Another weekend, another record setting comic con. In this case it was Conpalooza Weekend (June 3-5) which saw five major cons across the US alone. Phoenix Comicon, a fast rising “fourth biggest convention” may very well be the fourth biggest if these numbers are correct, as organizer Matt Solberg announced this year they had record breaking attendance:
The record summer temperatures during Phoenix Comicon brought record attendance. For the first time we will be reporting our numbers in two ways: Unique and Daily Attendance.
The first is our UNIQUE attendance count, which we have always reported. This is the number of people who attended during the entirety of our show, with each person counting once. Thus someone who purchased a full event badge is counted as one. This unique number counts all persons including paid and complimentary attendance, exhibitors, guests, volunteers, panelists, professionals, media, along with our sidekick and children attendance. It does not count any Convention Center staff, personnel, security, police, or EMTs who are hired to support the show.
The second number we are reporting is our DAILY ATTENDANCE count, which determines how many people are attending each specific day, and then adds those numbers together. This is typically the number the Phoenix Convention Center reports, and is also the number reported by most other pop culture conventions across the country. Our methodology to arrive at this number is to count the number of single day passes sold and provided complimentary. We then utilize a percentage of full event passes sold and provided complimentary that attend each day. This percentage derives from two years of attendee survey data “I purchased or utilized the following badge type” and “I attended the following days of con”. The percentage for each day is consistent over two years of survey data, and the average of two years is applied to the number of full event passes paid or provided complimentary to arrive at the count that attended each day. Our daily attendance count also includes exhibitors, guests, volunteers, and media counted in full for each day and panelists, professionals, sidekick and children attendance counted using the percentage method.
Determine daily attendance counts is notoriously difficult for any facility or event such as ours that allows flow in and out traffic. It’s simply a tool and guideline and should only be treated as such.
We’re providing both numbers to offer more transparency within this industry. We have found over the years that many shows report numbers without any further background provided as to their methodology of counting, and well, we like specific numbers and knowing the methods used to count attendance.
Comparisons will be made to San Diego Comic Con (or other shows) with our attendance numbers. We are not as large as San Diego Comic Con nor will we ever be. The San Diego Convention Center is larger than the Phoenix Convention Center, and the San Diego downtown area has more hotel rooms than does the Phoenix downtown area which allows them to host more attendees.
To the best of our knowledge the attendance reported for San Diego Comic Con of 140,000 is daily attendance. As they sell only single day passes I would put their unique attendance considerably higher, possibly in the 300,000 to 400,000 range. It is unknown if their attendance count is solely attendees or counts other groups such as exhibitors or volunteers as well. That SDCC handles the attendance they do every year with very little incident confirms for me that they really are the gold standard of pop culture conventions.
We are happy to report that 2016 featured record attendance at Phoenix Comicon with a Unique attendance of 106,096 and a daily attendance total of 216,219.
I’m happy to see Solberg explaining the difference in “one person = one badge” count used by SDCC and the “turnstile” count used by most other shows,
including NYCC. With the advent of RIFD badges for major shows, a lot of accuracy in numbers should be available even if it isn’t publicly revealed.
UPDATE: A NYCC representative reached out to confirm that their 167,000 attendance from 2015 is indeed the number of tickets sold and NOT turnstile. I believe in the past some kind of turnstile number was used but the current numbers are far more accurate.
That said, the meaningful ness of “daily attendance” numbers is shown by the 300,000-400,000 coujnt for SDCC. While that gives a metric for comparing to other turnstile shows, to me that’s less revealing than the 60,000 people who just show up without a badge, according to one entertainment survey PLUS, the 130,000 attendance # for SDCC is basically frozen at this point, since a lot more people actually show up but to report more might scare the fire marshals. So we don’t really know ANYTHING except that SDCC is the only con that regularly undercounts its attendance.
A local story about the attendance gave some other figures:
Phoenix Comicon’s record-breaking attendance figures for 2016 help rank the event up there with some of the biggest and most popular ‘cons and geek gatherings in the U.S. For instance, it bests such events at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon, Wizard World Chicago, Anime Expo in Los Angeles, Atlanta’s DragonCon, and the annual PAX Prime, each of which host anywhere from 70,000 people to 80,000 people every year. The high-profile New York Comic Con and San Diego Comic Con are still kings of the mountain, however, as each event respectively attracted in excess of 170,000 people and 130,000 people in 2015.
Isaw several veteran exhibitors in a private group that comments on comic-cons questioning Phoenix’s 106K attendance, but not having been there, and since we don’t have any comic-con auditors, it seems that they made a good faith effort to be accurate about their numbers. But we’ll continue to see numbers that are inflated, unrealistic or just plain wishful thinking for a lot of shows.
So what is the biggest comic-con? Three years ago I surveyed the then-known cons, and Matt White made the above oft-reproduced infographic. The landscape has changed a lot since then. Here’s another survey from 2015 that has numbers that I find a bit unrealistic, or at the very least turnstile based. For instance it lists over 100,000 people attending the anime show Otakon at the Batimore Convention Center in 2014, a huge number by any stretch esp. for that facility. Turns out Otakon actually keeps very clear and rigorous numbers on its attendance (something shows that started out being run by fans tend to do, as opposed to for-profit shows). That year, Otakon sold only 33,929 unique memberships. It notes that in 2014:
While the overall attendance was lower than 2013 a shift to more people checking in on Thursday & Friday in 2014 results in a larger event turnstile estimate.
So that 100K+ number is totally inaccurate by the conventions own admission.
Let’s face it, inflating convention attendance is part of the game; even Angoulême does it. As noted in the private vendors group (and doubtless in the many vendors groups that I’m not a member of) giving inflated attendance eventually bites a convention organizer in the ass: when vendors don’t make the kind of money they expected or they see the numbers are inflated word gets around and a show starts to get a tarnished reputation. Which isn’t to throw any shade at Phoenix Comicon, which has definitely been one of the fastest growing and successful shows in the “big con” era. Even they had growing pains however, as the punishing Phoenix heat and a computer glitch led to people standing outside for hours in a grueling sun and missing events. Solberg apologized promptly, the mark of a professional organizer. If you’re interested in more photos from Phoenix Comicon, they have a particularly robust Flickr, from whence the panorama at the top of this post is taken.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.