Comic-Con International Debriefing with David Glanzer

Mon, July 31st, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

We bring to a close our extensive Comic-Con Intnerational coverage by speaking with the convention's Director of Marketing and Public Relations, David Glanzer. Glanzer spoke with CBR News on a variety of subjects including topics like the massive crowds at the show, the halting of ticket sales, the heat, the city and much more. We spoke with Glanzer by phone from his office.

Will The San Diego Convention Center be expanded once again? Maybe.

Immediately following Comic-Con International, people came to CBR News asking if we knew of any plans to expand the San Diego Convention Center once again. The day after the convention we received a report that discussions had begun with the City of San Diego to work up plans for an expansion. CBR News contacted the office of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and spoke with Deputy Press Secretary George Biagi who addressed that very question.

"When they completed this expansion [of the convention center], it greatly improved our chances of getting larger conventions," Bigagi told CBR News by phone on Friday. "But of course some of them fill it to the max and then of course the next round of talks is, 'Will there be another expansion?' Ultimately, that will have to go the voters. There has been some talk about it and there are some preliminary discussions of where they could do that. There's some land behind that they might have to try and capture to build right behind the newer portion. Directly south, behind the convention center, is an area they might be able to build on, but it will need Coastal Commission approval. It'll be a long process and there'll be a big public element to it.

"Has there been a discussion about it? Yes. Has there been any substantive move toward that? I think that would be a little bit premature to say that," continued Biagi. "Because this expansion has gone so well and produced such great dividends for the City, there has been immediate discussion about expanding it yet again. However, there are many hurdles that must be jumped through before we get to that point. If there's the political will and the public will to do it, then I'm sure it'll move forward. But, once again, substantively at this moment, is there something in the process? I'd say that's a little premature."

Thursday during Comic-Con International, Mayor Sanders visited the convention and participated in the US Postal Service unveiling of the DC Super Hero Stamps. Biagi told CBR News the Mayor enjoyed participating in this event. "The Mayor was just tickled. It was a thrilling day for him," said Biagi. "The US Postal Service was quite nice and set him up with some of the souvenir pins they had of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman and they gave him some first day issue stamps. He felt like a little kid again. He had a great time."

Hi David, I hope you're recovering from the show nicely. Now that it's over and you've had a couple of days to recover, how do you feel about CCI 2006?

Well, I hope people had a good time. I think we're all a little shell chocked and tired. Monday was all about clearing the center and moving back to our offices, so I think we're all still a little weary at this point.

Do you need more time to gain some perspective to properly assess this year's show?

On our end I think it went fairly well. I say it every year and it's always true, there is always room for improvement and this year was no different. There were situations that probably could have been addressed differently and those will certainly be taken note of. Overall I think people had a great time. We had amazing panels and an incredibly diverse floor and the people who came to the event got a chance to experience a lot of things they wouldn't get a chance to experience at other places.

You said there's always room for improvement. Where do you see there's an immediate need for improvement?

Well, obviously crowd control. Ways to make sure it's not as congested and try to mitigate some of the over crowding. There are ways to do that. It's something we have to discuss. There were a lot of people at the show. We don't have final numbers yet, but there were enough that we stopped online sales on Friday and onsite sales on Saturday. Obviously that's something you never want to be in a position to do. Those are things we'll certainly take a much closer look at.

I remember being at the New York Comic-Con when they stopped onsite sales - it created a very hostile environment. Did you hear anything like that when you stopped ticket sales?

No, we were still able to accommodate people who pre-registered. I think there were people who were in line that were disappointed, but when we knew this was something we'd have to implement we made it a point to alert the media first so that people could hear about it on broadcast news, television and radio. We asked the local media to alert the public and they helped us with that. We did that before we actually closed down onsite sales. Some people left, some people stayed hoping to get in later. I haven't heard of anyone being real furious about it, but I can only imagine people were unhappy if they couldn't get in.

You told me on Saturday that traffic in Downtown San Diego was horrendous. Where are you getting these figures from?

