With over 100,000 people in attendance each year, keeping track of what's going on with Comic-Con International can be a daunting task, especially when it comes the nuts-and-bolts running of the show itself. Luckily for industry watchers not on site, Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer keeps front and center to talk about issues with the show.
CBR News sat down with Glanzer for a post-game on the 40th San Diego Comic-Con, and discussed the show's successes, hiccups and what the future holds for America's biggest comic book and pop culture celebration.
CBR: What a lot of people have been saying is that Wednesday’s Preview Night no longer feels like a tease of the show but a crowded regular day of Comic-Con, crammed into a few hours in the evening. What do you contribute the high numbers to?
DAVID GLANZER: Well, we don't really know the numbers yet. As you know, we're incredibly particular about our numbers so I'm hesitant to even give you a guess, especially since we ran some programming on Wednesday night from some TV shows. I don't know yet. I will say that it did seem like there were more people in here than usual, and at any given time during Comic-Con there's roughly 22,000 to 25,000 people in meeting rooms. You don't see them on the floor, but there's at least that many upstairs. The issue on preview night is – granted we're only open to press, pros and four-day attendees-- if everybody tries to come it gets crowded. So we tried this programming thing. I don't know if that will solve the problem of the crowds on Thursday night.
As has become traditional for Comic-Con International, passes sold out very quickly. You guys continued to disseminate information after the sellouts for folks on Twitter, and sold extra passes on eBay up through last week. How has that helped things out?
For being a show where the people who attend are on the cutting edge, we've been very, very late in coming to the social network scene, and that's for a couple of reasons. Primary amongst them is that we wanted to make sure that if we wanted to do stuff, we could do it in a way that is helpful for attendees. Just having a Twitter feed that doesn't talk about anything may be fun, but I don't know if that's going to give people any information. What we really hoped to do with the Twitter feed this year was to let people know that hotels were still available if they were, that we were going to start selling passes on eBay to try to cut down on the sales from all the people who were trying to scalp. From our estimations, it did sort of work. There were still scalpers out there, but the price points seem to have been a lot less than they had been in previous years, and the amount of people scalping was down too. It was all about trying to keep people informed as to the important information that was going on and give them options on how to deal with those issues.
A lot of people were talking pre-show about "Twilight" fans and the fear over Hall H being a madhouse with "Twilight" and "Avatar" having panels back-to-back. The line on that side of the con did seem to be very, very long. Was it a pretty smooth transition to get what I'd assume were a lot of first time con people in and out?
It really was. And actually, there are no official surveys, but just from our seeing people in line and asking them, a lot of people were here last year. Now, had they been here the year before? I don't know. The last in-depth survey we took was a couple of years ago, and we know that people return to Comic-Con. They don't always come back every year, but they seem to come back every couple of years. They seem to return. And anecdotally from the "Twilight" crowd that we asked, all the people had been here before.
One of the interesting things was that Hall H was, I believe, never closed down by the Fire Marshal. Even when the room was full, I think it was still possible to enter in some of those panels even after the majority of the line had snaked in. That included not only the "Twilight" panel and the "Avatar" panel, but also the panel on Terry Gilliam, which followed both of them, and it was very well attended. I think it was pretty close to being at capacity.
One of the things I'm mystified by is the news report out there that attributed our early sellouts to the "Twilight" phenomenon. We just don't see that as being the case. Our four-day passes had sold out long before we announced the "Twilight" panel, and Thursday's passes were already at 90% before we announced the "Twilight" panel. So I think some of the trade papers were saying this one thing, but I don't believe that it is. I think that people knew last year we didn't have any passes to sell on site. People knew that if they wanted to go, they'd have to buy early. And we saw a steady increase beginning in January, and it got faster and faster as the months progressed.
There was also concern that the economic crisis would affect people’s enjoyment of Comic-Con. Did you see any evidence of that?
It's always people having a good time. I know that's a really cheesy thing to say, but we've heard from a lot of people that they've really had a good time. And I was just anecdotally talking to people on the floor, and it seems as if people are spending money. I've got to tell you, that was a real concern of mine at first. We won't have a really good idea until after the show, but we're in one of the worst economic times I certainly can ever recall. And while our passes had sold out two months in advance, and that's good for the show, we were really concerned about the exhibitors and whether that would translate to dollars spent on the floor. I know our ATM machines had to be replenished, so people are taking out money. And from a handful of retailers I spoke to on the floor, it seems that spending is up.
How did things look as the show wound down? Were there any major issues?
No. I think there are always going to be a few little SNAFUS that happen every year, and this year is no different. But we were able to deal with those things hopefully in a timely manner. There's always going to be things that we can learn. We'll have a major debriefing after the show and go over that stuff. But for the most part, attendees are happy, exhibitors seem to be relatively happy and presenters – people on programs – seem to be happy. So that makes us happy.
We did hear some press folks had headaches dealing with security and getting into panels.
The trains will not always run as perfectly as we would like. We really work very hard to make sure that things run as smoothly as possible regardless of which department somebody's in whether it be press or pros or attendees or exhibitors. There's bound to be incidents when you have so many people congregated in what is really 1 million square feet.
