Glanzer Reflects on Comic-Con International 2005; Attendance Records Shattered

[Comic-Con International]Almost two weeks ago, Comic-Con International 2005 in San Diego came to a close. What was once a humble comic book show has become the nation's largest pop culture experience. Once again, it was a massive affair that saw the worlds of comic books, video games, Hollywood, science fiction and pretty much everything else collide. And as we've done the previous two years, CBR News chatted with David Glanzer, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for CCI, to discuss the ins and outs of this years show.

To start with, the question everyone wants to know the answer to is exactly how many people actually attended the show this year. With 87,000 attendees in 2004, everyone expected 2005 to be the year that Comic-Con International topped the 100,000 mark for the first time. Did they make it? "Actually we only just got the figures," Glanzer told CBR News. "As you know we're pretty conservative with our numbers and that's part of the reason it takes so long to report them.

"This year saw a little over 96,300 attendees and 7,700 exhibitors for a grand total of 104,000 individual people at Comic-Con," said Glanzer. "Now right off the bat I can tell you that this number is short by at least 1,000 people. We learned, after the show that, because of an error, we weren't able to keep data on those 1,000 attendees.

"We're looking to see if this scenario repeated itself in any other divisions. But in any case, even though we know we badged those 1,000 people, we don't have detailed records so they're not included in our totals."

The discussion repeated often throughout the weekend were those attempting to estimate how many people were actually at the show each day. This year, most people would say Thursday and Friday seemed lighter than 2004, yet Saturday and Sunday were more packed than ever, with a real inability not to bump into people as you roamed the hall. Of course, it's near impossible to accurately gauge crowd levels based simply on your own observations as you can never be quite sure how many people have been moved off the con floor and into panel rooms. Suffice it to say, there were a lot of people at Comic-Con International in 2005. "One of the trends we've noticed is that Preview Night (Wednesday evening) is growing in popularity, as four-day attendees are able to take advantage of getting into the hall one day early," said Glanzer. "This seems to have the affect of allowing those people to arrive a little later on Thursday.

"This isn't to say that Thursday is a slow day, but crowds seem to arrive later than they had in the past. Therefore. peak numbers occur later than they might normally and this can give the impression of a lighter day than usual.

"In regard to Friday, this is probably more a question of programming. To be honest, I thought Friday looked like a usual Saturday crowd, but I don't have specific day numbers yet, so don't know for sure. I can tell you that programming on Friday was near capacity in all our rooms, which of course had the effect of moving people off the convention floor for periods of time throughout the day. "

One of the big concerns going into the convention was crowd control outside the convention center. In addition to Comic-Con International, downtown San Diego also hosted four days of San Diego Padres baseball games in 2005. The park opened in 2004, but the Padres were out of town during last year's convention. This year, the added prospect of up to 42,000 baseball fans invading downtown was a concern for many. While automobile traffic was tough, foot traffic in the downtown area appeared not to be the nightmare many expected. There was a noticeable increase in Police and Traffic officers keeping people moving this year and it seemed to go off without any major incidents. "As you can imagine, we work very closely with the city in terms of trying to reduce congestion in the downtown area," explained Glanzer. "We pay for those big flashing road signs to alert drivers to potential traffic conflicts, as well as paying for traffic police to direct traffic.

"This year we also tried to work with other events that occurred during our weekend to see how best to minimize parking and other potentially disruptive issues. I can tell you quite honestly that we spent a great deal of time, effort and money on this one matter alone."

Once again, it looks like Comic-Con International has filled the San Diego Convention Center to absolute capacity. If the show continues to grow at the rates it has been, one must wonder what this means for the future of the show. Does the SDCC have the capacity to continue hosting this show five, ten years down the line? "Well, clearly we must make efforts to minimize congestion inside the convention center and to a great deal I think we've already begun to address this," said Glanzer.

"For example, by utilizing Hall H on other days than Saturday we have effectively given a place for 6,500 people to assemble, and when we make use of our other programming rooms concurrently, we can effectively move close to 20,000 people off the convention floor for certain periods of time.

