Home Conventions San Diego triumphs in the battle of the convention bureaus

San Diego triumphs in the battle of the convention bureaus


As announced last evening, CCI: San Diego’s board, despite intense wooing from other cities, has decided to keep Comic-Con in San Diego. The announcement has been met with generally universal relief thus far. Yes, we moan, we complain, but exchanging the city of San Diego’s mild temperatures and convenient layout for the bland boulevards of Anaheim or tent cities filled with lovable hobos of Los Angeles wouldn’t have really been much of an improvement. It isn’t much of a surprise, really — things had been going this way for a while and it was very clear that the board wanted to stay in San Diego.

Steadfast Lori Weisberg at the San Diego Union-Tribune has the wrap-up story and it’s clear that after all the misunderstandings and local tensions, the people running the city realized that keeping Comic-Con was vitally important for their economy and image. But it was a long battle, and some hearts were broken along the way.

Despite being disappointed by the decision, Anaheim tourism officials remain optimistic that Comic-Con could eventually come their way in the future. “We certainly recognize how difficult a decision this was by virtue of how long it took,” said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. “We understand it was not a unanimous decision by Comic-Con so clearly there is interest in alternative locations so that gives us hope for the future.”

“I truly think the catalyst was the mayor getting involved personally, having meetings in his office to let the hotel community know we were all committed,” said Carol Wallace, Convention Center Corp. president. “People really stood up and took notice. I also had a staff person assigned full time working with Comic-Con for the last year.”

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is a figure not without controversy, and in times past he was thought to be a bit dismissive of the con. But if this story is to be seen as the denouement, Mayer Sanders has now been won over and stands tall and proud beside the nerds, stormtroopers and Glee cast members:

“I think everyone met face to face on this and decided this was really important for the San Diego region.” said Mayor Sanders. “This is a great employment generator in terms of people working on the convention and all the things it spins off. It’s also good for the psyche of the city. And we literally couldn’t buy the kind of P.R. we get. We get more journalists and magazines and TV here during Comic-Con than we get for anything else in San Diego.”

If it took a little longer than expected for city fathers to notice what those of us who go to the show found obvious, we shouldn’t begrudge their standing atop the podium this time. But there are still a few factors that remain.

What about the hotels??? is it still going to be horrible???
The Comics Reporter immediately got David Glanzer on the blower to answer just this question:

GLANZER: Well, we’ve received assurances that we will have access to more rooms for our room bloc. This gives us the possibility of doubling the amount of rooms available to our attendees. Rates are always an issue, and the hotels fully understand this. This agreement will hopefully keep hotel rates competitive.

Which is about as vague as you can get. We know people who have already paid for their rooms for 2011 at full price of $500 a night. Getting the hotels to agree to terms the Con was comfortable with is seen as the last holdout for getting the show to stay. However, according to the Union-Tribune story, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego Marriott and Hilton San Diego Bayfront have pledged “an additional 300,000 square feet of meeting space free of charge in 2013 through 2015.” And the room block has been expanded to 14,000. That’s right, even the nutty Hyatt came on board. 14,000 rooms is a lot more than have previously been available through Travel Planners, so all the hotel rooms should be gone in about two minutes this time, instead of one.

While the bigger room block sounds great, we can only hope that room rates will stay at least only crazy instead of crazy-ass insane. And please note:

The Agreement was only for three years.
Did you see what the Anaheim guy was doing there? “We understand it was not a unanimous decision by Comic-Con.” See, he’s trying to sow dissension! And Comic-Con has signed on to stay in San Diego until 2015. Since it was staying until 2012 originally, this is only a three-year extension. While that’s in line with previous contracts for the show, it leaves the situation open enough so that if things don’t go well in the next two years, we can start the whole competition all over again. And there’s also the matter of

What about the convention center expansion?
That is still a go, with an architect being selected but the city needs to come up with $750 million to pay for it — not an easy task. Realistically, the city needs to expand the exhibit hall not just for Comic-Con but for other large shows — several of which outgrew the venue several years ago. With all the features we already mentioned, San Diego is really the ideal site for major trade shows — but the need for a larger convention center is holding it back from being more competitive with Las Vegas, Chicago, and Orlando. Expansion is a major goal for the city overall. But if the venue doesn’t get bigger, and the Con stays the way it is…come 2013, things may need to be reexamined yet again. And finally —

What about that pedestrian bridge?
A lot of people have been mentioning this in the comments. A pedestrian bridge over Harbor Ave. is already under way (opposite the Bayfront Hilton) and should be nearing completion.

