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Will Comic-Con Stay Or Go?

Comic-Con International is currently in contract negotiations to extend its stay in San Diego through 2015. A final decision is expected within 30 days.

Audio

Aired 4/14/10

Last week, the city of San Diego took a major step toward expanding the San Diego Convention Center. Will that be enough to keep Comic-Con International in San Diego? The contract with the popular arts and comics convention ends in 2012 and both Anaheim and Los Angeles have proposals to move the event to their convention centers. We talk with Comic-Con Director of Marketing David Glanzer.

Will Comic-Con Stay Or Go?
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Above: An analysis of the San Diego Convention Center expansion land deal.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. As San Diego's Comic-Con has grown and grown in recent years, its success has provoked two simultaneous reactions: excitement that this local convention has grown into a national event, and concern that its popularity will eventually take it away from San Diego. Last week, the City of San Diego took a major step toward expanding the convention center by authorizing the acquisition of six acres of land near the convention center site. So joining us to talk about that proposal and whether that will be enough to keep Comic-Con here is my guest, David Glanzer, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Comic-Con International. David, good morning.

DAVID GLANZER (Director of Marketing and PR, Comic-Con International): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: So, David, what do you think about the City’s acquisition of this extra land to expand the convention center?

GLANZER: Well, you know, I think it’s going to be a really good thing for San Diego, the city. You know, we, as meeting planners, tend to travel around the country a lot and I was in Orlando not too long ago and they have a massive facility. And while I was there, they had a convention that was devoted to big boat owners, one for cheerleading, I think there was a book event, and then a comic book convention. So they had about 4 or 5 different events in one facility and they went off without a hitch, you know, and I think an expanded center will allow the city to hold concurrent events and, thereby, keeping the facility full and keeping neighbors happy, I think.

CAVANAUGH: But will it allow the city to keep Comic-Con International?

GLANZER: Well, that’s a good question. I mean, to be honest with you, I think had the decision gone the other way, it might’ve had more of a bearing. You know, from what we understand, the earliest the facility will actually be completed will be right around 2015, so that is the end of our new contract that we’re negotiating so that really wasn’t a factor in our decision. We have not come up with a decision yet. I think we probably will within the next 30 days. Again, you know, I don’t know that we’re really factoring that into it. I think had the vote gone another way, it might’ve carried a little bit more weight.

CAVANAUGH: So, David, your present contract with the city expires in 2012, is that correct?

GLANZER: Correct, with the convention center, yes.

CAVANAUGH: And so right now you’re negotiating a contract to expand it to about 2015.

GLANZER: Correct, correct.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of terms has the city offered in the interim, between the time that the – between 2012 and the time when the convention center might be expanded so that more people could attend Comic-Con here in San Diego?

GLANZER: Well, I think the convention center and the mayor’s office have really done an outstanding job of trying to address some of the concerns that we have, and those are concerns that we’ve had for quite some time. Among them are the availability of hotel rooms, space is obviously an issue, price of hotels, parking, there are a myriad amount of issues that go into putting on the event and because we’ve had to limit attendance for the last few years, basically our income is, you know, going to be flat soon. The center’s really kind of worked with local hotels, with the mayor’s office, in trying to see if they can – some of those facilities can make space available to us. I think they’re looking at additional hotel rooms. I think they’re trying to address the situation as we’ve presented it and mitigate the concerns and issues that we have.

CAVANAUGH: So, theoretically, some – the venues could expand out of the convention center to other locations in San Diego?

GLANZER: Right. Well, one of the things we tried last year was we utilized one of the big ballrooms at the, gosh, I think it was the Hilton Bayfront Hotel. And that was an experiment for us to see if we can drive people across the outside of the facility, and it worked very well. We had no complaints at all. In the past, we’ve had some smaller events in area hotels but nothing on the scale that we did last year. It proved successful. I think we’re going to try to do that again if the facilities, if those hotels in the neighboring range can allow us to use those as overflow space, that, you know, conceivably could solve, in the short term anyway, some of our space problems.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as you say, if you just, if you just focused on the convention center and you don’t make use of these outside venues, you’re looking at no growth because you’ve maxed out there. Tell us what the attendance is at Comic-Con.