That being said, we try to learn from our mistakes. One of the problems we had a few years back was line issues in the majority of our bigger rooms. We've now hired about 200 people to try and find solutions for that. I hope it's working, but each year we learn something new and take stuff back to the drawing board and try to reinvent the wheel a little bit. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it needs more work.
How did things go with programming off-site at the Hilton? There were a few big events there like the "Heroes" panel. Did people seem to follow the events out to that space?
Yes. And I have to tell you, something we heard not only from panel participants but from people heading up the programs that were there was that they were amazed at how accommodating a lot of our attendees were, whether that was waiting in line for some of the panels at the Center or having to walk across to the other facility. I think the hotel has really seemed to embrace Comic-Con. Everybody that I dealt with over there was very happy to have us in town and very friendly to our attendees. I think it was a great experiment this year having the [Hilton’s] Indigo Ballroom. I think it worked well, and I think if everything works out we'll probably have more programming there next year.
One thing I heard very good reviews on and something that I heard caused you guys a temporary headache was the mobile phone app for Comic-Con that was available on the website. Did you guys get more people using that than expected?
[laughs] Well, the funny thing about that is that it was another big experiment. What we had originally planned on doing because we didn't have the time or resources was to just have a free countdown. We thought it would be kind of fun to have our logo with a countdown clock. And we were sure that that could be done relatively easily, and the person in charge of programming that was working on it. As with so many other things, we lost track of it and asked, "Where is that?" And the programmer said, "You know, I think I can do a couple of other things." Me being sadly a little computer illiterate, I didn't know what "a few things" were. Well, he turned in the app, and said "It can do this, this and this," and we were like, "Oh my gosh! I think this is great!" It certainly doesn't do everything that everyone would like, but considering it was supposed to be just a logo and a countdown clock, we were pretty excited.
One thing I don't think any of us realized was that it means a lot more business on our website, and one day it did end up crashing our site. So the people hosting the site were great about getting to it right away. I can't even begin tell you what technical things they were doing, but it proved to be successful. It proved that people enjoyed it. And it proved that it worked.
This is still early, but do you have any rough ideas on attendance from this year?
Not yet. We capped our attendance this year, so we should have between 125,00 and 126,000 people. Of course, we're very meticulous about our numbers, and there's going to be a lot of people who don't show up. People cancel for any number of reasons. We made some of those passes available on eBay up to and during the show, so we don't have final numbers yet, but I hope to have that probably in about a week or two. But it should be right around the 125/126 mark.
We talked a little before about your enjoyment of a smooth-running show where people have fun, but did you get to do anything for yourself or see any panels that you personally enjoyed?
You know, this year I really did not have the opportunity. We had more coverage, I think, than we have ever had. At one point, on the front drive we had six separate network affiliates going live, and for us that's pretty big. We had national coverage as well. My team and the rest of the Comic-Con family were running around dealing with that, but one of the cool things is that we're going to spend the next week pouring over the internet sites looking for pictures and hopefully it'll give an idea of the experience. From what I'm seeing, people had a good time.
Speaking of grabbing pictures, we spoke a while ago about the book you guys released for the 40th Anniversary of the San Diego Comic-Con. How did things go there? Were there nice sales and a lot of people interested in talking about the history of the con?
Yeah. One of the reasons we did the book was not so much of a vanity thing, but we had gotten tons of requests about "Where are pictures of Comic-Con?" and the history of Comic-Con. So, finally, we thought maybe it was something we could put together. We've been surprised by the response to it. A lot of people wanted to see the book. A lot of people bought the book. We tried to put a lot of our history into the souvenir book, which was free. It gave people who couldn't afford the book or did want the book an in. I think what's fun is that people have a new appreciation about Comic-Con – where we are, where we were and the changes we've experienced. And hopefully we'll be around for another 40 years. I don't know if we'll do another book because it certainly was a daunting task, but it was a lot of fun, and I think people enjoyed it.
We always have to conclude these post-game interviews with a discussion of Comic-Con's ongoing relationship with the city of San Diego. One of the things I noticed in some of the pre-show coverage this year was that there was less talk of city officials speaking against the show and more talk of how San Diego could keep Comic-Con. Have attitudes changed a bit with the turn in the economy?
We'd love to stay in San Diego. I think the city is trying to do what it can when the fact of the matter is that the city's not in the strongest financial shape. But the city has expressed their desire to keep us. One of the very cool things that happened this year was that the County Board of Supervisors – who really haven't anything to say with city matters – went ahead and issued a proclamation naming this Comic-Con Week. That was a really an honor and something we truly appreciated. The Board of Supervisors commented on not only how they thought Comic-Con was a benefit to the city but to the county as well in terms of restaurant usage and hotels and things of that nature. It was nice to see that recognition.
How long does your show "post-game" take? Do you have a few days work ahead of you? A few weeks?
It'll be weeks. There's some practical and hands-on stuff we need to do like getting out of the facility, which should take another day or so, and then there's the wrap-up from that, making sure the computers are where they're supposed to be, making sure all the e-mails we've gotten have been looked at, all the numerous paperwork and debriefings of various departments – and then coming together to find out about the few things where we need to implement changes or make corrections for things that didn't go right. And it's really probably about a month-long post-show job trying to get it all together.
Then of course, we start to focus on APE which is later this year and then next year WonderCon all the while looking forward to Comic-Con 41.