Comic-Con 2015 is only weeks away and will be held from July 8-12 at the San Diego Convention Center. San Diego Comic-Con, or Comic-Con International, is widely known as the largest convention of its kind in the entire world. However, in recent years, that fact is becoming more of a detriment than a lofty point of high praise. With attendance over 130,000, and people all trapped in one area, the convention is essentially becoming too big for its britches. At this point, there is literally no more space left to accommodate all the attendees at Comic-Con. Hotel rooms in the area are almost non-existent. Customer service for hotel booking is terrible. The convention and the staff members of Comic-Con International are fully aware of the problems, but they have failed to address them. Comic-Con International suffers from over-crowding, poor planning, disorganized staff members and a lack of available hotel rooms. With a failure to address these problems, the convention has become a festering, gaping wound–a gangrenous wound that the staff members of Comic-Con International refuse to get treated as it poisons and rots a formerly incredible convention.
At the moment, the biggest problem facing the convention is the hotel situation. In short, San Diego Convention Center and the hotels in the surrounding area and Gas Lamp District of San Diego do not have the space or rooms available to accommodate the attendees of San Diego. To make matters worse, Comic-Con International has forced attendees to endure and book their hotel rooms through a faulty booking service called Travel Planners. In the past, attendees were able to simply book their own hotel rooms directly through the hotels. Unfortunately, Comic-Con International and the Travel Planners gods have ruined that possibility. The Travel Planners staff members seem to be pompous and bumbling employees, make a multitude of errors and act like hotel gods. Unfortunately, Travel Planners is a middle-man that has only served to exacerbate the entire Comic-Con experience. Attendees can only book hotels on specified dates and times. As a result, someone who wants to go to the convention and wants a downtown area hotel was required to use the Travel Planners service at 9 am PST on March 24. This year, the service suffered from many errors. Some potential attendees had trouble logging in to the link Comic-Con International sent to attendees. The electronic form to select a hotel did not work for many users. This happened just seconds after users logged in to the designated electronic form. The problem is, if you want a good hotel and convenient room, too many people are scrambling in a mad dash at the same time. In fact, the hotel sale was such a dismal failure that Comic-Con International was forced to respond and issue a statement.
CCI issued the following statement (per SDCCBlog.com): “We’re obviously disappointed the hotel sale didn’t run as smoothly as we would have liked. Our attendees are very important to us and we have worked very hard to secure more room blocks and reduced rates at area hotels. We continue to strive to provide the best means to accommodate the growing number of people looking for lodging during the show. In fact, one of the major sticking points in our current negotiations to remain in San Diego are hotel rates. This incident has cast a shadow on our efforts but we are working with Travel Planners to ensure this type of situation does not occur again.”
The statement by CCI is sort of an acknowledgement of problems. However, it does not appear that CCI is making any moves to fix this or make changes. The big problem is the user-unfriendly Travel Planners service. The mandatory use of Travel Planners should be abolished, and attendees should again be allowed to book their hotel rooms directly through the hotels. These incidents are not isolated to this year. The situation has been ongoing for the last several years. This year, it simply got worse than ever before. In other words, the problem is not getting taken care of, and it is only getting worse. Comic-Con International has done nothing to fix or assuage the issue. The staff members have allowed it to get to this point and have failed to prove how they are truly taking action to fix situations like this. The electronic form is pathetic because there is virtually little chance you will get your fifth or sixth ranked choices. So, why Travel Planners asks for six hotel choices is beyond me. When booking a hotel room for other conventions such as Star Wars Celebration, PlayStation Experience or WonderCon, all I had to do was call the hotel or book the reservation from the hotel website online. Booking a hotel room for a convention should not be a pathetically complex overwrought process. You should not have to wake up at a designated date and time in some sort of human lottery like you are trying to get a seat on a lifeboat off of a sinking ship. However, that is exactly what the hotel situation has become.
The other problem is the foot traffic and lines. People camping out and traffic have gotten out of control. From the convention’s perspective, that means business is booming. The convention does not want to cap attendance because if that happens, the convention will make less money. However, the over-attendance issue is literally killing the convention experience. Preview Night is no longer a preview night. The San Diego Convention Center no longer has the room to support the amount of people who attend the convention. Convention programming has been forced to move way off-site because the convention center simply does not have the space available. Previously, a city project was slated to expand the convention center. After six years and spending $10 million on the planning, the San Diego City Council voted this plan down (via Voice of San Diego). In short, the city of San Diego spent six years and millions of dollars on an expansion project that could have potentially fixed the space issue at the San Diego Convention Center for the convention. However, now there is nothing to show for it. The expansion is not happening. In short, the convention center will remain woefully overcrowded, making the event more of a dangerous slog. An easy solution here would be to move the San Diego Comic-Con out of San Diego. As much as I love the city of San Diego, I am willing to see anything done to make some changes to these problems. If that means moving the convention to Anaheim or Las Vegas, which both have adequate space, then so be it.
Last year, lines and crowds got so intense, attendees took to camping out on the sidewalks and bus lanes in front of the convention hall like homeless vagrants. I had attended the convention for 10 consecutive years, and I had never before seen a complete line of sleeping bags from Hall A all the way down to Hall H. It was saddening, not to mention concerning, that people were sleeping outside amidst all the smog and exhaust from the cars and buses.
Comic Con International’s response to the traffic, crowd and line issue was nothing short of a laughable joke. Last year, Comic Con International’s useless attempt to fix the problem was to offer Toucan Tracker Wristband policy. The policy was a joke. It did nothing to fix the problem. Frustrated attendees are still stuck in line for hours, desperately hoping to get into a panel that shuts them out. There is a simple solution to this problem that Comic Con International will not address. It is simple: there should be a fixed number of tickets and seats for this event. This will at least curb the number of people waiting in line. That way, attendees are not stuck in line for events they do not know if they can see. Could this program be abused? Possibly, but it is better than the current alternative. The current system is already abused with people jumping or cutting the lines, or the camping out, which is dangerous and not supposed to be allowed.
I believe San Diego Comic-Con has always had a programming issue. Frequently, I have seen certain events with huge, packed crowds in tiny little rooms. For example, panels for Hasbro’s Transformers or Mattel’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe toy lines are usually in tiny, packed rooms. Many attendees get turned away. On the other hand, I will see pointless panels in bigger rooms that do not even become half full. The programming has become a joke because it has taken the convention away from its roots. I realize that Comic-Con has essentially become a big trade show for the entertainment industry, but it has gotten to a ridiculous level. For example, I love The League. The League is a hilarious TV show. Does The League belong at Comic-Con? I’m sorry; but no, it does not. You cannot take any show to Comic-Con just because it is on TV. Taking The League to Comic-Con would be like taking Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond to Comic-Con. Comic-Con has simply become overwrought and over-programmed, with shows and IP that simply do not belong at such a convention.
I am writing this column only because I have been a longtime, devoted attendee of Comic-Con. I have seen the convention become an over-inflated mess right before my eyes. These problems need to be addressed because the infection will spread. That is not good for anyone.