After the past few weeks of speculation, opining and back-and-forth news reports (including CBR's chat yesterday with representatives of LA Inc), it may appear that finding the final fate of Comic-Con International - America's biggest pop culture convention - is just around the corner. However, with the show's current home of San Diego as well as candidate cities Anaheim and Los Angeles all pushing as hard as they can to prove to Comic-Con's Board of Directors that theirs is the best locale for the show starting in 2013, the difficult decision facing the CCI organization isn't quite completed.
With all the talk circulating and questions being asked, CBR News went to Comic-Con Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer to check in on where the process is at and how - or if - it's changed over the last few weeks. How has each city adapted their strategy in the final weeks of proposing and how will Comic-Con respond to everything on the table in front of them? Read on to see what factors will finally set the show on its future course.
CBR News: We hear that CCI board members had gone to LA to check out their convention center first hand. From Comic-Con's point of view, does that mean you're in the final phase of decision making?
David Glanzer: Well, I don't know if it's "final." I would characterize it as a final element. We already know San Diego. We've visited Anaheim. And we'd visited Los Angeles a few years back but were invited up again to see the new LA Live facility and how things have changed downtown. That was last week.
One thing that some people may wonder - not to say that this is necessarily the case with Comic-Con - is that it's a common business practice when you're negotiating with a longtime vendor to look to other possibilities as a way of reminding the original partner how valuable your relationship with them is. What do you say to people who think Comic-Con is trying to make a show for San Diego, and how seriously is the board taking these offers from other cities?
I will say that we take this all incredibly seriously. The fact that we don't have a decision is based on nothing more than there are so many factors in play. This is a decision that can't be made easily. It's a decision that won't be made easily. Whatever decision we end up making is something the board members will have to live with, and there's going to be pluses and minuses to whatever proposal we go with.
Also, I can tell you categorically that this is in no way meant to try to elicit more from one city or another. Going into this, I think that we knew what our options were. The simple fact that we don't have enough space in San Diego, the simple fact that we've had to cap our attendance, the simple fact that we're flat on the income in terms of how much money we can generate with exhibit sales - these were all clear indicators that something had to be done, and could San Diego do that? San Diego has been trying to mitigate some of those issues that we have. Then come other cities who claim, "We think we have a proposal that will help you mitigate those situations even better," and we have to look at those. We've always said that we'd love to stay in San Diego, but whatever decision we end up making, it has to work. And the reason this decision hasn't been reached is because those variables continue to change. We have to make sure we look at all of them and weigh them all, and then we'll be able to make a decision.
Does CCI have any projection on what sort of increased capacity a move to Los Angeles could bring for Comic-Con? Any idea how many more attendees they could handle in the LA Convention Center or an increase by percentage?
No, none at all. In fact, to be honest, I think we would expect a drop in attendance; at first, anyway. But as we've said before, whatever the decision is, there are going to be pluses and minuses. Whether that means a move to Los Angeles, Anaheim or staying put in San Diego; our work is certinaly cut out for us.
When I spoke with Michael Krause of LA Inc, he laid out some specific ways in which he feels their area would be the best option for you. Are there a few core areas across all three options you're looking at - location, exhibit space, programming space - or is it more a matter of looking at what each site offers in and of itself?
I think it's both. I think you have to look at each city and say, "What do they have to offer in terms of proposals? What are the drawbacks of each proposal? And how does that flesh out?" One of the things with San Diego is that, at the soonest, the expansion of the convention center would come online in 2015. We have issues with hotels and transportation - any number of things. But the city is trying to address those. Then you look at Anaheim, [and they have] more exhibit space. Then you look at LA and that has more exhibit space, plus their LA Live facility. Then you have to look at the cost for this or the benefit for that. Without getting into the particulars, I think we've got some very good proposals that have made the decision in front of us very, very difficult. It's not just a matter of money or a matter of location. It's a matter of all of those things.
The one exception I may take to the article from yesterday is that I know that LA said that the connection between LA and Hollywood was a big selling point. To be very honest with you, that's not something that's ever come up in our discussions of the three proposals. That doesn't weigh into it. The Hollywood programming makes up about 20 percent of our overall programming, and it wasn't a factor.
Outside those convention center factors, how much does the locale affect what's going on? I know that one thing people who will argue for San Diego look at is how nice and easy it is to get around downtown on your feet, and while LA Inc was very adamant that the downtown Los Angeles area is much nicer than it was ten or five or even two years ago, west of the convention might not be the kind of area that people will want to walk around late at night. Do factors like that and public transit affect this process?
Those are key factors. Those are the things we're looking at. We utilize about 3,000 volunteers over the course of those three days. If we move out of San Diego, how do we deal with that situation? Is there stuff for people to do in the evening hours? Are there restaurants that are accessible for a variety of different price points? Are there enough hotels, and if so, are they comparable to San Diego? Those are all things that are key to our position here.
Primarily, the board for Comic-Con lives in San Diego. How much of an impact is that having on your decision making?
Well, we operate two shows in San Francisco, and we're able to do that quite effectively. So the fact that we live here really isn't a big factor. WonderCon and the Alternate Press Expo are done really effectively because San Francisco, as we say, is just a hop, skip and a convention center away. If we were to do the show in Anaheim or LA, we'd be just a train ride up. So I don't think that really factors in too much.
You've said before that you're nearing the completion of this process. With the cities getting more aggressive and with the visit to the LA Convention Center last week, is there anything new that LA has brought to this process outside just showing off the completed space?
Well yes. Again, without getting into the specifics of each proposal, there were new things offered by LA that we have to consider very seriously. I mean, we were all really somewhat taken aback by the additions to their original proposal with regard to services they were willing to commit and the length to which they were willing to commit them. It is obvious they would like the show in Los Angeles, it is apparent that they understand our concerns and those of our attendees. They certainly have done their homework with regard to that.
Is there anything that can come in this late in the process that can be construed as a game-changer from anyone?
Wow. That's a good question. Yes, I think there are things that are game changers. I think there are things that have made us realize that there's a broader picture again. There are elements to single proposals that have made us rexamine things. I think originally we said we'd probably have a decision a month ago, but proposals change and we go, "Okay, another 30 days." We're coming up on the last few weeks of that last 30-day window, and I don't know that we're going to have a decision in two weeks. The proposals do change, and we don't make those proposals public, so we don't go back to San Diego or Anaheim or LA and go, "Hey...so and so says they're going to do this." We look at it internally.
It must be hard to commit to things that aren't quite there yet, as well. With San Diego, the city certainly does seem to be committed to land development, but there's no guarantee that all the things you want can be in place by 2013, 2014, 2015...
Exactly. Regardless of the decision we make, it's going to be challenging. If we stay in San Diego, we're dealing with issues we already know: hotel price points, lack of space...things of that nature. If we move to Anaheim or LA, they have their own issues: nearby hotels, the downtown area...things like that. But I have to say, every city - San Diego included - has delivered amazing proposals that genuinely try to address each of the issues of concern, everything from offering more room blocks to transportation to increased space. It makes the decision exceedingly difficult. It really does.
I think I already know the answer to this last question based on what you're saying, but is there a deadline for the Comic-Con board to make a decision on this?
No deadline. When we said a month out, it was an internal idea. All the proposals were in, and we were going, "We think in 30 days we can have a decision." But things are changing a bit, and now we're looking at the proposals again. We don't have an internal deadline. I think everybody would like it to happen sooner rather than later, because we have a show to put on and we need to get moving.