For the first time since 2019, the buds on the trees might actually signal a renewal of activity and a return to the familiar Rites of Spring that characterize fan life in the sunny season.  By which, of course, I mean lining up inside crowded convention centers with tens of thousands of fellow fans, piling high the swag bags, and staying up till all hours playing tabletop games when the bar staff is trying to close up.

That’s right: Con season is back.  And whether or not we’re ready for conventions again, a bigger question is whether conventions are ready for us.

Ups and Downs.  The past two years saw a lot of turbulence.  ReedPOP, which had spent the second half of the 2010s in a frantic mode of global expansion and acquisition, retrenched dramatically, refocusing on its core U.S. flagship events like NYCC, C2E2 and ECCC, which all had successful relaunches in the second half of 2021.

Fan Expo has gone the opposite way, rolling up the six top Wizard World shows and Denver Pop Culture Con to add to its already-large portfolio of conventions in the U.S. and Canada.  With the favorite and the underdog in the galactic Con Wars space having changed positions, it will be interesting to see how these behemoths slug it out in the competition for celebrities, exclusives and big exhibitors that this scale of show needs to survive.  Fan Expo has already thrown down the gauntlet, announcing a new Batman giveaway in partnership with DC as a way to reward its high-rolling VIP attendees.

One gigantic show that appears to be down for the count is E3, the one-time center of the videogaming industry.  At its peak, E3 was the must-attend event for everyone in the business, plus every well-connected media outlet, consumer influencer, and ordinary gamer who could cadge a badge.  Last week, the Entertainment Software Association, the group that ran the show, officially pulled the plug after previously announcing that it would again be running an online version.

The ESA issued a statement that "E3 will return in 2023 with a reinvigorated showcase that celebrates new and exciting video games and industry innovations. We will devote all our energy and resources to delivering a revitalized physical and digital E3 experience next summer.  Whether enjoyed from the show floor or your favorite devices, the 2023 showcase will bring the community, media, and industry back together in an all-new format and interactive experience."

Many in the industry are a little more sanguine about it.  E3 too long delayed is E3 denied, and after 3 years on the sidelines, even a well-established show might have trouble reasserting its relevance.

Is Comic-Con (finally) getting serious about its brand?  No discussion of cons is complete without taking note of the activities of the city-devouring kaiju known as San Diego Comic-Con.  After what can best be described as a "soft launch" with the SDCC Special Edition in November (see "Comic-Con Special Edition and the Future of SDCC"), Comic-Con International came roaring back with a full blown WonderCon this past weekend in Anaheim, with an exhibitor list featuring more top-tier publishers and exhibitors than we’ve seen to date.  Alas, I wasn’t there to see it in person (I’ll be down at the San Diego Comic Fest in a couple of weeks and didn’t want to double up my trips to Cali), but I heard interesting things.  I’ll be curious when the firsthand reports start to come out.

In the meantime, SDCC made some news today with the announcement that it has named international branding and licensing firm IMG to expand its global brand footprint.  According to IMG’s announcement, the agency "will be working with SDCC to identify partners who can develop products, retail destinations, and experiences for the millions of fans not able to partake in the annual Comic-Con convention experience."

Apparently, the deal has been in the works for a while.  SDCC’s Chief Communications and Strategy Officer David Glanzer said Comic-Con began talking to IMG around six months ago.  "In the course of those discussions, it hit home to us that we could use our expertise to serve the ever-growing fan community in more ways, places and times than ever before," he said.  "In 2021, we embarked on the new Comic-Con Museum and now, with IMG’s expertise working with specialist partners to deliver authentic brand experiences, we can pursue an exciting new phase for the Comic-Con brand."

Well, yes.  SDCC is not only one of the best brands in the convention industry, it’s one of the top entertainment brands worldwide, even if there hasn’t been a real, honest-to-goodness, full scale, in-person SDCC since the summer of 2019.  And that’s without anyone lifting a finger to do anything except put on the show.

IMG’s senior Vice President of Licensing Ricardo Yoselevitz made that point in the announcement "Through its annual conventions, it’s clear that Comic-Con has become a powerful consumer brand without even trying," he said.  "We are honored to now be working with them to identify products and destinations that create new ways and avenues to engage this passionate community, while further reinforcing Comic-Con’s position as the leading curator of this form of popular art and culture."

The only surprising thing about this announcement is that it’s taken so long. But, as they say about real estate, the best time to buy was 10 years ago.  The second best time is now.

Traffic jams ahead?  Assuming we stay lucky and the COVID numbers continue their tailspin, those of us who have been awaiting the return of in-person conventions may soon be blessed with an embarrassment of riches. Schedule watchers have already noticed the 2023 edition of Toy Fair will end the Monday that kicks off NYCC week (see "Toy Fair New York Shifts Dates"), making for a busy and boisterous autumn in New York for those in the geek biz.  The 2022 edition of Emerald City has already announced dates for late August, which is, I can tell you, a much better time to visit Seattle than either March or December.  That will probably lead directly into an extremely busy Labor Day weekend, which traditionally hosts four or five major shows.

Frankly, after the two years we’ve just had, having too many conventions and not enough time is starting to sound like a great problem to have.  Ask me again in December if I still think that.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of

Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.