We work very closely with the Fire Marshall, the local police and with the City of San Diego itself. Something we need to do in the coming days is have a de-briefing with each of those departments. Traffic was an issue and we try to handle traffic in the most effective way possible. Last year we met with several different city organizations because the San Diego Padres actually had games during Comic-Con, so we were very concerned about that and had meetings with many organizations through the convention center to address that and make sure it wasn't an issue. While traffic is always a challenge, I think last year it was less of a challenge than it was this year where the Padres weren't in town. Clearly we need to look at that and go over it with a fine toothed comb.

Is there anything you can do about traffic when you add 75,000+ to the Downtown population other than ask people to take the public transportation in?

There really is. A lot of it has to do with traffic flow and direction. The local traffic enforcement is very good at that. What has to happen is a plan needs to be in place to implement. We had a plan that we thought would serve the situation best and it didn't seem to. I think a lot of people want to park next to the center and I don't blame them. Much like the hotel situation, you always get reports that all the hotels are sold out when in fact many times it's just the hotels right next to the convention center that are sold out, but there are outlying hotels that are still available. The same can be said of parking. A lot of the downtown parking next to the center may be sold out, but just like with the Padres, people will park far away and walk. If you drive downtown during a Padres game - and I think this is true for any major city that has a ball park in their downtown - you'll see large groups of people walking who parked far away. Those are people who are accustomed to coming to ball games. The same could be said of Comic-Con. We try to accommodate as many people as we can as close as we can.

I suppose it's fortunate the Padres didn't have a home stand considering the population that did show up for Comic-Con this year. Looking towards the future when there will certainly be home stands during Comic-Con, how do you go about planning for that convergence of tens of thousands of convention goers as well as tens of thousands of baseball fans? Did you have speak with Major League Baseball prior to the convention about this?

I don't know that we talk to Major League Baseball. I don't believe we do. We handle it on a local level. It's interesting that we didn't have a Padres game this year, but actually had there been a Padres game, maybe we would have been able to anticipate better the amount of people that were going to be coming into the corridor down here and made different plans.

You're saying you may have been extra prepared had there been a Pardres game?

Exactly.

It seems like we may be getting to the point where you or the City of San Diego may need to work with MLB in advance of your show dates so they can plan out their season accordingly.

We're all Padres fans, we truly are, and one of the great things last year was that a lot of people who attended Comic-Con were able to attend Padres games.

I was one of them and saw the stands filled with comics fans, whether it be by their attire or in some cases their costumes.

Yeah, if you were able to watch any of the televised coverage, the announcers commented on that. I don't think it's a bad pairing, I just think we have to make sure that everybody is accommodated, not just the convention attendees, but Padres fans as well. It's something we're going to have to discuss. If it looks like traffic is going to continue to increase the way it has and add to that the Padres fans who will come into Downtown, then yeah, maybe it might be best if they were held on different weekends, but I wouldn't want to say it's come to that yet until we look at traffic flow, where the hot spots were, things of that nature. It may be that it won't be an issue. Much in the way we can move people around the convention center in congested areas, there are ways we can do that on a grander scale with the city as well. We just have to make sure we have a couple of different contingency plans.

Let's talk about the repercussions that may come from having to halt online sales on Friday and halting onsite sales on Saturday. Is limiting advanced ticket sales something you'll have to consider for future years?

I know we don't want to do that. You never want to advertise an event people can't get to. That just sets a bad precedent. We were heart sick about having to shut down sales and not even because of revenue generating reasons, it's because you never want to aggravate people by telling them what a cool show you have and then not allowing them to come. That's a bad situation no matter how you look at it.

There are a variety of ways I think we can address that and we won't really know if they're effective until next year. I think there's a way to eliminate some of the issues we had this year, or at least greatly reduce them.

How so?

I'm a bit hesitant to talk about those solutions because I think some of these work best when they're revealed when necessary, as opposed to announcing it ahead of time and people planning around them. I have a couple of ideas I think will help us in that regard. I'd be more than willing to talk about them after next years show, if they do indeed work. Of course if they don't, then I'm sure you'll be finding me anyway.

