Well, it was that time of year again… Tickets for Comic-Con International went on sale Saturday morning at 9 AM Pacific Time, and sold out within hours, if not less than an hour. The official announcement was posted just before 1 PM:

[Click on the link to read the comments and reactions…]

The system is random… The online waiting room opened at 8 AM, and attendees were chosen randomly to purchase tickets. Servers didn’t crash, people weren’t kept in “time out” limbo.

Of course, with a finite amount of tickets, and a growing demand, the number of dissatisfied individuals continues to grow.

So… how to fix this? You can’t, really. It can be improved, but even if the following suggestions were implemented, people would still feel anger and disappointment.

The best solution:

Implement the Japanese Ticket Lottery model:

Pre-order Lottery

In most instances, applying for tickets during the pre-order period will not automatically entitle you to buy the tickets. Rather, is like taking part in a lottery in which you can win the right to buy the them.

The good part is: you don’t have to queue or take a day off just to get your tickets. There is a certain pre-order period during which you can apply anytime without decreasing your chances. The lucky buyers will be drawn a few days after the application period has ended and are notified by email. You will then have a certain amount of time to pay the tickets. If you miss the payment deadline, they will be thrown back into the pot again and you might decrease your chances to win the next time. Thus, it is best only to apply if you are really willing to buy the tickets.

The downside to pre-order in general is, that you have to pay an additional fee of 500 to 1000 Yen, and that you might have to wait a long time until you can actually print the tickets or receive them by mail – sometimes much later than if you bought them through normal sale. This is not a big problem, but imagine you realize half way through that you cannot attend the concert (pre-order sometimes takes place ages before a concert, so who knows!). It might be difficult to resell a ticket you don’t have in hand, yet.

The long wait? Not a concern, when most events sell tickets to conventions months/seasons in advance. (San Diego: five months.) What’s ¥1000 cost? About $9. Considering that most tickets already carry a facility surcharge (Madison Square Garden: $5) and that TicketMaster adds additional fees, this isn’t a big concern.

The best reason to do this, is that Comic-Con doesn’t need to rent servers, and people don’t have to babysit a web browser to get a ticket. Instead, CCI could run the lottery draw at 3 AM on a Tuesday, and then send out emails to the lucky individuals later in the day. If there’s a glitch, then it gets fixed, without anyone noticing and/or complaining.  People then get a week to purchase tickets, at which point another draw can be run until all tickets are distributed. They could even split the lottery over different days for different tickets, spreading out server demand.

Don’t think this would work for a comic con? The D23 Expo instituted this system at the Japanese D23 Expo last November.

Other options:

Reduce the number of multi-day tickets.

Make almost all tickets single-day, and limit each purchase to one day if a person is buying multiple tickets. More people can attend, which means more eyeballs for exhibitors, and better sales. (If you’re only there for one day, you can’t procrastinate your purchase to another day.) This also spreads out the crowds. If you only have one day, do you spend half of it waiting to get into Hall H? Or do you spend it on the show floor? At another panel?

Sure, this causes grumbling, since scheduling isn’t announced until much later. But that’s the situation now, anyway. Single-day ticket holders have no idea who or what will be announced.

Take the Preview Night, and turn it into a fund raiser for a non-profit like the Hero Initiative or CBLDF. Sell the tickets separately, at a premium, perhaps $75 or $100 (not a burden for those reselling the exclusives on eBay).

Increase the cost of tickets.

Simple economics: limited supply, large demand. While CCI is a charity, they don’t have to be charitable with their main fundraising event. $245 will pay for the five-day ticket.

BADGE TYPE Adult Junior** U.S. Military / Senior**
Preview Night $40.00 $20.00 $20.00
Thursday $55.00 $27.00 $27.00
Friday $55.00 $27.00 $27.00
Saturday $55.00 $27.00 $27.00
Sunday $40.00 $20.00 $20.00

**Children 12 and under are free with a paying adult. Juniors 13 -17 pay junior prices. Seniors 60 years or older pay the Military/Senior reduced price. Active Military with ID pay the Military/Senior price. This deal does not extend to dependents.

The cheapest seat at the Super Bowl costs $500. While Comic-Con doesn’t need to go that high, perhaps they should raise the cost each year by 20% until demand stabilizes. (A $50 ticket would cost $250 ten years later.) But that probably won’t happen if the current capacity is capped.

Use a different ticket lottery.

Perhaps a variation on the “second price auction” model would help.

Attendees would name their price for each ticket variation via sealed bids. The large number of bidders would diminish collusion, although the Internet could collate the annual data to determine minimum prices paid.

Comic-Con would then close the bidding, and sell tickets from highest valuation down to the lowest at their leisure.

There would be some grumbling (“I bid $200 for Saturday, and didn’t get a ticket.”) but it would be more … fair? Comic-Con could mitigate criticism by offering more events open to the public. Perhaps they could kill two birds by using the extra revenue by expanding Artist Alley to a larger space in the Hyatt (continuing to offer free tables while also selling space) and making attendance to AA free (to encourage people to spend more at tables, instead of at the door).

Add more days.

Not gonna happen. Sure, a ten-day Comic-Con would be epic, but the exhibitors would not be able to afford the cost. Even less so the creators, many of whom can barely afford the cost now (and the production time lost).

But let’s be honest. Comic-Con International doesn’t have to change anything. They’re making a surplus each year, and banking that for a rainy-day. Exhibitors are happy, the same complaints are heard each year, but it doesn’t hurt the brand, even when attendees reenact a comic book trope.