Finally, although this all seems to have a happy ending for now, in true thriller fashion, a cryptic comment in the UT story is a perfect set up for a sequel:

On Tuesday October 4, 2010, Las Vegas based The Clarence Group (theclarencegroup.com} will announce a new well-funded, visionary and comprehensive consortum with unrelenting intentions to purchase, expand and relocate Comic-Con to Las Vegas.

A visit to the Clarence Group website shows a bunch of statements so creepy and boilerplate that we’re half convinced it’s some kind of alternate reality game. Nonetheless, they do have this graphic:

The Clarence Group comments have been removed since we copied the above, so it’s certainly some kind of hooey, but the idea of a secret cabal planning to annex Comic-Con sounds like something out of…well, a comic book.

So in the end, order is restored. The mild breezes of San Diego Bay, the tasty tropical cocktails at the Marriott, the torch-lit roof at Petco Park, the shimmering mirage of Ralphs…it’s on!

  1. There were some really solid points made in the comments section of your last SDCC post that people should read too.

    I really like the idea LA NATIVE posited in the previous post about establishing a comics-only show in SD and letting Reed or someone else to take Comicon to LA or LV. Or, how about a traveling show that cities can be bid on, like Chicago, Orlando, Houston or Dallas?

    How in the world can an organization running comics shows as large as SDCC and Wondercon ever be considered a NON-PROFIT? What’s the diff between the Reeds and Wizards of the world running multimedia pop culture shows, and the Comicon organization running SDCC, Wondercon and APE?

    The answer: Not much from where I sit. And, I’d love to be convinced otherwise.

  2. Just to clarify a point Stuart Moore made in the previous post, I’m NOT assuming any hanky-panky is going on. However, I just don’t understand how organizations running C2E2 and NYCC or various Wizard World shows around the country can be for-profits and the organization running WonderCon and SDCC isn’t one.

    You could make the argument that there was a clear division between SDCC and everybody else running similar shows in the 1990s before the pop culture invasion from Hollyweird and elsewhere. And, you’d be dead on.

    The once upon a time, funnybook convention where everybody knows your name experience that was SDCC has transmogrified into a pop culture extravaganza event of epic proportions with folks being turned away at the door.

    Believe me, I’m not lamenting the past as others have. That said, however, the market for these kinds of shows has changed in ways nobody expected. Maybe, we need to change our perceptions and expectations accordingly too…

  3. “14,000 rooms is a lot more than have previously been available through Travel Planners, so all the hotel rooms should be gone in about two minutes this time, instead of one.”

    Who knows. If one of the other cities had offered to upgrade Travel Planners’ servers to where they could handle Hotel-o-ween numbers, it might have tilted the scales in their favor.

  4. I will go out on a limb and say that the majority of support for the show staying in SD is purely based on FAMILIARITY OF THE KNOWN and MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE NEW. I mean, can you really list RALPHS grocery store as a reason for the show to stay in SD?! There is a LARGER/NEWER RAPLHs two blocks from the LA convention ctr, closer than in SD!!!

    99% of what people complain about a show taking place in LA are the same exact issues they will face next week in NYCC. Hotel locations, eating establishments, day-of-show travel issues. Reed has posted on their site that they expect 80,000 attendees this year! Yet, I was able to book a hotel at normal NYC rates just two weeks ago!!! At the same time, people will point to the LA WIZARD shows. Yes, they were bad. But when has Wizard ever put on a show that you really liked anyways?

    SDCC is not a non-profit, no matter what they put on their tax returns. The fact that hotels charge $500/night for SDCC days versus $150/night the following week speaks to that. Their rates INCREASE each year for exhibitors. FREE SPACE for comic book artists DECREASE each year. Where is all the money going? WONDERCON?? APE??

    By moving the show to a larger venue and city, you automatically put an end to the GREED GRAB. The SDCC board is only looking out for THEIR own self interests by keeping the show in SD. If their intent was to BROADEN the popular arts of COMIC BOOKS, the show needs to move to a bigger stage. Otherwise, this is just the same sad case as with most comics related issues — the inability to move away from the known. And that kind of inward thinking will only lead to self-destruction in the long term. Kinda ironic if you think of it, since most comics stories all talk about heroic ventures and doing things for the greater good.