Absolutely! Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

I spoke with a lot of people about the show on Sunday afternoon and the only complaints I heard were about the crowding inside the convention center and also the freight train that comes in around 6:45 in the evening and the bottle neck it causes getting into the Gas Lamp District from the convention center. People waiting in line for 10, 15, 20 minutes in the heat just to cross the street. Is the city of San Diego doing anything to address this issue?

I think a very big factor in a lot of the tension that happened this year had to do with the weather. I firmly believe that for a couple of different reasons. We don't have our final numbers yet, I'm assuming we're up but we very well could be flat due to the halting of sales. People think that when you stop sales it means you must have so many people inside that you've maxed out last years numbers. If we stopped sales on Saturday and nobody came on Sunday, then our numbers would be down. Now, Sunday seemed to be bigger than usual. So, while I don't know my numbers yet, the one thing we did notice were a lot more people in the lobby area. Typically there aren't a lot of people in the lobby area, but I have a feeling that because it was so darn hot out there, that instead of people just walking across the Gas Lamp to grab a soda or hanging out outside, a lot of people opted to stay inside the facility. I think we saw more crowding in that regard.

Interesting. So, he convention center may have been extra crowded because people were looking to avoid the heat. What's amusing about that is in years past, the temperature inside the convention center was often an issue and people would look forward to going outside to escape it. Funny shift there.

Yeah. It's funny, we take great pains to try to assure the smoothest running event we possible can. We have a number of 20 foot aisles and the rest are 10 foot aisles. There were places that got congested and it appears that a lot more people spent more time in the facility. Although, it looks like the people who come to our show spend more time in the facility anyway as compared to similar shows. I think the reason for that is because there's so much to do.

When I first started going to the show about 15 years ago, the show was just halls A & B. Back then it would take me two days to really take everything in at the show. Today, you've got halls A through G filled with exhibitor space and that massive theater in Hall H. Even with spending 4 days at the convention, there were huge swaths of the convention floor that I never got to explore. 4 days may not be enough time to take in the entire convention any more. Is any consideration being given to expanding the show another full day?

No. I think you can literally have too much of a good thing. I think there's a way to address that issue as well. Again, it's not something I feel comfortable talking about at this point, but I think that's something we can address.

It's interesting you said you were here 15 years ago when it was only two halls and it was crowded then. I think one of the things people fail to realize is that, again, we treally make an effort to make sure that as crowded as those halls may seem to be, we go to great pains to make it as comfortable as possible. When we had only those two halls we may have had anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 people in around 150,000 - 200,000 square feet. That's a lot of space. At WonderCon we had I think 92,000 square feet and we had 17,500 people this year and that place was packed enough that the Fire Marhsall shut it down.

How many square feet do you guys use right now?

We take up about 460,000 square feet and that's just for exhibit space. We've converted Hall H into a theater, so we loose out on that exhibit space. Plus, there are two floors of meeting space, there's the 4500 seat theater Ballroom 20 and then a couple of 2000 seat theaters.

In the last year at a variety of conventions and even following last year's convention, we've heard about the MPAA cracking down on pirated video exhibitors. Now, granted there are parts of the convention floor that I missed this year, but I saw far fewer "bootleggers" than I have previously. Are you guys keeping them away from the show?

We've always had in our contracts that you can't sell this kind of material. Nobody wants - especially an arts organization - you never want someone to pirate off of somebody else. It's bad form, it's bad business and somebody's getting hurt from that. We never like to see that. I think there is some of that happening on the floor and has been some of that in the past, but we added into our contract that it's a rules violation. You can't do that. We work with the MPAA. There's no way for us to know necessarily what is and is not bootleg, but the MPAA has ways to do that. One of the things we've done is reiterate to our exhibitors that this has long been in our contracts and this is something you need to be aware of because they are cracking down and we're certainly going to back the MPAA in a situation like this. I don't know how it was on the floor to be honest and I didn't hear any instances of people being shut down - there were a couple last year.