  1. As this article states, the “add more days” option is unlikely, but it wouldn’t have to be as onerous for exhibitors and creators as this piece implies. San Diego Comic-Con is, in some sense, several different conventions that all occur over the same four days. If the different content areas — comic books, movies, television, etc. — were scheduled sequentially rather than simultaneously, it could make it easier for more fans to attend the convention of their choice (and eliminate some of the complaints about the Hollywoodization of a comics convention). This is similar to the approach taken by the back-to-back SXSW interactive, music, and film festivals, as I wrote about a couple of years ago: http://beacon.wharton.upenn.edu/kendallwhitehouse/should-comic-con-go-long/

  2. They might raise prices, but not that dramatically. They want to avoid the appearance, I’m sure, of “Comic-Con for the Privilege Rich People” that that kind of plan would attract charges of. People already complain that ticket prices are too high (even though they’re horribly wrong).

    Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference — which has similar problems to Comic-Con with huge demand — has the pre-sale lottery thing going. You get a week to sign up and then they draw names for tickets. The second year they did it, though, they automatically charged you for the ticket if you won the lottery. That was meant to stop people who’d attempt to enter multiple times to increase their chances for a ticket.

    My perfect idea is to shut down Hall H.. Tell Hollywood to stay home. Advertise this. Then let’s see how many tickets they sell. ;)

  3. Kendall, the problem is not programming… it’s staffing booths and tables, which would remain open and unchanged during the show.

    Artist Alley MIGHT rotate tables… a creator reserves a few days, then it’s taken over by another name. (Komiket does this, and their attendance numbers 500K.)

    Auto shows do normally run a ten-day weekend bookend. But there is a lot of business going on during the week, which doesn’t happen at Comic-Con.

    It’s also grueling. It’s like Black Friday EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. (If you never worked retail, consider yourself fortunate.) I attend comic cons, and I’m wiped every evening just from wandering around and seeing stuff.

    As for scheduling, if you segregate the programming areas to certain days, then fans complain even more, because instead of having two panels with conflicting interest, you have three or more.

  4. I’ve come up with several ideas over the years and I would like the opinions of some, but keep in mind these are not completely thought out ideas. These are just to get them out in the open to work to possible solutions.

    1) Separate SDCC into 2 conventions: pop culture con and comic con. Big names and Hollywood would show up to Pop Culture con while Comic Con goes back to the grass roots of comic books, local sellers, etc. Have them either 2 weeks in a row or several weeks apart.

    2) Forget pre-lottery; limit ticket sales to returning attendees. Set up a system where I can access 4 day passes once every 2 or 3 years, depending on new attendee demand. Brand new attendees should be allowed first access, while returning attendees are placed on a waiting list to purchase badges. Let me put it this way:

    SDCC 2016: I attend with 4 day pass, which means I can buy only a single day pass for 2017. However, if I wait until 2018 or 2019 (depending on new attendee demand) I can purchase a 4 day pass again. But, if I wish to attend SDCC 2017, I can only buy a single day pass and I am put at the end of the waiting list for returning attendee for 4 day passes.

    3) Moving the convention of this size to Las Vegas. Vegas has the only convention center large enough to house a convention this big. Los Angeles doesn’t have convention centers big enough to handle this and will run into even more problems.

    4) Adding more days. Difficult and retailers beyond 5 days are extremely tired and ready to go home.

    5) Eliminating 4 day passes altogether and preventing people from attending all 4 days. Possibly the only way to attend the convention every year.

    6) Convention center expansion: you will still run into the problem of sell outs, as 200,000 sq. feet of additional floor space is only a drop in the bucket compared the overall size of the convention center (2,600,000 sq. ft. total floor space currently).

  5. Both Los Angeles and Anaheim are larger than San Diego, going by exhibition space (the show floor, the main reason why people attend).
    Los Angeles has announced an expansion/renovation of their CC.
    Anaheim is currently building a 200K sq.ft. expansion to the east of the arena, north of Hilton.
    Las Vegas doesn’t have the largest CC in the U.S… that’s in Chicago.
    (LVCC will expand, once they demolish the Riviera and figure out financing.)

    LV does have three of the largest CCs in the country, as well as many more hotel rooms.

    The expansion in San Diego is on hiatus, although the City defaulted on a payment.
    The San Diego Chargers want a new stadium downtown, and have suggested that the CC become part of the project, although it wouldn’t connect to the existing site.

  6. Create a Virtual Ticket. There are people in Wyoming or rural Maryland who can never afford a trip to New York but yet so desperately, and understandably, want to be a part of it all- connected, in some form, any form, is very exciting for them. This is an untapped market that deserves more significant research than it’s been given- it’s the same reason so many fans are frantic to update sites like this one, for panel reports and Con updates.

    Create a system where someone buys a weekend pass and then gets unlimited access via a password on the Exhibitor’s website- and what you have are live streaming from all the big, significant panels- a live cam of the show floor- seriously, people will watch live cams of Times Square, they’ll watch live cams of the show floor- and then you provide exclusive perks for buying the virtual ticket like chats with the latest Batman writer, things of that nature. So that the virtual ticket-holder feels like they’re doing more than just watching from the wings.

    This can be cultivated and developed and made into something both lucrative and fulfilling if they start doing it. I know some people who don’t want to bother going to the big cities or the big cons but would gladly pay to have constant online access.

  7. @W – would it be worth creating this virtual ticket when sites like CBR, Newsarama, BleedingCool, etc. already do plenty of coverage? Seems like trying to monetize something that already exists.

  8. @ Drake- The exhibitors like Wizard World and ReedPop are in the business of making a profit so I believe they will do it eventually, especially as fans would take that option as consumers if it existed. I am not discounting the importance and help of sites like The Beat, CBR, Bleedingcool, and so on. I’m only saying they will create a market for it if they think it’s sustainable once the logistics are figured out.

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