  5. >> SDCC is not a non-profit, no matter what they put on their tax returns. The fact that hotels charge $500/night for SDCC days versus $150/night the following week speaks to that. >>

    Are you under the impression that SDCC owns the hotels, or that boosted hotel prices somehow end up in SDCC’s coffers?

  6. BTW, regarding the “gang-infested streets” of LA comment, downtown LOS ANGELES has consistently been one of the SAFEST neighborhoods in all of LA COUNTY. And in comparison, are you saying that the area around the JAVITS CTR is a stroll in the park? and that there are no GANGs or other criminal related activities in NYC or SD?

    I will admit SDCC was fun when it was smaller. But in the last handful of years, since its explosion into mainstream/hollywood popularity, it has become a different beast. People rejoicing for it to stay in SD are like people in long-term relationships that are on the verge of breakup, but holding onto its last strings in a desperate hope that all things will work work out in the end, but we all know that it won’t.

  7. LA Native: I was just about to post what Kurt said, but he won the raced, of course. THE COMIC-CON BOARD DOES NOT SET HOTEL PRICES! IN fact they have been fighting to lower them!

    I don’t mind your hometown spirit here, and the fact that you want Comic-con in your hometown is touching. However, the crowding, access, douchebag and other issues now affecting San Diego Comic-Con would not be lessened by going to LA unless you mean by adding the element of the unknown and new planners to an already testing situation.

    I walk around the Javits center all the time and I can safely say there are more gangs around my house than there are around the Javits. I can say that because I live in the middle of a project, but there you go. I realize my jokes about Downtown LA are insensitive and it has been fixed up incredibly in the two years since I was there.

    THE REALITY IS *NO* convention city I’ve ever been to offers the exact amenities that San Diego does: a vibrant food scene literally across the street from the convention center, and cool ocean breezes in the back. Nearly everything is walkable and accessible, (if overpriced) bicycle taxis to take you everywhere else. This situation is not available in New York, LA, Las Vegas, Anaheim OR Chicago. (I haven’t been to Orlando.)

    I would say That San Francisco’s WonderCon offers nearly the same kind of experience except that the coolest parts of town are ea taxi ride away instead of blocks away.

    One of the reasons SDCC has gotten as congested as it has is that while you’re there you always get the feeling that you’re already where the action is. Old Town, Hilcrest and Balboa Park are great in their own right, but they are not quite the draws that the great neighborhoods of San Francisco, New York and Chicago are.

    THERE! Is there any region I have not offended in this post?

  8. Heidi, Kurt and LA NATIVE:

    Lee Whiteside’s link from a 2007 Union-Tribune piece explains the non-profit side of SDCC (http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/news/metro/20070725-9999-1n25charity.html)

    Like him, I agree that the SDCC folks should post the annual prospectus more prominently on their Web site, cause I would like to read it.

    Heidi: I LOVE San Diego and love going to SDCC, enjoy attending what few panels I can that don’t involve wasting whole days of my time and seeing folks (like you) I never get to see anywhere else.

    But LA NATIVE’s idea of a separate comic book show in SD and a pop culture themed show in LA or elsewhere sure sounds more appealing to me… But that ship sailed long ago, and could never happen unless there was a will by the right power brokers to make it so. When pigs fly, I suspect…

  9. Yes, you are right in that the show does not have a connection with or receives profits from hotels, but your statements that the show actually fights for lower rates, well, they can fight all they want, but they haven’t won, and in fact are losing badly. 14,000 additional rooms does not mean those rooms are going for $150/each. I’ll bet they are in the range of $250-300+. All the hotels have offered up is “free meeting space”, which means that programming gets spread out further from the convention ctr.

    Show exhibitor space fees have increased each year. And every year artists alley space decreases. Small press is limited and overall costs go up. Where does all the money that SDCC generates, just on the show itself, go? Has anyone in the comics journalistic field ever done an audit? Perhaps that would be an interesting article.

  10. “Gang-invested alleys”

    Seriously? Come on.

    You’re not a fiction blog. LA isn’t Gotham. Journalist can’t just say something because it sounds cool. Particularly when it demonizes an entire sector of a major city. A sector that is primarily “of color” (Latins, Asians, Blacks) making your totally unfounded, over-simplified statement border-line racist (which, of course, was not your intent).

    Downtown is not a good place for SDCC because the Staples Center is a logistics nightmare and Downtown, while slowly gentrifying and poshing it up a bit here and there, is, for the most part, a desert of inactivity.

