If you were given just one word to describe Comic-Con International in San Diego, the word you'd likely use is "BIG." The 2007 show was certainly that and then some, but what everyone wants to know once the show is over is just how big was it?
Each year following the conclusion of Comic-Con International, CBR News checks in with Comic-Con's Director of Marketing David Glanzer to discuss the show that was. Tuesday afternoon, we spoke with Glanzer about the show and discussed some of the issues the show faced this year, how many people attended and what those figures mean, how the show can expand physically, just how long they're guaranteed to stay in San Diego, the "Hollywoodization" of Comic-Con and much more.
David, thanks for joining me today and congratulations on surviving another Comic-Con!
First off, one of the big surprises for me following the conclusion of this years show are the distinct lack of complaints I've received. Now, I'm not saying the show is completely without its faults - that's near impossible when you have a show that attracts 100,000+ people - but usually following Comic-Con I hear from a lot of industry professionals who'll call to vent their frustrations about the show. Most people I spoke with either said it went well for them or the complaint was simply "there's too many people," which really isn't a complaint.
Now, that being said, the biggest complaint I've received is one I've not really received before - that getting into panels this year often proved difficult, and I'm not just talking about panels held in the enormous Hall H or Ballroom 20, but even panel room 6CDEF and other, smaller panel rooms which ended up being standing room only this year. But is there really anything that can be done under the circumstances?
Well, I think when you have as many people as you have at any one event and you only have X amount of seats, there will always be an issue of trying to accommodate everybody who wants to see a particular panel. As an example, this year we offered up some fan rooms, which were basically small meeting rooms that fan clubs could reserve for an hour to hold a meeting. For the first time in my memory there were some fan clubs who scheduled those rooms and the response was so overwhelming that those rooms had to be closed and that's never happened before. I think it's a problem indicative of both the number of people who want to get in and the types of programs and panels we hold. Is there a solution? I honestly don't know and it's something we'll have to look at. As you know, we've maxed out our space in terms of programming. This year we had programming rooms that in previous years had been given over to operations that we made available for programming and still we were short programming space. It's something we're looking at.
It sounds like it's unavoidable in some circumstances, but the biggest frustration I heard were from people who found lines for panels cut off hours before the panel even began.
That surprises me and that could be a miscommunication because there's no way for us to cut off a line if the panel hasn't begun yet. For example, I know there were lines for Hall H and we never cut off the lines. The Fire Marshall might close the door, but people could still get in line. I know that was true for Ballroom 20, too, but I don't believe we ever capped a line and said no one can get back in line. I'm writing that down and will have to look at that.
[Editor's Note: Tuesday evening Glanzer sent CBR News this quote regarding the capping incident: "I checked on this and lines were not supposed to be capped, but there was at least one incident that we heard about later where that did happen but, again, it was a miscommunication."]
I think when someone sees a long line, sometimes I think you can misconstrue how many people are actually in line. I've heard people say thousands of people were standing in line for Hall H. While it's still too many, I don't know that we ever actually had more than 500 people in line for Hall H, but because it stretches so long it looks huge. One of the misconceptions sadly is, "If I wait in that line, I'm never getting in." Well, when you have 6500 seats and a program ends and, granted a number of people will stay, but a number of people will leave, too, and some of those who were standing in line will get in. I'm not recommending people spend all their time in line, but there are over 350 hours of programming - that doesn't include film-festival of gaming programming - and hopefully there's something for everybody, but the truth of the matter is with so many people I think getting into a specific panel can, at times, be difficult.
Hall H is a beast of a programming hall. Did the Fire Marshall have to limit the number of people who entered Hall H throughout the convention weekend?
Yes and no. The Fire Marshall closed the hall at certain times and I think that happened several times over the weekend. That's nothing new. The Fire Marshall has done that before. Each room has a maximum capacity, there's a formula for that, and then she also looks at how many people are standing against the walls, etc., etc., and she'll make the determination when she feels it needs to be closed. Once it's closed, it's closed and we defer to her expertise on that.
It seems like for these larger event panels, the only possible solution for expansion would be to hold something at the baseball stadium next door, at PetCo Park, much like Warner Bros. did for their "300" DVD release celebration.
Yes. We've looked at the facility before. I don't know how ideal it is for programming. We didn't attend the "300" DVD event on Friday night because it was in conflict with one of our events, but ideally we'd like to see something happen on a Saturday afternoon like what happened at PetCo Park on Friday night. That would be great. It would be an additional fun event people could attend. We would love to see stuff like that happen that could alleviate some of the over crowding that happens at the show.
