Two days in, Comic Con 2013 has been filled with pop culture “reveals,” news and offerings show no chance of containment. San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter continued it’s 360-degree commercial experience from wrapped buildings to public transport signage to basic bathroom assignments. As well as the global attention Comic-Con attracts among fans, the convention generates a secondary influx of spectators in the form of San Diegans who come not for the convention itself, but for the spectacle it creates.  San Diego county resident Sarah Townsend travels thirty-five miles from the north county city of Vista every year to sit outside at Hard Rock Café’s 207 restaurant with a cocktail to take in the beautiful weather and enjoy the show. “It’s crazy!” She said. “I love that these people are so in to expressing themselves through pop culture – the costumes are just wild!” 

This year’s event with over 130,000 attendees is a far cry from the very first Comic Con held in August 1970 that hosted a modest 300 guests. According to the Hollywood Reporter, tickets were $3.50, as opposed to today’s $175 preregistered badge (for all four days plus Wednesday’s preview night). The average hotel room costs $350 per night bringing the total economic impact of Comic-Con’s run dangerously close to $200 million in revenue, with over a third of that direct spending by attendees. In bloodier figures, the resurgence of vampire themed film and TV has had an unusual affect on the San Diego Blood Bank with over 1,400 pints of blood donated during last year’s Con.

The Hard Rock Hotel’s homage to all things Sony and SyFy is ground zero for the masses outside of the convention center. Matt Greene, Regional Vice-President of Operations, Evolution Hospitality, brims with pride as he explains what Comic Con means to the hotel: “Through the years, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego has truly become known as the epicenter of excitement and entertainment outside of the convention center.  Convention attendees know that this is the spot to see their favorite stars and attend the best events.  We host back-to-back parties over the four days, including the convention’s largest, most talked-about party thrown by Entertainment Weekly.  It’s our sixth Comic Con however, so we have nailed the processes that go into serving tens of thousands of guests and numerous groups, and its become a very seamless operation. ” He continued, “Its always exciting for us to watch the entire property transform during Comic Con.  Once again, we have partnered with SyFy to make-over our onsite restaurant Maryjane’s into Defiance Café.  They have done an incredible job this year, changing every little detail from the menus, to the décor, to the uniforms, and it’s a huge draw for convention-goers.  Additionally, Sony wrapped the hotel in amazing graphics to promote their upcoming movies Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Carrie.  We have been fortunate to have the same great partners year after year.”

For the second year, SyFy also co-opted the giant façade of Marriott’s signature San Diego hotel Marriott Marquis Marina; this time it was to promote their new scripted series Helix. Provided by Orange County-based Above All Media and installed by local vendor Installations Unlimited, the wrap took three and a half days to complete with a nine person team working from sun-up to sun-down. Michael Aldworth, Senior Event Manager for the San Diego Marriott Marquis Marina, could not confirm the exact cost of their installation but suggested that SyFy’s financial commitment to Comic-Con 2013 extended “well into the triple digits.” Aldworth continued that the usually corporate-focused hotel goes out of it’s way every year to make Comic-Con International and all of its attendees feel at home, including extending their restaurant opening hours round the clock and relaxing their strict uniform policy so that their staff can have fun and enjoy the festivities.

San Diego’s Metro Transport Service (MTS) is the best way to navigate your way in and out of Comic Con with an expanded green line service on it’s trolley route to and from the Gaslamp Quarter station. MTS spokesperson Rob Schupp expects the Trolley will carry an additional 170,000 passengers on top of their regular schedule due to the convention. For 2013 MTS have wrapped a record eleven of their Trolley cars for advertising clients including Hyundai. Schupp also commented that like other San Diego service providers MTS likes to have fun with Comic Con. For 2013 they have translated all signage at their Gaslamp Quarter Trolley station into the Dothrakian native language spoken in HBO’s Game of Thrones. When asked if any passengers may be confused by this Schupp assured that extra MTS ambassadors are on hand to help. Between vehicle wraps and route advertisements on MTS property, the gross revenue generated from Comic Con for the public service exceeds $200,000. Schupp added that every penny of that revenue is put back into operational costs to help “keep our system robust.”

The individually owned and operated pedi-cabs have been co-opted by Hollywood production studios and paid a daily retainer fee to offer free rides for convention attendees, according to one local pedi-cab operator. Participating operators vehicles are retrofitted as set props such as Game Of Thrones-inspired chariots. As for the convention center itself, the safety of attendees is a priority with security professionals on-hand for Comic Con with hundreds of volunteers at the ready to assist fans with conference information.

And what better way to round off an action packed Friday of exhibits, panels and pop culture socializing, than a Happy Hour? Better yet, a… Yappy Hour? To celebrate the upcoming launch of the Star Wars Pet Fans Collection available only at Petco, Petco is hosted a dog-friendly Yappy Hour at Hotel Indigo just blocks from Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, during the official Star Wars Day of Comic-Con. Pet parents and their dogs participated in the Star Wars Photo Experience, caricature drawings, complimentary treats and even one very brave little cat showed up! Those who in their favorite Star Wars costumes were also treated to a complimentary specialty cocktail, “Yoda Soda”, created just for the event. For those attending without a dog, Darth Vader, Chewbacca and other favorites from the movie helped the San Diego Humane Society promote adoption with a special appearance to draw attention to the event and hopefully introduce them to their forever home.

So what’s left? With top-dollars spent on every inch of visible real estate around San Diego’s convention center from buildings to transport, billboards to restaurant menus, only the bathrooms remain and cable network A&E have an answer for that: promoting their series Bates Motel, the gender-specific “Male” and “Female” signage have been changed to “Normans” and “Normas” eliciting chuckles from attendees as they enter and exit.

– Tim Mudd, CBS Radio San Diego


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