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David Glanzer on what’s up with WonderCon and Comic-Con, The Beat 3.22.12

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alyssa:
The following is an interview given to the Beat of David Glanzer on 3.22.12 abt Wonder Con & SDCC
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THE BEAT: Let’s get right to it: So what is happening with WonderCon? Where will it be next year?
GLANZER: I don’t think there are dates in this facility [Anaheim] for next year. Our plan was always to find a place where we could have WonderCon-or not have WonderCon. We toyed with the idea of taking it off the calendar but in the end we thought, we should try to keep it going. After looking around, the place that had dates closest to ours, and had exhibit space and, most importantly, had enough meeting space and hotel rooms, was Anaheim. They were able to gives us some dates and so we picked Anaheim.
But, I have to tell you, we could never just move an event down to experiment. If we were to do that we would just start an event-we wouldn’t have a Friday day. You don’t just come into a market and start as a three-day show. Fans aren’t ready to take a half-day off and so on. As it turned out, Friday was not bad, we were pretty surprised.
We hope to be in Moscone for 2013, but we haven’t got dates yet. But to be fair to Moscone, they typically don’t give us dates more than six months out. The problem with that obviously this year when you have this big hole in the calendar. So we’re hoping they give us dates sooner than later.

THE BEAT: I’ve heard the reason why Moscone won’t give dates is because there aren’t enough hotel rooms booked.
GLANZER: Yes, it’s very common.
THE BEAT: And understandable.
GLANZER: If you have an organization that comes in and books a ton of hotel rooms, and then you have a convention that comes in and books a minimal amount of hotel rooms, the idea is those who are spending more on hotels are going to spend more money across the board, organizations that have expense accounts, doctors, pharmaceuticals, tech conventions.
The issue with WonderCon is we sell out our room blocks and we’ll get another hotel, but SF has an abundance of mid range and low range hotels throughout the city and there’s no way to track that. So we keep telling them yes, we had nearly 50,000, people we sold out of room blocks but there’s no way to tell who is buying outside our hotel rooms.
We had the same problems with San Diego for a long time, but the convention center actually took a gamble on us [both laugh] and said, you know, we SEE the people here, maybe they don’t stay in hotel rooms, and there weren’t a lot of hotel rooms downtown back in the day. But as it turned out, it was a boom.

THE BEAT: I’m not going to ask you to go inside the head of SF officials, but is there not an argument to be made that this is a cultural event that adds some kind of merit to the area? It’s a tradition in the Bay Area!
GLANZER: It is. You can lead that proverbial horse but you can’t make them do something. San Francisco is a great city so I don’t think they are lacking for conventions. And I can’t speak for them, but if they have something that obviously has an abundance of hotel rooms and money, and then something they are not really sure about, they will go with the thing they can quantify.
That being said, the show has been around the Bay Area for 25 years. It gets a lot of press. I think one of the things that San Diego realized is that the heads in beds is very important, and maybe San Francisco doesn’t need this, but the news coverage is very important too. I don’t know if you’ve been following it, Anaheim is getting a lot of press out of this show. And when WonderCon is in SF gets a lot of press.
We’ll see what happens. My real hope is that the show will have done well enough, that SF will say wow, we’d rather not lose that and give them dates farther out.

THE BEAT: Would you consider coming back here? Another venue mentioned to me was San Jose.
GLANZER: San Jose is a great facility. They have a hotel that’s attached to the facility. We’ve toured it. They have some meeting space. But it’s almost like Anaheim in a way, in that it’s in a market that is a subset of another market. One of the big problems with Anaheim it’s that not Los Angeles, it’s not SD, it’s in between. San Jose has the same thing.
THE BEAT: People don’t plan their year around going to San Jose, Dionne Warwick aside.
GLANZER: Can we get the audience there? I loved San Jose when we had APE there but they don’t have an overabundance of hotels. I understand they have expanded their hotel facilities. We’ll have to see dates, but I think everything is open, especially if Moscone doesn’t give us dates.

THE BEAT: So it really is a complete question mark.
GLANZER: It really is. Now, to be fair to SF, they don’t give us dates until six months out, but we’re trying to argue that is just not enough time. It’s almost a Catch 22. Do we start looking for someplace else knowing that they are going to give us dates? Or….I don’t know.

THE BEAT: Gosh, won’t this ever be settled. You’ve had so many years with the big Comic-Con with endless questions. Now WonderCon is a hot potato!
GLANZER: Yeah, we could certainly do with less of that. We would love to be back in San Francisco. That’s our plan, and it’s always been our plan. We’re just trying to get those dates.

THE BEAT: This show [2012] seems to have been a success by any measure.
GLANZER: [Glanzer smiles wearily.] Yes, I guess so. That’s the thing. I think there’s….I’m glad the people came out. But what does that mean? I think WonderCon is a Bay Area show. This was an anomaly. But you know, people have asked are you going to mount another show in Anaheim? We can barely handle the three shows we have. But clearly if you build it, they will come.