"Also, by evenly spreading out some of the more popular programs to all days of the event, we can probably best utilize the convention center space for some time. In fact, this year we saw some of our most popular programming on Friday and Sunday, which complemented the other days programs very well. We also limited online sales on Saturday which may also have helped.

"I think we have a very good gauge of traffic flow inside the center and with all these scenarios in place, I think we're faring pretty well."

This question of space always brings up rumors of a possible move for the convention, most often an Anaheim, California location is cited as a possibility. Glanzer said like all good convention organizers they keep their options open, but there are no plans for that to happen any time soon.

Last year we spoke with Glanzer about the potential of more offsite programming being a possible in 2005 if space became an issue. While the usual film festivals and after hours events were held offsite, there wasn't any appreciable increase in offsite programming during the day. "This year's offsite programming was pretty similar to last years and hopefully the same will be true next year," said Glanzer. "We have been very effective in utilizing the rooms we do have to their maximum potential and hopefully this will have the benefit of being able to keep as much programming as possible onsite for some time. However, it is possible that we may have to think about additional offsite programming sometime in the future."

Easily, the most often heard complaint during this year's show was the sometimes very slow registration process. Registration lines for both public and professional attendees was often terribly long with delays as long as two hours on Wednesday evening. It's possible that when this many thousands of attendees descend upon a convention at the same time that's just something to be expected, but Glanzer says they will be working on this for the future. "Unfortunately the lines in some areas were indeed very long, on Wednesday in particular. While we utilized online registration again this year, it was with a new company. And while they were great in training, helping us out and troubleshooting, I think there was a small learning curve that may have created some delays."

Glanzer said one way to avoid those delays is to make sure you pre-register for Comic-Con. "Pre-registered general attendees could produce a bar code and, once swiped, their badge would automatically print," explained Glanzer. "So, I think waiting for pre-reg wasn't nearly as long as those who had changes to their registration or had to get verified onsite. This is in particular to professionals and press."

Many in the comics industry in 2004 said that CCI felt like it was a "comics show" once again, with a good amount of comics industry news being announced at the show. This year it appeared that both Marvel & DC Comics may have held back a bit, with some assuming those announcements would be made at the upcoming Wizard World Chicago. And once again many professionals said that in 2005 CCI felt less like a comics show and more like a media show. The number of major media announcements and presentations with meaty news bits seemed as numerous as ever in 2005, if not more so. "Given that Comic-Con International welcomes over 1,500 members of the press, personally, I think our show is the best place to make an announcement," said Glanzer. "But obviously we have no control over what a publisher announces or when.

"Press who attend our show are both national and international, from print, electronic and online outlets. I think we're in an era now where online press, for comics in particular, is becoming more and more of a factor in how news is reported. Even the major comics industry publications have augmented their magazines with online departments and I think being able to report news as it happens is an added benefit not only to their readers, but to the magazines as well.

"Nothing will supplant those print publications and that's as it should be. But not taking advantage of 1,500 reporters in one place is a question that could probably be best answered by those not making announcements.

"In regard to the perception that we're less a comics show is something I will admit to being frustrated about. The truth is we have a stellar list of comics guests each year and offer more comics programming than any other convention in the United States. Add to this that a majority of our exhibitors deal with comics specifically and you can see that comics is our main focus." In fact, when compared to other conventions, Comic-Con International does see the largest assemblage of comics professionals anywhere in the United States.

The biggest problem faced by the convention last year seemed to be the issue of heat. In the older section of the convention center last year, halls A through C, there was a noticeable difference in climate when compared to the newer sections. That same problem didn't appear to plague 2005's convention. "Heat was a major factor at the 2004 convention and was specific to our show," explained Glanzer. "The center took note of this and an additional 1000-ton air conditioning unit was installed specifically for Comic-Con. It has since been removed."

