Yesterday, I dipped my toes in the madhouse called Comic-Con. What has been contiuously growing beyond just comics, fantasy, sci-fi and geeks has become an annual destination for Hollywood Studios and gaming companies to show off their upcoming releases. In the past, there were a lot of titles represented that made no sense – last year’s convention was the worst for that. Luckily, it seems that everyone collectively understood that and scaled it down to relevant genre material – except the ubiquitous GLEE panel on Sunday…
To be honest, the inside of the convention center is packed where people have to give up on the idea of personal space – and unfortunately, sometimes, the ability to really take in what’s in the booths. Everything starts to look the same from year to year with the same folks in the same areas. With that being said, the convention could really happen just about anywhere – which brings up the quesiton of “Why San Diego?”
Surrounding last year’s convention, there was a lot of talk about changing venues or splitting up the convention entirely. It seems that in continuing with San Diego, some changes have begun to make it much more palatable to the huge crowds. Being there on Thursday – historically the lightest-trafficked day – was more comfortable than last year’s even though there were more people there on this Thursday of the convention. One of the biggest changes having an effect on the “perceived roominess” is most-likely the allowance by the city and organizers to allow brand and product experiences outside of the convention center. While there were some grand executions outside in the past, they were limited and challenging to pull off.
This year has a recreation of South Park in a parking lot where last year it was filled with cars and just had a food truck giving out some branded ice cream. This year also showed a greatly enhanced shuttle system that made it extremely simple to get around the area. As a whole, it really seemed that San Diego came to its senses and truly embraced the onslaught of fans, costumed folks and executives. They changed a lot of street signs to resemble the comic text bubbles with the correct font and, in addition to the shuttle service, really had some foot traffic solutions in place to make things safer and simpler.
It now comes down to “What’s Next?” and what are the opportunities that have been missed? A group of sat down to a nice dinner last night, hosted by Jenny Stiven. The dozen people were a nice mix representing multiple agencies and studios. Jenny’s husband, Tim – who probably represented the non-industry fan at the table posed the question, “What makes this uniquely San Diego?” Certainly, the weather is beautiful. There’s great opportunities to do cool events outside and in key venues – if you’re in the industry and have good connections. And, with some of the new systems in place, its a great little city to host this type of event. But there was one opportunity that stood out: With the space immediately surrounding the convention center, the city can really create an atmosphere that will imprint San Diego and Comic-Con completely on the minds of the attendees.
Perhaps they should take notes from Miami’s Art Basel. There, they provide a huge amount of events across the city to enable attendees and residents a fuller experience – regardless of whether they were able to get a convention ticket or not. Here’s a few examples:
A lot of the space around the convention center goes unused and there is a huge opportunity to extend the spirit of the convention creatively throughout the town to really infuse the beauty of the city, its weather, its people and the key elements of Comic-Con. Currently, the outdoor experience is all about marketing. If a festival could be around the premises and city focusing on celebration – with multiple creative iterations -, it could make a big event even stronger and more memorable.
If San Diego could pull something like that off, there would never be a question of whether the Con is going to be in San Diego or not…