GLANZER: Last year we had 126,000. I think the year before, we had 125,000. That doesn’t mean that there are only 126,000 who want to attend. We’ve had to turn a lot of people away and, in fact, this year our 4-day passes sold out in September of last year for this year’s show. So the desire is there. We have a wait list of about 400 exhibitors who would like to exhibit at the show but they can’t either because of the space. So, in essence, what has happened is our income from two of our biggest – I mean, our income generating opportunities have been maximized. Costs continue to rise, however, so that’s a scary thing for us. One of the things that we’ve tried to do, which we’ve never really done in the past is to increase our sponsorship, so you’ll come to the show and you’ll see a lot more signage than you ever did before. We can, you know, have people and organizations sponsor events, sponsor portions of the convention, that will help defray some of those increases in cost that we see.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with David Glanzer. He’s the Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Comic-Con International. And we’re talking about whether or not Comic-Con is going to stay in San Diego when their contract expires in 2012. Tell us, David, who is making the decision for Comic-Con, whether to stay here or to go?

GLANZER: We have a board of directors. We have a 13-member board of directors and ultimately it will be their decision. And, you know, they rely, as on all things, upon the input of the executive director, myself, a couple of other people within the staff, which are full time. And it’s not an easy decision. I mean, I have often said I wish it were as easy as, you know, taking a pin and placing it on a map but the truth of the matter is there are pluses and minuses to every proposal we’ve received and our task is going to be to pick the proposal that benefits the event and our attendees the best. And regardless of which proposal we make, it’s not going to be a slam dunk or an easy sell. And whatever decision we make, we certainly hope our fans, you know, support us and stick with us with us trying to make it work.

CAVANAUGH: Where are you in the decision making process?

GLANZER: Well, we just had – You know, I think we’re all constantly working on it but this week we really did kind of take a little bit of a break only because we had a show in San Francisco, WinterCon, a sister show, which is a show that we acquired about 10 years ago and it continues to grow. Last year, we had 34,000 people and this year we had over 39,000. So I think everybody was kind of focused on that and now we’re wrapping up that show. So, in earnest, I think everybody will, if they’re not already, are poring over all the different paperwork and all that. And, again, I think within the next 30 days we should have a decision.

CAVANAUGH: Because there are cities, and not just San Diego, who are really courting you guys. I mean, they really, really, really want you there, Anaheim, I know, LA Convention Center. What are you looking for in what those other cities are offering?

GLANZER: The same thing that we look for in San Diego and that is, you know, how can a new city or facility best address the issues that are important to us and that is space, hotels, cost of hotels, availability of hotels, parking, traffic, things of that nature. You know, it’s – We could move to any city but if we don’t address those issues that are core importance to our attendees, it’s – we’ll be just in the same situation we were before. The proposals that we’ve received from Los Angeles and Anaheim have been great, and the ones from San Diego as well, and each tries to address those issues that we have. And I think everybody’s done a really, you know, they’ve obviously taken their time and effort in that. And whatever decision we make, you know, we know will be the right decision, it just won’t be the perfect decision because there are pluses and minuses to every proposal.

CAVANAUGH: We heard that Las Vegas was also trying to get Comic-Con to come to Vegas. Are you still considering that at all?

GLANZER: They’re not really in the running. I don’t know that we received an official proposal from them. But, you know, it’s not unusual for facilities to let us know throughout the year even when we’re not in a negotiating phase, to let us know what’s going on. As meeting planners, you know, we travel to a variety of different cities. I’ll be in Chicago later this week and I’ll look at their facility. Not because we’re ever planning on moving there but you want to see how people do things, how, you know, how things may be done differently, better or worse. And, you know, right now it looks like it’s LA, Anaheim and San Diego are the prime runners in this.

