together a proposal that I think they hope addresses some of our concerns and they hope mitigates and neutralizes those concerns. What we have to do now is see if we think that's so. While I live in San Diego - as do many of the people who put the show on - and we have a soft spot in our hearts for them, we have to look at all variables and what's best for Comic-Con and those that attend the show.

We'd heard that someone on San Diego's behalf - I'm not sure if it's the city, or the convention center, or the hotels - have been reaching out to some of the Con's biggest exhibitors, from movie studios to publishers, making the case for why Comic-Con staying put would be beneficial for them in terms of advertising and things like that. What do you make of that push? Are you consulting with your exhibitors to see what they want?

I'm not sure I know about that. We're conducting business as usual. In addition to this thing, which is us trying to determine our future location, we still have WonderCon coming up in two months and Comic-Con this summer. And regardless of all that, we're going to be in San Diego at least until 2012. So the day-to-day operations still have to move forward. There may be some internal stuff that we are doing with exhibitors that somebody is confusing with something else, I don't know. But the city certainly does seem to be at the forefront, as well as the [convention] center and some of the hotels, in trying to make sure we know that we are wanted here. And it's really great to hear that. Once we review all the proposals, whatever our decision happens to be, I hope we maintain those relationships. It's really nice to have, and it's something that we don't take lightly. But again, it's not an easy decision, and we have to look at all aspects of it.

One thing some people have cited with regards to where the show has been going or could be going, is that Comic-Con is no longer a "one building show." Aside from the official programming that the Con puts together on site and off, there are many events and things popping up around the show and around the city. When you're looking at the future of the show, are discussions about expanding it's physical nature and looking at making elements of it more of a festival being taken into consideration?

That's something where our hand is kind of forced, in that there are more people who want to attend than we have space for. One of the things we've done over the last couple of years has been experimenting with using some space offsite in some local hotels, but that space is not inexpensive. We've also erected tents around the facility. Sometimes people see them, sometimes they don't. They're in the back to try and increase the footprint of the convention center. Last year we used one of the major ballrooms at a local hotel to have some general programming, and it seemed to go very well. That is something that could help us. If we can move people off site, and they don't seem to mind going off site, and if we can still maintain a quality that we need, then that's certainly something we'll entertain. Because, until there is an expansion on the convention center, if we're going to stay in San Diego, we're going to have to look at options like that.

As you've said, you've got multiple shows to deal with coming up and a full dance card for the months and years ahead. Do you have any kind of deadline for when you'll want to make this decision by?

No, there really isn't. One of the things that we are doing is making sure we look over this information as thoroughly as we possibly can, because the decision we make is one we're going to need to live with. I hope it's the right one, whatever that decision is. It is something that's going to have ramifications one way or the other, and we want to make sure that the decision we come to has the least negative impact on the people who attend our show. It really is as simple as that.

Keep watching CBR for more on the location of Comic-Con International beyond 2012 and all the news out of the Comic-Con family of shows, including the April 2 - 4 WonderCon show.

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