One thing I noticed during this years show was an article in the San Diego Union Tribune which points out how important to the City the show is and how the City itself recognizes that fact. I don't know that I've ever really seen an article like this before. Is this a wholesale change in attitude on the part of the City? Are they embracing and getting behind the show?

I hope so. I think it goes a long way that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders actually came to the center on Thursday for the US Postal Service unveiling of the DC Super Hero Stamps. We had a press conference and invited the media for the unveiling and the Mayor asked if he could be a part of that to help welcome everybody to Comic-Con, and in particular to thank the US Postal Service and DC Comics. That went a long way. That was something we were very happy to accommodate.

Maybe it's because it's a new Mayor, but the city certainly seems to be aware of our event. That's something we're very grateful for. I think for too long people thought of us as being a bunch of kids who don't spend any money. What people who go to the show realize is that we do spend money and it's not just on collectibles - we go to restaurants, we book hotels, all of those things - but we've always been a hard group to get hard facts on. That's for a simple reason. If I belong to pharmaceutical or medical supplies company, I probably have an expense account. When I go to a conference, let's say in San Diego, I book through their travel agency, I spend money, everything's on the expense account. That's very easy to track. People who come to our show don't have expense accounts and need good deals. We try to afford as many as we can through our hotel booking service, but a lot of people book around that whether it be through online travel services or other means and there's no way for us to know exactly how much each of our attendees spend.

It may have been true in the past that people who attend comic conventions may have little discretionary income and certainly it seems that belief has caried through to today. These past five years, though, I've heard stories of much higher budgets from con attendees, people saving all year for Comic Con. Then, of course, there are those stories like the one I heard this year of a Hollywood Producer buying over $40,000 in original art on the convention floor. Clearly people attending these shows now have a much larger budget than ever before, the producer being an extreme example of that, naturally.

I can tell you right now I personally know a 12 year old boy named Tony who saved up a portion of his allowance and lawn cutting money to spend at Comic-Con. He spent about $100 a day at the show this year. It's a concerted effort he makes all year long to save up for this one event. And he's 12 years old. We know there are a lot of people who spend money on the convention floor, but a lot of people spend money outside of the building as well. Try to get a reservation for a restaurant during our show - it's not an easy thing to do.

In regards to the city embracing the show, I hope that they are and I hope that it will translate into some situations becoming easier for us than maybe they currently are. It's hard to book hotel rooms in San Diego. We're afforded a certain block of rooms at a variety of Downtown Hotels, but not every hotel wants to do that. Not every hotel wants to give us a huge block of rooms because they don't have to. They know that they'll probably sell those rooms outside of the block and that makes it difficult for us and we hear about it, as we should.

Did Mayor Sanders get a chance to walk the floor?

I believe he did, actually. The funny thing is the Mayor actually collected comic books when he was a kid. The Mayor used to be the Police Chief in San Diego, so he was very familiar with the event and has heard great things about us. We were very honored to have him at the show.

The last topic I want to address is the cost of tickets. The cost of tickets to the show are rather generous -- $65 for a four-day pass, right?

Yes, but that's on site. If you were to buy tickets for next years show on-site, I think it's $25 for a four-day pass.

Compared to other major shows held across the nation, your prices are about the same as theirs, except your show is three, maybe four times the size. With that in mind, will we be seeing an increase in those ticket prices next year?

I don't know. That would be a board decision. We never want to increase prices. I know this sounds corny and I'm sure a lot of people won't believe this, but it's not about making money and it's not about how many people come through the door. It really isn't. I think you know that we never release a press release about - or we haven't recently anyway - issued a press release about how many people come through the door. We'll certainly answer that question as we have those numbers, but we don't make a big deal out of it. We need to make enough money so that we can go ahead and fund the show and help fund, to a certain degree, WonderCon and APE as well. Will there be an increase? I don't know. The board hasn't addressed that yet, but if it means now that we're going to have to handle even more traffic police and even more signage, well, our costs will increase even more so, I suppose that's something we'd have to address at some point.

 
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