The Shows of February: David Glanzer on WonderCon

The Shows of February: WonderCon

Again, okay, 2/3rds in February, 1/3rd in March

We started our looks at this weekend’s two major conventions, Orlando’s Mega Con and San Francisco’s WonderCon on Monday with a chat with Beth Widera, owner and operator of Mega Con. Today, we talk with David Glanzer, Director of Marketing and Public Relations for WonderCon and Comic-Con about this weekend’s WonderCon.

And he drops a major, major hint in there…at least we think it looks like a hint.

Newsarama: David, let's start off with the stats for those who may, somehow be unfamiliar with the event - what year is this for Wonder Con, and give us your best sales pitch on what visitors will find...

David Glanzer: This is WonderCon's 23rd year. The event began in Oakland, but as the show grew, we were limited in terms of space, both for exhibitors and attendees. We've since moved to the Moscone Center in San Francisco and that has allowed us to expand and attract a wider audience as well as a larger diversified exhibitor base.

So not only do we attract a very impressive list of guests from comics, we also have an amazing gathering of studios from Hollywood. In fact, WonderCon has the distinction of being the only convention that has had Christian Bale as a guest while he was promoting Batman. Tobey Maguire came by for Spider-Man and Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer attended while promoting Superman. This year we expect some very cool surprises as well.

NRAMA: What kind of year to year growth are you seeing with the show? You reported 29,000 last year - any ballparks for this year?

DG: Last year we had a huge increase in attendance, over 45% from the year before. I'm not sure we'll see that kind of increase again, I'm thinking that was some sort of anomaly. However, pre-reg numbers seem to be up so we're very hopeful.

I should point out that we don't issue press releases on our numbers anymore. The way conventions count numbers is as varied as the events themselves.

NRAMA: Of course, the major topic that comes up this year with conventions is the economy. What, if any effects of the recession have you seen on Wonder Con? Was the floor sold as quickly this year? Are you seeing as many advance ticket sales?

DG: Again we have a wait list for exhibitors so I think that side looks good, and our pre registration numbers are up so we're happy with that. And while our conventions seem to do well in both difficult economic times as well as good, I will admit to never seeing it (the economy) as bad as it is now. We won't know the final impact until after the show.

We spoke about numbers earlier, and until those numbers are finally tabulated we really won't know if the economy will have had an impact on the show. It also takes us a long time to tabulate our numbers. As you know we are pretty diligent about making sure our numbers are correct, by eliminating duplicates and such. Our final numbers reflect not just unique attendees, but actual individuals. A person who attends the show on a three day pass and attends each day is still only counted once.

NRAMA: Just so we're fully in the know - how are ticket prices this year compared to last?

DG: Ticket prices are the same in 2009 as they were in 2008. Advanced three day ticket is $30 for adults and $15 for Junionr/Seniors(12-17 and 60+). At show three day ticket is $40 for adults and $20 for Junior/Senior (12-17 AND 60+). As always children 11 and under are free with an adult paid ticket.

NRAMA: As you see it, what drives advance ticket sales? We've heard and seen from DC that Watchmen is fueling huge sales on the trade paperback - are you catching some of that effect, do you think?

DG: That's a great question and it has a variety of answers. We see a lot of people return year after year, so we know that experience and word of mouth is a great driver of ticket sales. The other is guests and programming. We have always been very proud of the type of programming and guests we have. This year's lineup is pretty cool, with some exclusive events like WonderCon's exclusive panel on Star Trek.

Paramount chose WonderCon to be the only convention to have this advance look, and that can translate to some advance sales, but it really is never just one thing. It's the combination of a dynamic exhibit floor, guests, and programs. And because we literally try to put on the kind of event we, fans ourselves, want to attend, it seems this works pretty well in attracting people to the show.

NRAMA: Like other convention organizers/planners, you travel the circuit, and get to see a lot of different shows. In your view, what gives Wonder Con its particular flavor?

DG: You know, WonderCon is a great show in a great city. I won't call it a smaller show, even though it's smaller than Comic-Con, but 29,000 people is a huge show. But WonderCon has always had this very intimate feel about it. I'm not sure if it's because of the laid back attitude of the Bay Area, or what, but WonderCon, even before we were in charge of the show, was still one of my favorites on the circuit. Add to that the large number of afterhours events in the city centered on the show and comics, and it makes for a great weekend, in a great city, with great friends.

