While the annual internet meltdown for getting a hotel room at the Comic-Con International in San Diego is now an annual tradition, it still came as a surprise to many this year that just selling passes to the mega-entertainment/comics event got too big for a server to manage. On November 1, tickets went on sale for the first time, and the con’s website couldn’t handle the number of requests. On November 22, a second attempt with a new, professional event seller was made, but the demand melted their servers to slag, too.
With the expeditioneers set up at base camp, and looking anxiously at the snows about to come, San Diego is about to make another attempt to scale Everest. The con is trying a test tomorrow at 8 am PST with a two-tiered system – Logging onto the site of Ticketleap – a ticketing company Ticketmaster alternative specially set up to handle huge web demand – will get you registered. Once the horde of hits is managed, an email from Epic Registration – which was handling ticket sales in the last attempt — will allow you to buy two tickets.
It’s a crazy solution for a crazy situation. We talked to David Glanzer, the CCI Director of Marketing & PR, to find out what’s happening and how the con is growing this time.
The Beat: So, David…what’s happening tomorrow?
Glanzer: We’ve looked at a whole different bunch of options, and it seems as if this might be the best one. Ticketleap uses Amazon servers and in theory they have access to servers that are typically used for high volume hits. Our hope is that this test will prove successful and alleviate the problems that have happened the last two times.
The Beat: Do you have any idea of the magnitude of demand for tickets the last two times?
Glanzer: Last year we had 85 requests per second. This year it was in excess of 250 requests per second. It was at least three times as much. I think that the first problem was an issue with just load, not being able to get all those people in. The second issue ended up being a server issue — it just became overwhelmed. Ticketleap should, if everything goes well, be able to accommodate any number. So we’re hoping that this test will result in a lot of requests so it will put it to the test.
The Beat: I was reading how to do it and I was kind of confused…
Glanzer: The plan is to log on to our website on Wednesday, click the link to Ticketleap, there you pay $3 to register to get a ticket. You’ll get a confirmation from Ticketleap, you’ll also get an email from Epic saying great, we have this information for you, you have 24 hours to buy your ticket. We’re going to be defraying the cost of that $3. There’s a lot of information on the site for people. We get a lot of questions and we hope to be able to answer those questions before they we actually have them. It’s a matter of going to our website to tomorrow morning at 8, clicking a link to Ticketleap, and registering for one or two badges. You’ll get a confirmation from Ticketleap and an email from Epic.
The Beat: What is Ticketleap’s day job? What else do they do?
Glanzer: We do know but I haven’t asked that internally. My understanding is they do different kinds of events and also product so they use, not a server farm, a data center which is a mega…
The Beat: Right, it’s a massive set up of grid array “magic.”
Glanzer: The theory is that they can handle any number of requests that come in so they will be the conduit by which people will be able to actually reserve tickets.
The Beat: So Ticketleap handles the giant slam of traffic and Epic sells the tickets. Now I get it.
Glanzer: The truth of the matter is we did overkill in the explanation [on the website]. Out attempt was to be able to say you have experienced this horrible situation twice before, now we’re going to tell you what’s happening and why it’s happening, hopefully you won’t be confused when it comes time to register. And we have our fingers crossed.
The Beat: People have asked why didn’t you just go to Ticketmaster because they handle pretty huge things. Did you consider that?
Glanzer: We considered a lot of different options. We’re hoping Ticketleap will be able to handle the volume but with a lot less costs involved. There are other sites out there that may be able to do this but costs are pretty amazing. [Ticketmaster typically charges $11+ “convenience charges”.] Now if somehow this doesn’t go well if we crash Ticketleap’s site, then we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. And who knows we may end up using a site that costs a lot more. We don’t know. That’s why we wanted to set up a test. We hope they can handle the volume and we’ll have a workable solution.
The Beat: Did you ever in your wildest dreams think this would happen?
