Comic-Con Attendees Spend Huge Amounts Collectively. Individually? Not So Much.

This year's edition of San Diego Comic-Con International drew a huge number of attendees—as the event always does. But while they drive a lot of collective spending in the city, they create problems of scale more associated with a rock festival than a convention.

Comic-Con may draw massive crowds, but don’t expect those crowds to open their wallets easily.

The 2014 edition of San Diego Comic-Con International, which ended Sunday, drew 130,000 people to the city to embrace all things comics and pop culture—a definite upgrade from the 145 who attended the convention in its first year, way back in 1970. The event draws a massive amount of revenue into its home base of San Diego—this year, an estimated $78.3 million in direct attendee spending and $177.8 million in total economic impact, according to a January forecast by the San Diego Convention Center [PDF].

In other words, it’s a game of scale—much like popular culture itself.

But doing the math on those numbers, as The New York Times recently did, reveals something fascinating: If each of those 130,000 attendees spent the same amount, that would be an average of only about $603—an extremely low number as far as conference spending goes. In other words, it’s a game of scale—much like popular culture itself.

By comparison, several much smaller-scale association events tend to bring in far more revenue per attendee.

For example, the city’s next-largest event, held by the American Association for Cancer Research, brings in $27.8 million in direct attendee spending. Despite its much lower attendee count of 17,000, it gets reasonably close to the number of hotel room nights (35,600) that Comic-Con produces (55,772). AACR attendees, on average, spend about $1,640 on event-related expenses.

Too Many People, Not Enough Passes

Comic-Con’s massive scale may not drive huge amounts of spending by individual attendees, but it creates other issues—mainly, that some events (particularly in the convention center’s Hall H) are so popular that it’s difficult to get in. Problems like line-cutting have been common in recent years, and even passes into the convention itself are difficult to come by.

The passes, which went this year for between $15 and $23 per day for junior attendees and between $30 and $45 per day for adults, sold out quickly. One way the conference has dealt with the problem in the past is by reselling uncollected passes. But not this year.

“Unfortunately, due to an extremely low rate of refunds and cancellations this year, we are not able to hold a resale of Comic-Con 2014 badges,” organizers wrote on the event’s website.

In an effort to reduce line-cutting, the convention started to hand out wristbands for the more popular events. But that appeared to create another problem entirely—people camped out even earlier this year to get wristbands, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. And that raised questions about accessibility: People with disabilities found long wait times challenging and struggled to get passes to the events.

John Rogers, president of the Comic-Con International board of directors, addressed complaints during a question-and-answer session and said the organizers were doing the best they could to deal with the issues the event’s scale raises.

“This was our attempt to deal with people cutting in line,” he said regarding the wristband system, according to the Union-Tribune. “The line for Hall H tends to self-form … and then people will form four or five competing lines and then they all will run to the same spot and insist they are No. 1.”

(photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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