Eariler this year a panic was felt by many in the industry when hotels nearest the convention center booked up remarkably quick. CBR News spoke with CCI about that issue in January and efforts are being made to keep that scenario from repeating itself in 2005. "We're working to have larger room blocks at area hotels as well as being able to include the Marriott Hotel into the group once again.

"Of course we would like to eliminate the hotel issues we had this year, so it's an ongoing effort," explained Glanzer. "I should add here that while some hotels sold out early, many were still available for some time. But yes, this is an issue, which is obviously very important, and one that we're addressing on a multitude of levels."

Just days after the close of this year's convention, Variety (subscription required) reported that investigators for the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) attended the show and busted a couple of vendors who were selling illegally made DVDs and tapes of movies and TV shows. The investigators contacted the San Diego Police Department, which resulted in the arrest of vendors Chet and Gregory Szydlowski. Variety also noted what regular convention attendees already knew that bootlegs of old cartoons and foreign productions unavailable in the U.S. have long been something of a staple at science fiction and comic book conventions, but with more of those foreign films and TV making their way to the States in an official capacity, it's no surprise that the response of the copyright holders has become more aggressive. "I think it's important to note that Comic-Con is a strong, long-term supporter of the artists, producers and industry that create the materials that are displayed and sold at our show," said Glanzer. "I don't want to comment on this specific incident, but can say that we cooperate with the owners of those intellectual property rights and assist them in terminating the infringements through lawful means.

"Because infringements are often very difficult to distinguish from legal materials, identification of violations often requires the participation of the owners of the intellectual property rights," continued Glanzer. "When these infringements are identified, we make every effort to cooperate with and encourage property owners to use the legal system as necessary to curtail these incidents.

I might also add that exhibitors at our show must read, sign and abide by the exhibitor application before they can set up at our show. And that application says in part:

"Exhibitors shall not play or permit the playing or performance of, or distribution of any copyrighted material at the Event unless it has obtained all necessary rights and paid all required royalties, fees or other payments."

"It also says, in part:

"Exhibitor shall abide by and observe all federal, state and local laws, codes, ordinances…"

While the contract signed by exhibitors has some very specific legal requirements regarding copyrighted material, Glanzer noted that CCI does not police the convention center hall. "With the diversity of product and the difficulty in distinguishing infringements from legal materials, we must rely on copyright holders to identify those items," explained Glanzer.

Comic-Con International also owns and operates two other conventions, WonderCon and the Alternative Press Expo, which both take place in San Francisco. The convention circuit itself is in something of a war mode right now, with Wizard Conventions adding additional shows to an already over flowing convention calendar, with the recent heated exchange regarding the Wizard World Atlanta & Heroes Convention conflicts being a focal point. While Comic-Con International has seemingly secured its position as the grand daddy of them all, their other shows still must stay competitive. The 2005 WonderCon shows was one of their most successful attendance wise, in large part due to an increased Hollywood presence at the show. "Additional programming, new venue and a diverse floor all went into the increased attendance at the show," said Glanzer. "And yes, of course, having Christian Bale in his only convention appearance didn't hurt. But having Kevin Smith there, too, helped I'm sure.

"But APE, the Alternative Press Expo, also had a pretty big increase in attendance as well and that show doesn't have any huge media stars. But it does have a cool venue, great programming and a diverse floor. I think that's ultimately the key, but I don't want to give away any trade secrets."

While APE may not feature the big media draws of Comic-Con International, don't think planning the show is easy. "It's not a particularly difficult show, but as with all our shows it requires a great deal of planning," explained Glanzer. "We are incredibly dedicated to each show we produce. We honestly go to great lengths to make sure each convention is the best that it can possibly be. And with that comes a lot of hard work and sleepless nights for all involved. But, in the end, people seem to have a great time at our shows and I can't imagine a better reason for doing them."

For those who missed the 2005 edition of Comic-Con International, you'll have another chance in less than one year. Comic-Con International in San Diego returns July 20th - 23rd in 2006.

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