We recently caught up with Comic-Con International Director of Marketing and Public Relations David Glanzer to find out where WonderCon will be next year after its trip south to Anaheim in 2012 (see "Wondercon Moving to Anaheim for 2012"), and to learn more about the changes to pro and press registration at Comic-Con this year.
How did WonderCon go from your perspective?
We were very happy. It’s always a challenge to put on a show in a new city and a new venue, and we certainly had our challenges with that, but the turnout was really good. A lot of the exhibiters we spoke with seemed to really enjoy the show. We don’t have final numbers, but I think it was really good.
There were some glitches—and there always are. We’re going to look at those, but all in all it was a pretty positive show.
What was attendance for the 2011 WonderCon in San Francisco?
It was almost 50,000, but we didn’t go into Anaheim thinking we were going to have those numbers. It’s almost as if you’re mounting a first-time show. If someone had said on the Internet, "This is just a test to see if they can do another show in Anaheim," that couldn’t be farther from the truth. If we were going to try a new show in a new city, you’d probably try a one-day or maybe a two-day show, but having to literally move an established show, we had to keep it three days. You have to train people that Friday is a convention day, and people may have to get out of school or take a half-day at work. There’s typically a learning curve, so we were really pleased that we had good traffic on all days of the event.
So from what you’re saying, can we assume that there were fewer people in Anaheim than there were in San Francisco last year?
The floor was busy, and it was a much larger floor in Anaheim than we had in San Francisco. I expect that the numbers will be less, but we don’t have those numbers and I could be wrong. We could even be up, but I would expect a first-time show in a new city that our numbers would be down.
The thing with Anaheim too, which is different from San Diego and San Francisco, is that a lot of the media we use to alert people about the event had to be bought in markets other than Anaheim. So we bought Los Angeles television or radio to penetrate the Anaheim market as opposed to buying media in that city for that event. Anaheim was a bit of a challenge in that regard.
With the bigger floor space, did you have more exhibiter participation this year?
We had more exhibitors at Anaheim than we did at San Francisco the year previous.
And what was the reaction to the venue [Anaheim Convention Center]?
From what we heard anecdotally, people enjoyed it. The move-in was easy for a lot of people. The back end was just massive with parking and things like that so exhibitors were pretty happy with it.
What are your plans for WonderCon next year?
That’s the $64 question. Our plan has always been to return to San Francisco; we just don’t have dates at the Moscone Center yet. Moscone typically gives us dates six months out, and it’s hard to ask someone to plan their convention here and not have dates until six months before the show. So we have our fingers crossed that we might get dates earlier, but here we are—it’s already May—so the more time ticks by the more challenging it is. But we hope to get back to San Francisco.
If you aren’t able to get dates at Moscone, will you do another show in Anaheim?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. We’ve heard from exhibitors that the Anaheim show was good and the audience could certainly be built up. We heard from a lot of people, including reporters, that we were able to achieve something that hadn’t been done, which is to create an L.A.-area show that really drew a substantial amount of people and had amazing programming.
I don’t know. Again, our hope is to go back to San Francisco, but will we wait until six months out to get dates? We’re targeting with them now to see if we can get dates earlier and hopefully that will happen and then we’ll know exactly where we’ll be sooner rather than later.
San Diego dates are set years in advance. Our readers are probably curious about why San Francisco doesn’t handle things the same way.
Trying to get a hotel room in San Diego during Comic-Con or outside of our block is nearly impossible. That’s not the case in San Francisco—there are so many hotels. And one of the things that the convention centers do is look at what’s called "heads in beds." So if you have 50,000 people at your show, they expect a certain percentage of those people to be in your room block. That isn’t the case with us in San Francisco. When I think of the last time we were in San Francisco, we had a room block at the Marriott, which we filled, and a second room block at another hotel, which we also filled, but a lot of our people stay at less expensive hotels. San Francisco is known for having a wonderful selection of lodging at various prices.
I think I’ve discussed with [ICv2] earlier about the Convention Center talking about the same situation happening in San Diego when we were just starting out: the heads in beds didn’t really reflect what the Convention Center saw as thousands of people downtown. So they gave us a pass and a leap of faith and said, "We don’t know why these numbers aren’t jibing, but we really do believe they’re having this many people. Let’s go ahead and pencil in dates." And eventually one caught up with the other, and as you know now we sell out hotels in the downtown area and even in the Mission Valley and further out.
So the idea is, is there a way to convince San Francisco to also do a leap of faith and believe that if we hold it, they will come.
What changes are you planning for Comic-Con this year?
We’re really in the planning stages right now of programming and of everything. We won’t know more until the end of this month. We’re a week earlier than we were last year, and that’s a little scary for us because it seems like we have less time to do stuff and it’s rapidly approaching.
I think it’ll be a good show. We have a great exhibitor space still, and people are talking about cool programming. We haven’t locked anything in yet, but I think it’ll be a very, very fun show again.
Can you talk about the changes to the pro and press registration for this year?
Press registration and pro registration opened up later than they have in the past. One of the things that we’re trying to do is mitigate problems that we’ve had before in terms of load on the respective servers.
As an example, general registration last year took over seven hours. This year I think it was less than an hour and a half. Were there still glitches? There were. There were still problems, but at least it was an hour and a half as opposed to seven plus hours. We didn’t want to have major issues with pro and press either, so we really worked up until the very last minute try to mitigate those issues. Those opened up later than usual, but with relatively few bumps.
One of the things that we’re faced with is that there are more people who want to attend the show than, sadly, we can accommodate. One of the things that press was able to do in years past was be able to invite a guest. We stopped that a few years back so that only working press and verified press can attend. We also heard a lot of people were able to game our system because our criteria was what a lot of people deemed lax, so we made it a little more rigid. I think it can be frustrating for some, but hopefully it will result in less abuse of the press pass system.
In term of pros the same thing is true; we’re trying to accommodate as many of the public as we can. This year we eliminated the discount for junior badges, but a professional can still get one free and pay for one badge. We saw a lot of junior badges on Internet auction sites and the decision was made to try to curtail that a bit, thereby making more badges available to the general public.
Do you expect the number of pro or press attendees at Comic-Con to be down this year?
I don’t know. We’re trying to do a soft limit on numbers. Again, we can’t accommodate everybody who comes in so by reducing that discount, by implementing some other things, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if that ends up working or not. We really won’t know until such time as we’re all sold out and the show rolls around.
We’re not trying to make things more difficult; we’re trying to make things as fair and equitable as possible. We’re implementing these things to see if they can work. If they don’t work, then we’re going to have to review it. Maybe they work but they need to be tweaked. It’s an evolving process and I have to tell you (it may not seem like it), [but] a good majority of our time is spent trying to accommodate as many people as we possibly can to the show and make it as fair as possible.