THE BEAT: Well, you kind of have proven you can break a territory. Many people have tried to have a big show here. Wizard made many attempts in Anaheim and Los Angeles. This is by far the biggest SoCal show outside the San Diego Comic-Con in a while.
GLANZER: In all honesty, we all expected to take a big hit in attendance and in a new market. Anaheim doesn’t have its own radio so you have to buy radio advertising in LA which is the #2 market and very expensive, and hope people show up. And they did! I’m surprised. Especially yesterday when there were these forecasts of torrential rains, stay home, don’t go out. I had told people I expected tumbleweeds but that wasn’t the case.

THE BEAT: Not at all, it was very successful.
GLANZER: I think we’re a little shell-shocked. On Tuesday when we unpack we’ll have to chat and decide what if anything we do.

THE BEAT: Do you have any idea of attendance?
GLANZER: Not yet. We had a bigger exhibit hall. It looked pretty crowded, but I just don’t know.

THE BEAT: Okay, onto the big show. There are a lot of exhibitors who got in here who can’t get into WonderCon in SF, and of course can’t get into Comic-Con yet. What is the wait list? Five years?
GLANZER: We usually say it’s about 300 companies long. It’s like a restaurant. If you want a table for six the wait is longer than a table for one. There are people who all of a sudden will get in.

THE BEAT: Still, there are a lot of great new companies who would be great at Comic-Con who are shut out. Is that something that is a concern?
GLANZER: It is. And one of the things, we’re looking at a bunch of different things with exhibitors and attendees. Last year we were able to accommodate another 4000 people, a drop in the bucket. We used more hotels. This past year we used PetCo Park much more than we had before. We were able to put people over there. So yeah, we’re trying to…but it’s not easy. Our real hope is that expansion [of the SD Convention Center]. Everybody seems to be up for it. Nobody really seems to be against it anymore. It’s a matter of funding and even some of that seems to have come into place. But it’s not a done deal until I see them break ground. Until then…
THE BEAT: And that will still be years.
GLANZER: If they break ground in 2012 it’s conceivable that it could be finished in 2015. Our contract is up in 2015. So it’s conceivable that by 2016 we could have a new facility.

THE BEAT: Timewise, that’s only three Spider-Man movies so…[general laughter] This is a little inside baseball but…there is great anxiety among professionals and press…what are we in for with our whole registration system?
GLANZER: Well, one of the things we implemented was this Member ID thing. It’s either simple or confusing depending on who you talk to. It’s new. And nobody likes anything new, myself included, I promise you that. It’s done for a couple of reasons. One, to streamline the registration process, and the other is to decrease scalping. We’ve had such a big increase in people buying blocks of passes and reselling them at exorbitant rates. While we monitor this as much as we can, we had no definitive way to know how that was all happening. One of the things we did was the Member ID system.
Now there was a glitch in our badge sales a few weeks ago, but one thing it did was that Member ID system allowed us to sell all of our badges within an hour and half, Previously it was seven hours and two attempts where the system melted. If everybody has signed up for their Member IDs it should be smooth.
However, we’ve all been mandated, in something that started last year, every department has to cut down on how many people we can accommodate to the show so that we can make more badges available to the general public. I don’t know the exact numbers of how many we cut, it’s not a percentage, it’s just going to be a little more strict. And as I think you know, press in particular, has always been very liberal in its policies. We’re trying to be a little more strict now, too.

THE BEAT: OH MY GOD.
GLANZER: Yeah, I know. The thing that’s funny, the real truth is, if we just went by how many hits a site gets, that completely ignores who it is that visits those sites. That’s a hard thing to explain to the mainstream press. I’ve had more than one mainstream press say, you don’t understand who we are, we are so-and-so. But I’ve had to say we do understand who you are but you write about us once a year. So-and-so that may get an eighth or whatever that you get in terms of hits, but they write about us all year in terms of guests or programs.
So we’re hoping that the press and pros will go smoothly but….I know people are wigged out. And of course once we get cancellations and refunds which we do every year, those will go back into the bin.

THE BEAT: Well, what you just said is going to create tons of anxiety.
GLANZER: [quietly] Yes.
THE BEAT: And boy, is there going to be b***hing and moaning.
GLANZER: Yes and sadly, the truth of the matter is we’re faced with more people who want to come to the show than we can accommodate. There is no clear solution. We were able to accommodate 4000 more, which is great. With the press, we’ve had to eliminate guests which is one way to reduce our numbers without reducing the press.

THE BEAT: That’s fair, given the demand…
GLANZER: Oh, you should see the emails we get. People are very upset.
THE BEAT: I’m sure….
GLANZER: But you’re right, it’s the best thing we can do. If you are coming to cover the show we will try to accommodate you. I’m hoping the impact won’t be drastic if people can be a little bit flexible I think we can make this work.

THE BEAT: In closing, anything else for Comic-Con?
GLANZER: We’ve been working on it, this show was really a unique challenge. I think when we decided we were going to look for a new location…it’s been a long time since we mounted a show from the ground floor up. While WonderCon had the 25-year history, which was great, coming to a new city…I’m not as young as I used to be! It took a toll. But hopefully everyone had a good time.

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