The city’s annual comedy convention pumps millions of dollars into San Diego’s economy each year, but it could all be gone by 2025.
As it enters its 53rd year in San Diego, Comic-Con International has grown from a small gathering of comic book and science fiction enthusiasts gathered in the basement of the US Grant Hotel in 1970 to a mega-event that exceeded 2.6 million people. square foot from the San Diego Convention Center.
As the city’s largest annual convention, the event brings tens of thousands of people to downtown San Diego as they eat, sleep, attend events and travel throughout the metro area.
Miro Copica marketing lecturer and branding expert at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business, explained how attendees will spend their money and what that means for the city.
Can you tell us a bit about the economic impact Comic-Con International is having on the San Diego area?
Comic-Con is the premier event of the year in San Diego. It’s an event that puts San Diego on the world map. Before the pandemic, Comic-Con drew more than 135,000 registered fans from around the world, as well as more than 2,500 members of the media from more than 30 countries. The impact on the local San Diego economy is over $165 million in overall spending with over $90 million in direct participant spending. That means the average attendee spends close to $700 while here. The city of San Diego will collect over $3.2 million in hotel and sales tax revenue, so it’s a boon for the city given that Comic-Con is bigger than the next four to five conventions. combined.
While conventions are returning to San Diego since COVID restrictions were lifted, they’re still not at pre-pandemic levels. At full capacity, the hotel industry will benefit from more than 60,000 hotel nights with 60 downtown hotels offering more than 14,000 rooms.
Comic-Con hosted free satellite events throughout San Diego County, allowing residents to enjoy the event without having to purchase a ticket. For this reason, San Diego benefits from area tourists from Nevada, Arizona and the greater Los Angeles area who may drive for a day or two. Even local advertisers are taking advantage as you’ll see billboards, bus wraps and murals on commercial buildings advertising Comic-Con. The Comic-Con Museum in Balboa Park will also be a big draw for convention attendees.
Who is the average Comic-Con attendee? And where are some of the places they are likely to spend time/money while attending the event?
There is no average spectator at Comic-Con. Participants come from all walks of life, but share a passion for comic books or key shows (eg Star Trek) and movie franchises (eg Star Wars). There’s something for everyone with the main showroom featuring huge film studios and small comic book labels.
Participants will behave like any other tourist and visit major San Diego tourist centers like Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo and area beaches. Those bringing kids can visit Legoland or take a day trip to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, or Los Angeles. The biggest beneficiary will be the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego where bars and restaurants will be full during Comic-Con.
Comic-Con is located in San Diego until at least 2024. Do you think it would make sense for the convention to move after this date?
Comic-Con was created in San Diego and the opening of the Comic-Con Museum shows the organization’s commitment. However, that doesn’t mean that Los Angeles and Orange County won’t fight vigorously when the convention goes up for auction in 2024. What hurts San Diego is that our convention center is too small. While satellite events are actually a big draw, having the capacity to hold over 135,000 attendees could make the event even bigger. Moving to Las Vegas would give her even more glitz in the showbiz world, while moving to LA would make it even easier for celebrities to get involved. In awarding San Diego the most recent contract, Comic-Con and the city were betting on voters allowing the proposed convention center expansion — which failed by a full percentage point. Had Measure C passed, Comic-Con awarding the convention to San Diego would have been a no-brainer.
At some point, Comic-Con will have to look after its own interests, which could include a move elsewhere. Ideally, Comic-Con would like to announce where the 2025 convention will be held by next summer. I would still give San Diego the edge, but without a deal to expand the convention center, the hurdle gets bigger. The city has their work cut out for them.
What does all this exposure mean for San Diego?
It will be interesting to see how many global media outlets attend Comic-Con in 2022. International press, as well as American press, will be important in putting San Diego in the global spotlight. It will be good for tourism in general, enhancing San Diego’s reputation as a fun, cosmopolitan city and giving the city a head start by extending Comic-Con’s hosting contract.
Interview slightly edited for length and clarity.
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