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Super Powers

By the time the giant Godzilla replica shows up on the back lawn of San Diego Convention Center — part of a photo op being staged by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment during this year’s Comic-Con International — it might actually have a tough time getting noticed amid the downtown hoopla that now surrounds one of the world’s largest pop culture celebrations.

Scheduled for July 24-27, Comic-Con has grown well beyond the 130,000 people who fill the convention center’s exhibit halls, including the 3,000 global media representatives who will descend on this year’s 45th annual event.

Local officials have estimated that Comic-Con, the largest single event held annually at the convention center, generates more than $175 million for the region’s economy, including more than $77 million in direct spending by the confab’s attendees.

The slate of scheduled off-site, convention-related programming is considerable this year, as media companies aim to focus attention on their products and projects, away from the noisy exhibit hall crowds.

Comic-Con marketing director David Glanzer pointed to events including Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox Gaming Lounge, filling a full ballroom at Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego; a playback room at the Omni San Diego Hotel, where attendees can see video replays of convention panels held earlier; and NBC-Universal’s presentation of upcoming programs, which will take up nearly the entire retail complex known as Gaslamp Square.

In addition to the Warner-hosted visit by Godzilla, big-scale lawn events are planned by game maker Ubisoft outside the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter, and by Fox and its sibling network FXX outside the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.

Those and most other hotels throughout San Diego County were fully booked weeks ago in advance of Comic-Con, after event attendee badges sold out about 75 minutes after going on sale in early March, according to organizers.

Big Party Has Place for Small Biz

Smaller local businesses also enjoy an annual jolt of business activity during and after Comic-Con. San Diego graphic and interior designer Rex Edhlund has had a booth for the past 20 years at Comic-

Con, connecting him with a national audience for the edgy, “geek-centric” shirts, caps and other items — prominently emblazoned with skull-and-crossbone icons — sold by one of his local companies, known as Danger Factory.

As an owner and project manager at Industry Event Space, a creative incubator and showroom on Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp, Edhlund in recent years has also designed several temporary special event spaces geared toward Comic-Con. They include Wired magazine’s Wired Lounge at the Omni Hotel, which has become an exclusive gathering spot for Hollywood executives, and the “Zombie Prom” after-party, a new event being held this year at Horton Grand Hotel as part of the popular annual Zombie Walk.

“It really gets insane for us this time of year,” said Edhlund, who has also designed off-site Comic-Con event spaces in recent years for Sega, Invidia, Threadless, Marvel, BBC America, Paramount and Disney Interactive, among several others.

Since its local debut in 1970 as a sparsely attended niche gathering for comic book geeks, Comic-Con has expanded into a nearly nonstop buffet of official and unofficial events filling adjacent hotels, Gaslamp Quarter stores and restaurants, and the nearby Petco Park.

“That whole area of downtown becomes like one big Comic-Con campus during those four days,” said Tim Pontrelli, senior event manager at San Diego Convention Center, now in his 28th year overseeing crowd and line control, security, transportation and other logistics during the big event. “It essentially becomes a 24-hour operation for us, once it gets going.”

The convention center alone will deploy 800 to 900 workers — about half of those in food services — and the locally based organizers of Comic-Con will have more than 3,500 volunteers and staffers handling the event within the center.

Add in the workers that the city, hotels and other local businesses will be employing to handle issues like security and traffic at offsite events — expected to draw an extra 100,000 nonconvention visitors in the Gaslamp Quarter alone — and Pontrelli estimates the total Comic-Con workforce easily ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 people, if not more.

Prime Venue to Reach Core Buyers

While interest from media companies has remained generally steady, Edhlund said he noticed a sizeable dropoff in project requests this year — at least as of mid-July — possibly due to budget trimming at some of the companies.

Still, Glanzer said media companies see Comic-Con as a prime venue to reach core buyer demographics for their books, videogames, movies and TV shows. But the mix of exhibitors can vary significantly from year to year, as there “has always been an ebb and flow to participants” at Comic-Con.

“Because a movie studio or television network doesn’t appear one year doesn’t mean they’ve given up on the event,” Glanzer said. “It usually is a result of not having a project that is ready, or they may not even have a project that is right for our audience.”

Comic-Con, which is contractually committed to San Diego through 2016, has been highly coveted in recent years by other cities, including Los Angeles, Anaheim and Las Vegas. Organizers had not announced venue plans beyond 2016 as of press time, though the organization has said in the past that long-term planning likely will be impacted by factors including San Diego’s completion of a planned convention center expansion within the next few years.

“We would always love to stay in San Diego,” Glanzer said. “Right now our focus is on making sure we have as successful a show as possible for 2014.”

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