Notes On the COMIC CONVENTION Crunch

The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter

As mentioned many times on Newsarama and elsewhere, the comic convention business is a burgeoning one. A few recent trends are emerging in the here-and-now, which will have effects in the months and years to come.

HOTEL CRUNCH

The toughest, most thankless job in North America today? Working for Travel Planners, the agency that handles hotel reservations for major conventions including the San Diego Comic-Con.

Tickets to the con sold out in about 60 minutes, and as you might imagine, hotel demand will be the highest ever this year, beating out last year’s highest ever, which beat out the previous year’s highest ever (wash, rinse, repeat). Travel Planners has more room requests than ever for San Diego, and even though they added more hotels and configurations (Hello, suite!) for 2015, they are scrambling to meet demand…even BEFORE downtown hotel reservations open to the general public. Right now, only exhibitor requests are being processed.

The silver lining? Exhibitors typically reserve the maximum number of rooms they can right off the bat, and then winnow down to what they actually need when they have a hard count. There’s a game in the system where an exhibitor that thinks they might need, say, four rooms books eight right out of the gate to make sure they get availability. When the deposit deadline hits, they trim back, and rooms are freed up. Still, that artificially high number is higher than EVER for San Diego 2015.

Hotels in other venues are getting tough as well. The Hyatt Regency O’Hare connected to Wizard’s Chicago con typically sells out fast, and multiple hotels surrounding last year’s Calgary Comic Expo sold out around that event as well. Orlando, Fla.’s MegaCon had to add additional hotel partners this year to meet demand.

Tickets to comic cons are getting tough to get. Hotels are following right in their footsteps.

DAY CRUNCH

As we move into “the experience economy,” well, comic cons are an experience people want to experience. And the prime experience seems to be right in the middle.

Full weekend passes to comic cons typically sell out first, and for those who can’t make—or afford—the full enchilada, single-day tickets are typically available. Until they sell out.

And so it came to pass that this year’s Emerald City Comicon in Seattle sold out of weekend tickets quickly, followed by Saturday. Consumers who still wanted to get in found themselves skirting around the edges of Friday or Sunday, pining for the sweet middle. MegaCon, which draws a massive 70,000 individual attendees, still has weekend and Saturday tickets available, but they are close to sellout on both.

Didn’t we just mention that tickets could be tough to get? Demand is especially high, at sellout levels, for full weekends and Saturdays.

WEEKEND CRUNCH

There are at least three full-blown, three-day comics cons this weekend, March 13-15: The Indiana Comic Con in Indianapolis, Wizard World Raleigh in North Carolina, and Planet Comicon in Kansas City, Mo. As cons continue to proliferate, that competition for talent continues.

“If I was willing to shell out a little of my own money here and there, there’s little doubt I could be doing a major con every weekend, with the possible exception of Christmas, I guess,” said Flash: Season Zero artist Phil Hester.

Hester said he is booked into about 15 cons for 2015, including Planet Comicon, “a personal record for me.” But he easily could have done 25 with all the additional requests he received. Hester, of course, says he limits himself these days to cons that will pay expenses to bring him in, but like many creators, he’ll usually find a way to revisit old friends. “Kansas City takes care of me,” he said “I kind of feel like it’s my home show. They were the first ones to really recognize me as a pro back when I was about 21 years old.”

Business relationships are always good, but personal relationships are personal. As competition for talent remains high, many cons may have to step up the personal hospitality they extend to talent.

REACH, MEET GRASP

Reed Exhibitions is cold-calling exhibitors from their New York and Chicago cons to get them to set up at their Australian cons. Certainly, we’ve seen an expansion of interest in U.S. comics and culture at foreign cons, including huge crowds at Mexico City’s La Mole Comic Con and even a good showing in Malta. But just as certainly, Australia is a long haul in mileage, expense, and opportunity cost. There’s seemingly always some American airspace looking to fill that world balloon—hell, there are Fatburger restaurants in the United Arab Emirates and they’re looking hard at Cuba—but if Reed is calling North America to fill a con in Australia, that supply chain may be a bit too long.

—You can, should you so desire, “follow Jim McLauchlin on Twitter,” as the kids say. It’s @McLauchlin

Twitter activity