If you’re a fan of San Diego Comic-Con, or if you live in San Diego, you might have heard about the convention center brouhaha that’s been going on the past few years. In short, some people in the city want to expand the San Diego Convention Center, in part in the hope of keeping the SD in SDCC. Comic-Con has talked about moving to a larger venue, somewhere like Las Vegas or Los Angeles – somewhere that could accommodate more attendees. San Diego, recognizing that Comic-Con brings in millions of dollars in revenue every year, naturally wants to give Comic-Con a reason to stay, and has made a couple of attempts to expand their Convention Center, all of which have unfortunately fallen through.
So far, deals with hotel owners for good pricing on their rooms has been enough to keep the mega-con in the city, but after 2016, that may well change. If it does, it would be a damn shame…but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
I’ve been to quite a few conventions both large and small, everything from Wondercon in Anaheim to Anime Expo in Los Angeles to Otakon in Baltimore. One year I was even lucky enough to attend Nippon 2007, a combination of WorldCon and Japan’s yearly science fiction convention.
I think I can safely say, though, that none of them are anything like SDCC.
San Diego Comic-Con is…an experience. And a big part of that – a huge part of that – is the city outside the convention center.
Does the city really make THAT much difference?
Yes. Yes, it does.
When I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend New York Comic Con, I was shocked by the difference in atmosphere. Don’t get me wrong, I loved New York. It’s a wonderful city. There’s so much energy there, so much diversity and life. Walking from the train station to my hotel, I heard conversations in probably five different languages. The city feels alive.
But during the entire four and a half days of the convention, any time I left the convention center and went out into the city proper, I got asked why I was wearing a costume. When I responded, “For New York Comic Con”, the response was invariably, “What’s that?” Not once did anyone know what I was talking about.
It’s fun if you’re actually there at the Convention Center, of course, and perhaps it’s changed since I last attended in 2013, but when I went the convention was just…lost in that giant city.
In San Diego, EVERYONE knows when it’s SDCC. You walk down the street in costume, and the people working in the city don’t ask you why you’re dressed up – they already know, and they’re glad you’re there. Every business has “Con Specials” advertised in the windows, whether it’s comic-themed chotchkes or a Comic-Con Cocktail.
There are SO MANY things you can do in the city, a lot of them even if you don’t have a badge to the convention itself. I have a relative who worked at Nintendo’s giant gaming room in the Marriott adjoining the convention center for the past couple of years. It was a huge space, filled with the newest Nintendo games on humongous TVs. You could play games single player or with groups, and even earn tickets and prizes for playing multiple games (I still have a Luigi pillowcase.) Did you need a impossible-to-obtain SDCC badge to enter this space? NO, you didn’t. Anyone who wanted to could come and play.
Partly because of the large number of hotels adjacent to or nearby the convention center (the Bayview Hilton, Gaslamp Hilton, Marriott, Hard Rock, Embassy Suites, just to name a few within close walking distance), SDCC has the luxury to sprall out of its venue into neighboring areas when extra space is needed for panels, prize pick ups, viewing rooms, etc. And not just the convention itself, but any entity that wants to be part of it. At past cons NerdHQ has taken over the local stadium next door to the convention center and hosted tons of events, none of which required a SDCC badge to attend. One day, walking through the city, I randomly came across a giant Axe Cop balloon and carnival play area set up on a big empty lot.
You can have an amazing time in San Diego during SDCC without ever setting foot inside the convention center. You can even get around the city easily, thanks to the trolley and the free 24-hour bus routes San Diego sets up every year. It’s hard to imagine another city that would both have the space to accommodate SDCC and the will to transform itself into an extension of the convention.
Anaheim? Anaheim’s all about Disneyland. The convention center there is a nice venue for Wondercon, but there’s no way it could handle San Diego Comic-Con – especially in the height of summer when thousands of people are already there just for the theme park! I distinctly recall several disgruntled Disneyland-attending guests who were confused and upset by the cosplayers filling the Hilton lobby one year at Wondercon. Just imagining that culture-clash on a much larger scale makes my head hurt, but more than that, the city’s already packed in July. Even if it could squeeze in SDCC somehow, the likelihood that Disney-obsessed Anaheim could or would entirely transform itself just for Comic-Con seems slim in the extreme.
Las Vegas? Maybe they have the space, but Vegas is a city made for gambling, pure and simple. And between the summer heat in the middle of the desert and the cigarettes, some poor cosplayer would probably catch on fire and die. Seriously, though – Vegas is about gambling the way Anaheim is about Disney. Everything and anything else would be secondary to that.
Los Angeles? Oh man, I can’t bear to think about the nightmare that would be traffic. Los Angeles traffic is awful even on relatively good days. Dump an extra 30k+ people on one part of the city and the gridlock will go on for days. And again, even if the Convention Center can handle more people, that doesn’t mean that you’ll see the kind of city-wide participation that you do in the heart of San Diego.
New York? The Javits Center can’t even fully accommodate NYCC – they’ve had to split the Exhibit Hall across multiple rooms the past two times I’ve attended. There’s no way they could accommodate all of SDCC, let alone the extras that come along with it, since there are hardly any nearby hotels – certainly nothing like the huge Hilton Bayview and Marriott that flank the San Diego Convention Center.
The fact is, no convention I’ve ever been to holds a candle to the city-wide party that IS SDCC. There is nothing like it. I’ve never been to another convention where just walking down the street becomes part of the experience, where there are almost as many fun things to do outside of the convention center as inside.
This is what will be lost if the SD gets taken out of SDCC, and make no mistake, it would be a loss – for the city of San Diego, for the convention itself, but especially for the fans.