Splitting San Diego Comic-Con: A Tale of Two Cities

Comic-Con is big. Gargantuan. Lines form in the wee hours of the morning. There was a prevailing sense among this year's attendees that whatever time you got in line last year for a panel, this year you should get in line one hour earlier.

A lot of this is attributed to Hollywood's influence on the show, making it less "comic" and more "convention." It's also partly due to the surge in popularity that comics and geek culture as a whole are experiencing, thanks to wildly popular shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

Regardless of the reasons, Comic-Con is a show literally bursting at the seams as far as attendance goes. Something has to be done as its reaching critical mass, with events spilling over into nearby hotels. The show organizers have been promised a massive exposition center expansion in San Diego, but reports seem to indicate it won't be ready until 2015ish at the earliest.

What's a mega-popular, financially sound convention to do in the meantime then? According to Airlock Alpha, split into two events. The current, rumored line of thought is that Comic-Con will be broken into two shows: a spring show in Anaheim and the traditional summer show in San Diego.

This is all still just rumored at this point, but let's head down the rabbit-hole for a little bit of speculation.

Clearly, there's a capacity problem at San Diego. The show's 43rd incarnation boasted capped attendance around 130,000. Getting a ticket is about as easy as catching a unicorn covered in butter. Finding a hotel room and airfare requires a second mortgage for some. The entire logistics of the show are complained about constantly up to and after the show.

For those four days though, everything is bliss. You can look past standing in a line for hours just to see the one panel you really want to see. Or sitting through panels you care nothing about to get to the one you do. While at the show you forget about everything it took to get to that point, so why change it right?

Well, if the show does indeed split as rumored, the most likely reasoning will be to alleviate capacity. How? Well, Anaheim just so happens to be 35 minutes or so from Los Angeles (assuming decent traffic). Wouldn't it make sense for Hollywood to shift all their focus to an event in Anaheim, as opposed to headed to San Diego?

If all the movie and TV studios are in LA, Anaheim is a much more palatable commute. It's also less committment from one perspective. That is, it's easier for actors to get to Anaheim than San Diego because it's closer.

What this will do is lift most of the audience from San Diego and take them to Anaheim. Most of the people attending Comic-Con are doing so for movie or TV related panels. The Walking Dead #100 recently blew through sales, but it's likely most of those came from the success of the AMC show.

Now, if all the Hollywood stuff is in Anaheim, what does that leave for San Diego? Comics and video games. There have been grumblings from purists as of late that for as awesome as the show is, it's lost touch with the first part of its name: comics. If Hollywood is removed from the show, that would leave more floor space and panels for comics and video games.

San Diego would likely not be happy with that, as they'd likely think that a Comic-Con without Hollywood won't be nearly as successful. They'd be wrong though. See, even though the primary attraction for the show would no longer be at San Diego, there will still be the aura and mystique. New York Comic Con has made great strides in its five years since inception, but it's a different vibe than Comic-Con. That vibe will still be there even if the San Diego show is just about comics.

The split could also be business, plain and simple. Comic-Con organizers have been pushing San Diego hard about expansion. There were even threats a few years ago about going to LA or even Las Vegas. Cities see the goldmine that is San Diego Comic-Con and want a piece of the action.

Splitting the events serves a business purpose in a few ways. First, it tells San Diego that the organizers are willing to entertain other locales. Second, it acts as a trial run for holding the show in Anaheim. If it bombs while San Diego flourishes (and vice versa), the organizers know where the better market is. Third (and probably the most important), is it "load tests" the audience. That is, will fans support two shows.

Imagine if you're running Comic-Con and you've got three shows in a year. A spring one in Anaheim, a summer one in San Diego and a revamped WonderCon/Ape in fall in San Francisco. That's three shows covering most of the year. Anaheim could focus on movies, San Diego on comics and video games and San Francisco on comics and smaller press.

Such a breakdown would be a boon financially and help to dilute the crowds a bit, providing like with like. People interested in The Walking Dead comic won't get caught up in the hordes there for the show. It'll purify crowds to an extent, allowing each event to focus exclusively on one aspect of pop culture.

This year's show has just wrapped up and with it is the inevitable decompressing. Spliting Comic-Con is still very much a rumor at this point, but it's one that does make sense from a few different angles. Whether or not it happens remains to be seen, but the reality is that there is a capacity problem at Comic-Con and it has to be addressed.

Comic-Con is, after all, a show for fans to pay tribute to being a geek, but what good is it if only 130,000 of the millions of fans get to do so?


  1. Agreed. I live in SFO and disliked Wondercon being in Anaheim rather than other Bay Area venues that would have been just as good. It's very difficult to get a badge at San Diego. The possible split would be a great idea. Let's push for it.

  2. San Diego is a logistical nightmare at this point. Attending it has become just as frustrating as I assume planning and coordinating it is.


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