CAVANAUGH: Now you’ve been with the Comic-Con convention for a long time and I’m wondering how strange is this for you to have all of these cities really just really trying to get you guys to come and have your convention in their city when you look back sort of like the beginning years here in San Diego?

GLANZER: I have to tell you, it’s – the best word I can describe would probably be surreal and I mean that earnestly. When I started with the organization as an attendee, I came – I tell people I came as an infant in ’78. I started volunteering in ’84 and then came on as staff in ’94. And it was really a challenge to try to get the general public to understand that we’re an event that has varied interests and that if you’re into comic books, you’ll love this event, movies, television, etcetera. To have cities now recognize this event that oftentimes in the past was really kind of discarded as a bunch of geeks and nerds, and to watch, you know, news anchors kind of roll their eyes, and then, you know, some, you know, 20 years later the attitude is very different, it’s really kind of a surreal experience.

CAVANAUGH: What about through the long years that the Comic-Con has been here in San Diego—and we hope very earnestly will remain—you’ve developed a big volunteer network. Will that be easy to replicate elsewhere?

GLANZER: We don’t know, and that is something that we’re looking at as well. Right now, we utilize probably about 3,000 volunteers over the course of the 4 days, and those volunteers come from all over the place, from San Diego, from neighboring cities and even from across the country. That is a very big concern and, you know, another concern, too, is if we end up utilizing or retaining a lot of our volunteers, will that impact our housing in whichever city we end up going to. It really is multi-layered and I think a lot of people, when I read the blogs and the boards, you know, assume that it really is just as easy as just going to a new city and everything will follow. We don’t know that’s the case. We’ve not done it before. If we do decide to leave, again, it will be a – our work will be cut out for us. And if we stay, our work is going to be cut out for us as well.

CAVANAUGH: You know, there are already people who say that Comic-Con has become too much a creature of Hollywood, too focused on movies and TV shows. And is there any concern that if you move to Anaheim or Los Angeles, that that would become even more a part of what Comic-Con is about?

GLANZER: Well, the criticism is interesting. We don’t know how valid that is and I’ll tell you why. We set up our programming so that no one thing dominates another. Now while you may see a lot more press about an Angelina Jolie or a Ben Affleck coming, the truth of the matter is Hollywood has a great deal of money to promote their appearance at the show; it doesn’t mean they have a wider presence. At any one time during Comic-Con, there are probably about 25,000 people in meeting rooms alone, that’s not counting the people on the floor. And in that 25,000 people, one room, the Hollywood room, if you will, seats 6,500 so it’s a small percentage but it’s a very bright percentage, if you will. People really are aware of that. You know, the truth of the matter is, you know, we talk about Sergio Aragonés or Sir Mark Evanier or any of these other comics professionals who – we all know who they are but I think when a television producer comes in, they can say a lot more by mentioning Hollywood stars than they can about these other people. So there’s a criticism there, you know, we don’t agree with it. We have more comics programming, comics guests than any other convention across the country and that was not a factor into whether we move to LA or Anaheim at all. And, you know, I think we’ll still be the same event, it’ll be different, but if we do move, we’re going to try to make it work as hard as we possibly can.

CAVANAUGH: You know, there are some bloggers that I’ve read who say that the Con will lose its soul if it leaves San Diego. I’m wondering, what do you think Comic-Con would lose if it left San Diego?

GLANZER: Well, you know, I have to tell you San Diego – You know, we were born in San Diego. And it’s no mistake that San Diego is a great vacation destination. And I’ve heard from countless people who say that though they come to the show and they have to work for the show, when it gets really tough and stressful, they walk out into the back mezzanine and look at the bay or Coronado. Now that says a lot. I think if the show moves, it will certainly be different. It obviously won’t be the San Diego Comic-Con anymore. We hope that because the organizers are the same, that we’re always – try to put on the show that we want to attend, that it will retain its core essence but it would be different.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, when will we know again?

GLANZER: I expect within the next 30 days we should have a decision.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you for speaking with us.

GLANZER: Thank you so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with David Glanzer. He’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations for Comic-Con International. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

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