Is this under consideration?
As you can imagine, there's a cost factor involved with PetCo Park and the truth of the matter is we're maxed in space. We can only have X amount of exhibitors and X amount of attendees in the hall, so while our income doesn't really change that much, our expenses do. This year, several of our different expenditures have increased and it's probably fair to say next year things will increase again. It's just the name of the business.
Let's get to what everybody wants to talk about - the numbers. What was attendance like at Comic-Con in 2007?
We actually just got our numbers in and the number is 125,000 individuals.
Interesting. Considering people were bandying about numbers like 140,000+ over the weekend, I think that number is going to surprise a lot of people.
I think you're right. We're very meticulous about our numbers. We made sure to get rid of duplicates and make sure that the people who are counted are people who actually attend the show. Remember, one person who attends 4 ½ days is only counted once. It's a very large facility and 125,000 people is a lot of people. Last year we had about 123,000, so we saw a little increase this year. We're very meticulous about our numbers.
Do you have any idea how many of those were exhibitors and how many were press?
Exhibitors was about 9,000 and I don't have the break down for press, but the preliminary numbers we had look to be about 3,000 press.
While it's only a slight increase over last years numbers, you did sell out every single day of the convention except for Thursday. Some I spoke with said they didn't feel the floor was as crowded this year, especially on Saturday. Going back to our earlier discussion about the panel rooms, considering it seems more panel rooms were standing room only than ever before, that explains why there might be less Saturday foot traffic. That being said, is it possible you, meaning Comic-Con International, were too conservative with your ticket sales caps, thus limiting your ability for a much higher number?
Often times we're asked what the capacity of the convention center is. The truth of the matter is the configuration of the facility really determines how many people the facility can handle. Let's use the Republican National Convention in 1996 as an example. With that show, they could probably accommodate a very large number of people because there were no booths on the floor, just row after row of chairs. Now, if you put booths on the floor, that capacity changes and as you can tell from walking the floor, the layout of the center changes from year to year for Comic-Con and that number becomes a nebulous one to a certain degree.
One of the things we always strive for is the safety of our attendees. Yes, we'd love to be able to accommodate as many people as possible, but the reality of the situation is that's not always possible. One of the things we learned during last years show was the Fire Marshall had concerns about the capacity issues of the center, so we stopped selling on-site registration for a period of time one day last year, which ultimately led to us putting artificial caps on certain days this year and we met those.
I've read comments posted on blogs and various web sites about the show and there's a bit of a confusion out there that says Saturday was a slow day in terms of exhibit sales on the floor because we didn't have any onsite registration. While we didn't sell any tickets on site, that doesn't mean we didn't sell tickets for those days. Instead of those people buying Saturday tickets on site, they bought them in advance. Those people were still there, just how they bought their ticket was different.
And, I'll be honest with you, since Saturday was the first day to sell out, I think a lot of people were concerned the floor would be so inundated that they spent most of their time in programming. If you were on the floor on Saturday, while it was still packed, it wasn't I think what everybody thought it would be. Sunday was a different story. People came out of the programming rooms and Sunday ended up very busy and I'm told sales were pretty good.
Then of course there's Preview Night, which has become truly insane!
Now, in terms of expansion, one possibility for next year would be to expand into the Hilton Hotel and Convention Center, which will open at the far end of the convention center next year. Has Comic-Con considered possibly holding some programming there as they add quite a bit more convention space to Downtown San Diego?
They have a lot of convention space, yes. One of the things we do throughout the year is work very closely with the city, the center and area hotels. That being said, if something doesn't come to pass, the misconception is that we didn't think of that. That isn't always the case.
Have you had any discussions with them yet?
Yes, we have.
One suggestion I've heard is that if someone off site, the new Hilton or maybe some other location, has enough capacity to handle a room with a capacity like Hall H that Hall H programming could be moved off site and more exhibitor floor space could be made available. Is this a consideration at this point?
As it stands now, Hall H can seat 6500 people and the current configuration of hotel space in the downtown area would not allow us to accommodate that many people. That begin said, that doesn't mean some programming can't be moved off site. That is inevitable and there already is some programming off site, gaming tournaments and things of that nature.
We're excited about the Hilton coming in and going online and hopefully that will give us some opportunities to put more people in downtown and maybe they'll be an option as well in terms of off site programming.
One of the perennial rumors following the close of a Comic-Con show is how the show is too big for the San Diego Convention Center, it's reached capacity - which you have - and you're fleeing San Diego the following year for another city that can handle your growing needs. So, to put those rumors to rest, remind us again how long you're contracted with the San Diego Convention Center.