NRAMA: Obviously, one of the major highlights of the show coming up is the Watchmen participation. Given the timing of Wonder Con and the release of the film, I think a lot of people thought that this was a given, but can you tell us a little about the process?

DG: It's important that no one should ever consider participation by any panel participant as a given. There's a great deal that goes into mounting an event the size of WonderCon and it is just as significant to be sure that fans take away a unique experience.

We have 40 years history in putting on conventions and events that cater to the fans. Simply having a room that can accommodate a few thousand people isn't enough to get people to actually sit in the seats. We have a great track record of delivering attendees to panels and most of the film studios know this. I think that's why we get so exclusives.

The relationships we have with movie studios, comics companies and the like are ones that have been forged over the course of many years. They know that our non profit status means we're not just looking for the bottom line, but what their participation can do in terms of advancing comics and popular arts and I think that goes a long way.

NRAMA: WonderCon has played host to other film debuts, but this year - and I think the fan anticipation or expectation was there - Watchmen isn't being screened early. With the understanding that there are political issues surely involved, can you talk any about why it's not up for a showing?

DG: I'm not sure there are any political issues in the studio's decision to handle the release the way they have.

I can only say, WonderCon, like our sister show Comic-Con, is known for surprises. I expect this weekend to be no different.

NRAMA: Fair enough. Personally speaking, do you ever get a chance to hit a panel as a fan? Any this year that you're going to be standing at the back of, watching, just for the heck of it, rather than it being part of your job?

DG: I really, really miss attending panels. But I'm lucky in that I can pop in and out of them from time to time. Granted I only get to see a few minutes here and there, but sometimes that's enough to keep me going. There are too many panels I would love to just take a break from and sit and watch, but that really isn't possible these days. But I love reading recaps on Newsarama and other sites, so while I may not get to attend, I still get to find out what happened.

NRAMA: Likewise, do you get time to walk the floor just to soak in the show and atmosphere, or is the weekend three 24 hours days of work?

DG: Yes, and yes (laughs). I really feel part of my job is to walk the floor and get a general feeling of the show. I make it a point to talk to attendees, exhibitors and the like. Most people don't know who I am and that's great because, in the case of attendees, they'll tell me exactly what they think. What worked, what didn't, what could be done better. So I get to both enjoy the floor experience and get to do my job too. I will say, that if I am lucky enough to have a few minutes before or after the show, I try to hit a couple of booths because, honestly, there's some pretty amazing stuff on our floor.

NRAMA: Every year, the convention season seems to be in flux, and this year, Wonder Con falls on the same weekend as MegaCon in Orlando. Now, you and Beth are certainly not competing over too many guests, but does having two shows on opposite sides of the country affect guests you can attract?

DG: I'm sure on some level it can, but I don't think it has yet. Luckily there are a great many professionals in our industry so it hasn't been an issue.

Of course as any event planner knows, we are, to a certain degree, at the mercy of the facility in which our events are held. So sometimes events do overlap.

I will say that one of the worst things about the close proximity of our shows is my not being able to attend MegaCon. It is still one of my favorite shows on the circuit and it's held in the very, very fun city of Orlando. Each year I try to figure a way where I can just pop over there for a few days, but, again, the close proximity to WonderCon has made that impossible lately. But I look forward to reading a recap of the show so while I can't be there, maybe I can live vicariously a little through reporters eyes.

NRAMA: While we’re talking about the bigger picture, we'd be remiss if we didn't ask you to cast an eye a year ahead - Reed has announced an April show for next year in Chicago. Any early thoughts as to how that may affect the landscape in regards to WonderCon?

DG: With this being our 23rd year we are fairly well established. I expect that we will continue to do what it is we do with the hopes that people will continue to come and have a good time. I personally feel having more conventions on the circuit isn't a bad thing so long as it doesn't conflict with existing shows.

Hopefully it will all settle well and no existing show will suffer.

NRAMA: Finally David, do you have one last sales pitch for the fence sitters in your best marketer voice?

DG: Okay, perhaps not my best marketing voice, but I will say that WonderCon is really a great show, that has an impressive history of offering unique and exclusive experiences for attendees. I have no doubt this year will be just as exciting and fun, so if you haven't purchased your tickets yet, do it now, the show is only a few days away.

WonderCon takes place February 27th-March 1st at San Francisco’s Moscone Center South, 747 Howards Street. More information can be found at WonderCon’s website.

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