Comic-Con Opens With Packed House; San Diego Mayor Faulconer Ziplines into the Show

HIL ANDERSON, SENIOR EDITOR
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San Diego, CA – The 45th annual Comic-Con International opened in downtown San Diego July 24 with sold-out exhibit space and attendance, and a media profile that any city would envy.

News coverage from coast to coast began building several days ahead of the opening ceremony at the San Diego Convention Center. Hotels were packed and visitors were urged to take public transportation or shuttle service into downtown. There were frequent reminders that the 130,000 admission badges available to the public were long gone.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer was not about to miss out on a great photo-op and rode a 200-foot-long zipline over the Gotham Interactive Fan Zone, an outdoor area adjacent to the convention center set up to promote the new television series Gotham. The stunt was so irresistible that the president of the city council was right behind the mayor as the gaggle of spectators applauded.

San Diego’s political leadership had good reason to be on hand. Comic-Con is arguably the jewel of the convention center calendar each year in terms of direct attendee spending and free publicity for the city.

The city estimated that Comic-Con would result in $78.3 million in direct attendee spending this year with an overall economic impact of $177.8 million. Much of the spending goes directly into the downtown tourism complex, including restaurants and lodging. Unlike trade shows, Comic-Con attendees generally pay standard tourist-season room rates rather than a negotiated room-block price. They are also largely on their own when it comes to food and nightlife expenses.

The crowd of attendees is annually bolstered by scores of people who don’t have tickets but head downtown to the Gaslamp Quarter neighborhood anyway to take part in the scene, which includes exuberant youths decked out in sometimes elaborate costumes.  The Hard Rock Café San Diego in the Gaslamp district got into the spirit by announcing a “comic book drive” to provide light-reading material to San Diego-based U.S. Marines deployed overseas.

MOBILE HOT SPOT

The crowds are large enough that AT&T deployed two portable cell towers in the area this week to handle the spike in mobile phone traffic.

Price has so far not dampened the public’s enthusiasm for Comic-Con. The event has become a must-attend event for the entertainment industry. A bevy of stars annually makes the trip from Los Angeles to brief attendees on their latest science-fiction and action projects, and the attendees in turn flock to a full schedule of panels about movies, television shows and books.

The popularity of the panels this year compelled Comic-Con to actually give up exhibit space. The 64,842 square foot Hall H was used for a 6,500-seat conference space. The rest of the sold-out building provides about 460,000 net square feet of exhibit space for exhibits.

Exhibit space is a critical issue for Comic-Con and San Diego. The event is currently bursting at the seams but is contracted to San Diego through 2016. An expansion project at the San Diego Convention Center that would accommodate a larger Comic-Con – and other larger trade shows – is bogged down by legal challenges and increasing costs.

The possibility of Comic-Con leaving the city where it was founded 45 years ago has been used as a rallying cry by expansion proponents. Will Comic-Con decide to strike a deal with Los Angeles or Anaheim and move into larger quarters that are closer to its Hollywood customer base?  Time will tell.

Reach David Glazner, Comic-Con marketing director, at 619-414-1020 or pr@comic-con.org