We've contracted through 2012.
That's interesting because last we spoke you were only scheduled through 2010, so this must be a recent extension.
Right. Two weeks or so before the convention we signed another two year contract, primarily because somebody else was looking at some space there and we had to move fast.
Yes, we have maxed out our space, but we're hoping to work on some level again with area hotels and the city to help accommodate people that want to come to the show. Sadly, one of the things we've had to do is put these artificial attendance caps in place and I have a feeling that will probably continue.
Of course, expanding the convention center proper would help in that regard. Are there plans in place to increase the size of the convention center?
As I understand it, there has been some talk of that and it's certainly something we'd love to see, but the city is still not in great financial shape, so whether expanding the facility is something voters will approve or the city will approve remains to be determined. It would help not just our event, but would help attract additional events to the center.
One thing to keep in mind is if you go to cities like New York, Chicago or Orlando, these great convention cities like San Diego, one of the things you'll see is the convention facility will host more than one event at a time and that's a possibility for San Diego as well. If they increase their space, it means more revenue not only for us being able to expand, but also for the convention center and the city having the ability to host multiple events concurrently. I think it's a good idea and one I hope will be done.
Now, one question a lot of people might have following this interview is the wisdom of extending your contract by two years considering you've reached that maximum capacity and the immediate future doesn't include news of convention center expansion.
It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. We heard a lot of negative comments about moving outside of San Diego and that it should stay in San Diego and truthfully we do want to stay in San Diego. The truth of the matter is we're spending a great deal of time trying to accommodate the people who want to come to the show - both exhibitors and attendees - and our decision was to go ahead and stay here until at least 2012 because it is the problem that we know. We could move to another city, but where could you move to that would have the amount of space we need, both in terms of exhibit space and hotel rooms, and then what would the expense be in doing something like that? As anybody who is an event planner will know, throwing a convention like this while, yes, it may generate a nice amount of money in terms of exhibit sales, the costs associated with operating an event like this are staggering. If you move to another city, you have to factor in the actual move of those costs as well. As of now, we're in San Diego until 2012.
Another problem Comic-Con faces during the convention weekend are the long lines to get across Harbor Drive in front of the convention center to get to hotels and restaurants in the Gas Lamp District. There are traffic cops to help facilitate the safe and easy movement of con goers, but even then it can be so crowded that you might have to wait a couple of lights before you can cross the street. And if a long train should go by, well, forget about going anywhere for a while. A bridge of some sort would certainly alleviate that problem. Is there any discussion about putting in some sort of bridge or sky way?
Yes, there is. My understanding is when the convention center expansion was originally done years ago, there was talk of sinking Harbor drive - and in fact if you drive down Harbor Drive it does dip - and creating a plaza that would be just for foot traffic. For whatever reason, that wasn't feasible so we have the situation we have now. There is talk of a sky bridge that will probably be at or toward the end of the convention facility, down by where Eighth Avenue is, but this is just in the talking stages. With the new hotel going in over there, I think it's something that's become more of a necessity than ever before.
And it certainly would make things much safer for convention goers, whether it be attendees of Comic-Con or any other show held in San Diego.
To close this out, I'd like to give you an opportunity to have your say about the show without me prodding you with questions.
Let's see, there are a couple of things. One thing I'd like to mention are the perennial comments that Comic-Con is all about Hollywood and that Hollywood has taken over the event and it's not a comics convention anymore. I'll be honest and tell you that's a very frustrating thing to hear because every year I would put our guest list up against any event anywhere. We have an amazing list of comics guests and programming. Since our very beginning we've always been about comics, science fiction and film. Over at Mark Evanier's site, NewsFromMe.com, Bill Lund, one of the founders of Comic-Con, wrote that since its inception the con has always focused on comics, science fiction and films and he pointed to one of our early program guides that has three separate icons - one for comics, one for movies and one for science fiction. I think people forget that and if you say something like that enough, suddenly it becomes fact, but it's not. The impression now is that Comic-Con was only ever about comics and it wasn't until 10 years ago that we got taken over by Hollywood. The truth is Hall H seats 6500 people and Ballroom 20 holds 4500 people. There are probably 1000 people in line total trying to get into both panels. You're looking at about maybe 12,000 people who are focused on those Hollywood panels. On any given day, there's probably 50,000 additional people at the show who are nowhere near there. Hollywood certainly is a major part of the show, but is it the dominant part of the show? No, it's not. What does dominate it is the press and Hollywood has done a very effective job of publicizing their panels.