Glanzer: No, I really didn’t. I’ll tell you why. We all really tried, we’re hideously meticulous in our planning and we utilize a lot of outside people we have long meetings and face to face and over the phone, and plan for all variety of other contingencies. While we anticipated an increase in interest I don’t know that we or the people who work with us, expected in excess of three times the traffic. It ended up being a situation that, to be honest with you, in our explorations in the last couple of weeks, few companies could handle the volume that we have.
The funny thing about it is that it’s not a continuous volume, there are companies that deal with 100,000 hits, but those can be over the days or weeks. Ours seem to be targeted at a specific minute or second. [General laughter] That’s the real challenge,
The Beat: Do you have any idea how this compares to hotel demand on the server?
Glanzer: I don’t. I would imagine they are considerably less. In order to get a hotel you will most people will have had their tickets so you already narrowing down that group. Of that group how many of the 126,000 people are local, or stay with friends or share rooms. I’d imagine the volume is a fraction of what it is for general admissions to the show.
The Beat: It is sort of insane…every year we say it’s gotten so big but we’re really on the level now of something so huge that you’ve melted two servers. With scarcity and unavailability creating more demand, where will this go? At first you couldn’t get into a hotel. Then it was a panel, now you can’t even get into the show – although that will be solved. The rate of demand is insane — do you see this creating more of a problem?
Glanzer: I think it’s awful that people can’t get into certain panels and people want to get into certain hotels and people who want to come to the show who can’t. But there are still 125,000 people who want to and do, there are still over 35,000, almost 40,000, people who do get into panels. Making the decisions to stay in San Diego, we really listened to our fans and pros and exhibitors who encouraged us to stay here. And we’re glad we did because we’re born here and want to stay here. I think everybody realizes, I hope, that the situation is a real one. It’s one we’ve tried to mitigate adding additional hotel rooms, and adding additional space for programs at the Hilton and so on. Last year we had a lot more programs there. We haven’t set our programs yet, but you’ll see even more of that. At area hotels if we can increase our footprint a bit we may be able to increase the number of rooms.
Once our earmarks for hotels are met, we will effectively double the number of hotel rooms. It’s supposed to take place in our new contract which takes effect in 2013. But I think the hotels are trying to work with us. If there are additional hotel rooms they will make them available to us. They are aware of our situation. They are really trying to work with us.
The Beat: As long as I have you, a few more questions. Is the pedestrian bridge up? [A long planned bridge over Harbor Drive and the train tracks would alleviate waiting for trains to pass.]
Glanzer: No! But I have to tell you it’s looking nice! Hopefully it will be finished for next year’s show.
The Beat: Also, of course I read SignonSanDiego but I can’t always follow the local politics, so what is the status of the expansion for the convention center?
Glanzer: Everybody has their fingers crossed. They have secured space for it. They have an amazing plan, the thing now is the funding. We’re encouraged that the city and community leaders have recognized that it is of benefit to the city to expand. I think it’s just securing the financing. A lot of people talking about expansion mentioned Comic-con. But I think it was made evident that it really benefits the city. I don’t know if you’ve been to Orlando, and other convention cities, but they are massive and hold concurrent shows. We would have no trouble to fit into whatever additional space they give us, but it allows the city to keep the convention center busy throughout the year, and keep restaurateurs and hoteliers happy throughout the year having several concurrent conventions.
The Beat: This battle for where the con would go put it into sharp relief, but this whole year the entire Comic-con experience has become a worldwide thing to do.
Glanzer: It really is. It’s something you and I and people who have been going to these events for years know. Comics are as just as much a form of entrainment as anything else. And if you like comics, it doesn’t mean you can’t like anything else. One of the things we try to let people know is if you like movies or video games or whatever you should check out the comics you might find you like that. We’ve seen a nice cross section of people come to the show, who do different things. It isn’t as if comics fans don’t go to the movies. It’s not that video game fans don’t buy comics. They do.
The Beat: It’s the place to be. Let’s face it.
Glanzer: It s very different show than when I started going in 1977 and it’s great to be able to be a geek and be proud about it.
The Beat: Hopefully tomorrow, you’ll get people actually coming to this year’s show. Good luck.
Glanzer: I have my fingers crossed.
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.