By Cameron Hatheway
In the wise words of Douglas Adams, “don’t panic.” Comic-Con International is once again in the news for possibly considering a move from San Diego to [insert latest rumor here] as soon as their contract with the convention center expires in 2016. A story ran Wednesday morning in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline, “Will Comic-Con leave San Diego? Other cities are making pitches,” causing rekindled alarm and unnecessary drama throughout geek communities.
The last time the issue was raised was back in 2010 when Comic-Con was irked about lack of space in the convention center and high hotel rates, prompting San Diego to propose a convention center expansion to keep Comic-Con leaders happy and compete with the offers that started trickling in from Anaheim to Las Vegas. From the LA Times article:
To help keep Comic-Con and other trade shows in San Diego, the city approved a plan in 2011 to expand the convention center by 225,000 square feet of exhibit space, plus 101,000 square feet of meeting space and an 80,000-square-foot ballroom.
But the $520-million expansion lost momentum last summer when a state appeals court ruled against a financing plan that would allow hotels around the convention center — instead of voters — to decide on a tax increase to pay for the project. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has vowed to find another way to finance the expansion.
But now it’s too late, and there’s blood in the water. Ever since Comic-Con let the public know that it was unhappy with its current living situation, cities all over the country have been circling like sharks, hoping to swoon them with better offers. And who can blame them? Comic-Con is not only an internationally recognized brand, but it makes gangbusters for San Diego’s economy: a cool $177.8 million from the 130,000 fans who attended for just a few days. That’s not even taking into account the people who didn’t have passes, and those who stayed in San Diego an extra few days checking out the sights (and there are tons).
Comic-Con International knows they hold sway over San Diego, and are merely using the courting of other cities as bargaining chips. The local football team, the San Diego Chargers, have been doing the same thing for years in hopes to get a new stadium built. The only difference being that people actually want Comic-Con to stay in San Diego. Win a Super Bowl or two—hell, just win one—and we’ll talk, Chargers. Their proposed stadium is literally a few blocks away from the convention center and right across the street from Petco Park. As if it wasn’t cramped enough downtown. From the same LA Times article:
The San Diego Chargers are pushing to have a new stadium built several blocks from the existing convention center, in a combined stadium and convention center expansion site. Without a new stadium, the Chargers might move to Los Angeles.
Chargers, speaking as a fan (why yes, I am a masochist), it was nice having you in San Diego while it lasted. I’m calling your bluff. See you in a few years when you realize there isn’t a market for football in Los Angeles and San Diegans aren’t going to make the drive to watch you lose in a new location when they can just do that at home with much cheaper food and beverages. But alas, I digress.
Just for laughs, let us examine a few of the top contenders who are adamant about hosting Comic-Con:
Anaheim: Current home of Wondercon, it does boast an impressive convention center of 815,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, with an additional 200,000 square feet of more convention center currently under construction. I attended Wondercon back in 2012, and while it was without a doubt massive and gave all attendees a wonderful 2-3 foot bubble of personal space on the floor, there was absolutely nothing to do after the convention center got out. The only attractions nearby are Disneyland and California Adventure, but after walking around a convention all day, do you really want to pay $96 to walk around some more? The nightlife scene is zilch, and I was fortunate enough to be staying with friends at a house that was supplied with tons of beer and live microphones, so I wasn’t bored out of my mind.
Los Angeles: Current home of E3, Anime Expo and Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, the Los Angeles convention center has 720,000 square feet of exhibition space available. The nice thing about Los Angeles is there’s plenty to do afterwards, and there are available hotel rooms throughout the city. Oh, but it’s still a melting pot of the homeless, smug Hollywood elitists, and traffic galore. Honestly, Los Angeles wouldn’t be the worst place to move Comic-Con, but with Hollywood just a popcorn container’s throw away, it might as well just finally admit to being Hollywood-Con and let the movie studios run the show.
Las Vegas: Current home to Wizard World and Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con (different venue), the Las Vegas convention center has 3.2 million square feet of exhibition space. That’s gargantuan. That’s more square footage than San Diego, Anaheim, and Los Angeles’ convention centers combined. Yes, there’s also nothing but hotels available, but have you been to Las Vegas in the summer? It sucks. Also, it would only be appealing to those 21+ and without families; it isn’t exactly known for its “family friendly” atmosphere compared to San Diego. With all the disposable income attendees have saved up for Comic-Con, why risk wasting it at the casinos instead?
Phoenix: Current home to Phoenix Comicon, the Phoenix convention center has 900,000 square feet of exhibition space. But have you been to Arizona? Nobody wants to go to Arizona. Even Arizonans don’t like living there in the summer; they flock to San Diego en masse. If you thought Las Vegas was hot, wait until you spend a couple days in Phoenix in July. Nerds will be roasting alive in their Cylon cosplay outfits.
Bottom-line, San Diego still offers the best location for Comic-Con hands-down. With beautiful, perfect weather and plenty to do downtown afterwards, it’s no wonder attendees stay an extra few days after the convention to check out the sights with friends and family. Traditions have been created over the past 40+ years, and new friendships have been formed every summer. If Comic-Con were to leave San Diego, not everyone would be willing to follow it. The organizers would be taking a huge risk uprooting, but alas, they don’t have to worry that far in advance because they know San Diego will be willing to do whatever it takes to keep them here.
To be blunt, Comic-Con has the city by the balls and they know it. They just need to remind the city of this fact every few years when they’re looking for better deals with the downtown hotels, or more convention space. Yes, tickets will always been incredibly hard to come by, but people will continue to flock to San Diego every summer to be a part of that magic that is Comic-Con International.
So San Diego, just get in line and avoid these types of “Will Comic-Con leave San Diego?” articles in the future. Whatever they ask for in 2016 just before their contract expires, just shut up and give it to them.
*Rich adds: We asked Comic-Con’s David Glanzer to give his own response to Cameron’s article. He told us:
The recent LA Times article discussing our ongoing contract negotiations to keep Comic-Con in San Diego seems to have generated a lot of buzz.
Hopefully we can lay to rest some of the more speculative aspects of the current reports. Firstly, Comic-Con is not making any threats to relocate to any other city. When each contract term comes up we negotiate to try to get agreements that will best benefit the organization and our attendees. Other cities keep track of this schedule and some submit their own proposals. I should point out that each city has its own challenges but each proposal received by us have been concise, detailed and show a great understanding of our event and willingness to work with us to meet the needs of our event.
Out current dilemma is very simple. We are confronted with a lack of space and expensive hotel room rates for our attendees. Currently, due to space limitations within the Convention Center, Comic-Con has implemented a cap on attendance as well as exhibitors. We are grateful for the support of our local hoteliers and city who have allowed space at local hotels and parks for interactive exhibitions by some of our exhibitors and program participants.
We were born in San Diego, we would love to stay in San Diego however we must make a decision that is ultimately beneficial to our attendees because without them, there would be no show. It is for this reason that we will continue the negotiation process in earnest, or until such time as negotiations reach an impasse.
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