What's surprising to me is those Hollywood panels aren't just being covered by the NY Times, the LA Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, but increasingly by comics press. While that's good, I hope that the comics news and events that happen at the show don't get ignored by the comics press because I can't imagine that some of those national publications would cover an event like the Image Founders panel or Mark Evanier's Jack Kirby Tribute Panel or something like that. I would certainly hope the comics press continue to cover comics programming.
That's actually one thing I keep in mind when planning our coverage of Comic-Con International here on CBR. CBR covers more than just the comics related events at the show because, as I've said before, Comic-Con isn't just about reporting the news from the show, it's about covering the experience that Comic-Con truly is. So, with that in mind, during the weekend of the show our coverage is primarily focused on comics related events and panels, then in the week following the show we'll roll out some of our extra coverage of panels that are less related directly to comics.
That's just it and what's so great for me personally is that at midnight or 1:00 in the morning during the show, when I have 15 minutes to get on the computer, it's great to see that on the comics sites there was a lot of comics news. That gives me a big sigh of relief because if our own industry doesn't cover it, you can't expect the main stream press to cover it. Mainstream press will cover the Hollywood stuff because it's big and flashy, but I would hate to loose our comics press to that to, but it doesn't seem like that's happening and for that I'm very grateful.
Getting back to your point about Comic-Con just being all about Hollywood, I think it's harder and harder to say that the show isn't as focused on comics anymore when you consider that pop-culture - Hollywood film production specifically - is very much being driven by comics properties these days. Look at the number of films released this year and yet to be released based on comics. A lot of the big Hollywood press that happened at the show was about comics properties coming to the big screen.
That's just it. When we started so many years ago, we said comics deserved just as much attention as any other form of entertainment. Like you said, whether it be comics or video games being made into television shows or film, or vice versa, it really has shown what we always knew which is that comics and the entire medium is just as important a form of entertainment as anything else. It's just that Hollywood has deep pockets where they can advertise their properties and we're grateful for that because it helps bring people into the event. But to say that's the focus of the show means you're not spending any time in Hall A or B or at the Image Founders panel or Sergio Aragones' Quick Draw or Mark Evanier's many panels. There's a tremendous amount of stuff going on at the show that's not Hollywood related and is comics specific. To focus simply on one aspect of the show does a disservice to what the show is truly about.
And if you spend some time with your enormous programming catalog - which I should add gives me an enormous headache each year it's unveiled [laughs] …
[laughs] It gives us a headache, too!
[laughs] I'm sure. But if you spend some time with it, there are more comics centric panels in there than are Hollywood panels or even Hollywood panels that are only tangentially related to comics.
Right and I have to tell you the sad reality of that is we don't have the publicity budget to advertise the heck out of some of those panels, but that doesn't meant that those rooms don't reach capacity and people aren't enjoying those panels, it just seems to what has the most glitz gets the most attention, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's what it's all about.
I want to tell you a story from this past convention that really made me happy. I was speaking with a reporter from a mainstream publication who had come to the show to cover movies. We did a little interview at one point and I noticed in his bag he had two graphic novels. I asked if he were a fan and he said no, he had never read comics before, but that this was his second time at the show and once again he heard film makers talk about comics that had inspired them, so he went down to the floor to pick up some of those books, one of which was "Watchmen." He went on to say when he was at that retailers booth he asked what else is out there that is diametrically the opposite of "Watchmen." This reporter said the response was amazing because the retailer gave him many different titles to consider and suddenly this reporter realized the many, many options available to him. He ended up buying another book, I don't recall what the title was, but he was genuinely excited about reading both books. Now, his assignment for the last two years were movies and next year that assignment might be the same, but if he enjoyed those graphic novels it's my hope that he'll pitch his editors that comics are a form of entertainment worth covering as well. That helps all of us.
OK, final question -what's next?
We're actually in the process right now of meeting with our guest committee and trying to see who we want to bring out for 2008. As you know, we always try to make it as diverse a group as possible. The next big thing for us will be the Spike Awards in October where we will bestow upon Neil Gaiman our Icon Award. That's something we're looking forward to and something we're grateful to Spike TV for televising because, again, it allows us to highlight for us one of the most important aspects of this industry and that is the creators who've done such a great job of bringing awareness of this medium to a wider audience.
Then of course our next big event is WonderCon. We have a nice guest list so far, we're still working on that, and it's coming up in the Bay Area in early 2008, another great vacation destination, and we'll have some surprises there. Right now we're still in the process of wrapping this show up and preparing to make it all happen again.