    So unless, of course, by “gang-invested” you mean immigrant workers from the garment district just trying to make a living or the homeless just trying to find a place to sleep, I suggest you replace the sensationalism with a more measured honesty.


    (I’m not really as upset as the above comes off, but words are tricky things, and sometimes it feels like I live in the most misunderstood city in America).

  11. I now see you’ve already taken a beating for the “Gang-invested alleys” comment. Sorry to add to the pile. Still, communities of color, especially this close to the Mexican border, don’t need to be any more demonized then they already are in these times of the great immigration debate.

  12. LA Native: come on now don’tbe a sore loser!

    CCI’s financials are available here for the price of your email address:


    A quick peak at their 2008 tax return shows revenue of $8.2 million and expenses of $7.4 million. Income included including $3.9 million in memberships, and only $485,000 in sponsorships.

    Fae Desmond, executive director, was paid $85,539, which is not a lot of money for one of the hardest working — and most powerful — women in showbiz. GIVE HER A RAISE, we says. There’s a whole other page of expenses, the biggest of which is security at $1.2 million — the convention has had to pay overtime charges for police security for the event. This does not come out of city coffers.

    At any rate, you can look for yourself and report back here on all the embezzlement.

    And yes they are one of our advertisers here, just to keep things clear.

  13. Heidi: Thanks for the link although it took more than an e-mail addy to download that very same financial report.

    The $8.2 million for revenues surprised me, as just 75,000 attendees at $75 a head is $5.625 million. If I’m even in the same ballpark, that means exhibitor costs were would amount to a fraction of the whole pie. That’s interesting…

    I am just as floored by the fact that there’s only 5 paid employees whose salaries total about $300-320K or so. Why not more employees?

  14. Don’t trust Dysart. He and his “Unknown Soldiers” are waiting in an alley for you right now. Move that show to L.A. and you take your life in your hands.

    I’m glad the show is staying in San Diego. It’s a ritual. Like breaking a popsicle in half.

  15. >> I now see you’ve already taken a beating for the “Gang-invested alleys” comment. >>

    At least a couple of us were mocking the idea of “gang-infested allies,” which was how it was originally put.

    But “gang-invested” has some potential as well. Is the investment in the form of grants, or equity participation?

  16. Kinda wanted to jump in and say how glad I am I don’t need to start looking for hotels in Anaheim or LA and I can continue to crash at my family’s place when I come to visit for Comic Con.

    @wayne: The reason for “only” five is that the tax form is concerned with officers, directors, trustees, key employees and top compensated employees (the last two have minimum compensation thresholds, so if they don’t exceed the number, you don’t report them). They have more than five employees I’m guessing, but they only needed to list out the primary officers and directors and such.

    And a question for those who are asking, but why does anyone care if Comic Con is a non-profit or for profit organization? As long as they properly file their tax returns and provide for fun and entertaining conventions, I can’t understand the fascination with what they choose to put on their tax return. The “non-profit” designation is primarily a tax one only really. They pay no taxes but at the same time they open their books and tax filings for scrutiny, as required by law. Plus why would anyone willingly decide they want to pay more taxes? Not many would willingly want to do such a thing. They’ve identified themselves as a 501(C)(3) entity as an educational organization. As long as they fulfill their mission statement (“creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.”) I don’t see much of a problem at how they run their organization. I mean, they sure have created awareness (look at the hundreds if not thousands of news articles and blogposts every time) and they gather thousands to come “appreciate” their comics and comic related love to the medium.

  17. Yeah, yeah, yeah…

    But what *I* want to know: What will San Diego Comic-Con DO in resolving the Great SoCAL Bagel Conundrum?? Hotel rooms, hotel rates,
    Sold Out passes, crowding issues, gang problems and “alleged” Non-Profit legal status for CCI— ALL valid concerns; but what about securing some decent downtown breakfast foodstuffs for visiting attendees, huh Comic-Con??

    Would somebody please think of the East Coast Comics Foodies???


  18. J Anderson: I’d been talking about this subject among friends who had attended SDCC in the past and wondered if other people swimming in the blogosphere saw what I did.

    Lee Whiteside’s SD Union-Tribune link asked some of those same questions three years ago of folks who run Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy. Quoting:

    Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, also wondered about the public benefit. “The people who appear to be profiting are the pop-culture purveyors who have a great marketing opportunity there,” he said.

    As I said in another thread, I’ve watched Comicon morph over the past 17 years I’ve attended it from an convention where exploration of comics as an art form was front and center to a pop-culture marketing orgy.

    I loved going back in the day to immerse myself among comics and creators I’d never met before, and I love it today as an old coot like me would going to an annual lodge meeting/reunion to visit with friends both young and old, albeit navigating gingerly around mongamous booths shilling the latest Alien Blu-Ray DVD release (Oct. 25, I believe) and traveling the streets of SD in buses adorned with superhero-themed ads for Showtime cable shows like Weeds and Dexter.

    This change reminded me a lot of what has happened to college sports when major media companies like Fox, ABC/Disney and CBS throw around billions on airing rights. Money. Changes. Everything.

    When ABC wants to air Saturday night football games and they want you to move yours to primetime, all most schools ask is when and where, as long as their athletic departments and conferences get paid.

    As others above have said more succintly than I have, Comic-Con ain’t strictly a comics convention any more. Not when you have that much money and marketing from so many subsidiaries and ancillary products flowing through it.

    In the pop culture zeitgeist using the ESPN networks for comparison, I imagine the movie panel discussions and celebrity gatherings in Hall H would air on the big ESPN blowtorch and those spotlights on most things on comics would rate no more than a five-minute segment on ESPN U along side mens lacrosse games and womens field hockey.

    Except, of course, Stan Lee.

  19. @Wayne, designating yourself as a 501(c)(3) does not make an organization a charity. The IRS website makes clear that any organization that wants to be titled under a designation can be one of following: charitable, religious, scientific or educational, among other listings. Note that educational and charitable are listed separately. To qualify for tax exempt status, if an entity organizes itself and meets certain criteria, it will receive and maintain its tax exempt status.

    A problem I have with the above linked article is that the writer assumes Comic Con is listed as a charity. Comic Con makes clear they are not. They are an “educational” entity which brings awareness and appreciation of comics’ historical and current cultural impact.

    I seem to sense you believe Comic Con has strayed from its central focus on comics. But consider this, Comic Con brings in writers, artists, production houses both major and independent, webcomics, old school, new school generations. They bring in comic professionals from all corners of the country and the globe (Asia, Central and South America, Europe). They bring in academics to discuss themes, philosophy, psychology that exist in the medium. They bring in people to discuss the business of how to enter the industry either as artists or as comic book store proprietors. There are screenings of comic book movies, video games and cartoons. Looking at strictly comic books, is that focus in the majority as it once was? (like say 60-70%). Probably not. If I had to guess, it probably is about 35-45%. But again, in those four days in San Diego, that amount of programing represents probably as much if not more time discussed on comics than the other 361 days in the entire Southern California region combined. There is a Comic Con in there. If you want to indulge in the other aspects, I don’t think there is nothing wrong with that since a lot of what is presented beside comics overlaps with other interests from what I can tell.

    Using your ESPN analogy, the reason college football rings hallow in the their claims is that they still insist that the student athletes are truly amateurs looking to get a degree while playing football. I think most people can argue that is no longer the case. However, Comic Con does not identify themselves as a charity. Other people have affixed that label on them. And as long as the follow through on their mission statement, which I noted in my last post they are, they can continue to file their non-profit tax return.

    And this is really all the “non-profit” designation represents. It does not mean “no profit can be generated.” Its a tax position. It means first and foremost they meet the requirements to file a tax exempt return.

  20. “unrelenting intentions to purchase, expand and relocate Comic-Con to Las Vegas.”

    Wow, that is super weird. If you said something like that about a human being you would go to jail. “No Officer, I’m not a stalker. I just have unrelenting intentions.”

    Of course, I also have to say, YAY!!! See you all down here next summer!

    And hey… wayne beamer, you asked…

    “How in the world can an organization running comics shows as large as SDCC and Wondercon ever be considered a NON-PROFIT? What’s the diff between the Reeds and Wizards of the world running multimedia pop culture shows, and the Comicon organization running SDCC, Wondercon and APE?”

    The easy answer is in your question where you mention “as large”. The PRIMARY reason that these shows are anywhere near as large as they are is because they are… non-profit. None of the monies get funneled off to buy islands and private jets. It goes right back into making the shows bigger and better We’re all pretty lucky we have a team of people that are such do-gooder saps that they’re willing to work as hard as they do. They must be comics fans or something.

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