Measuring the Comics Convention Wave: Wizard World Sacramento Hits Local High Water Mark

By Bruce Lidl

As the on-going explosion of interest in comics and pop culture conventions continues seemingly unabated, companies like Wizard World are rushing to meet the demand. The first ever Wizard World Sacramento took place this last weekend, making it the first big comic convention in California’s capital city, and likely the biggest show of its kind in Northern California since Wonder-Con moved to Anaheim in 2012. Clearly a success attendance-wise, the show was a sellout for 3-day passes and Saturday passes, and was very crowded when I stopped by on Sunday, with a line to enter that wrapped around two full sides of the Sacramento Convention center. According to Jerry Milani of Wizard, they were a bit cautious when planning this inaugural show, only renting out part of the convention center, but they are confident enough now to already book the entire convention center for their return in June 2015.

Obligatory Stormtroopers picture

Obligatory Stormtroopers picture

To this only slightly jaded con-goer, the show was very consistent with the new culture of comic conventions, with both organizers and attendees clearly influenced by all the recent coverage of the San Diego Comic Con. At one point I overheard Wizard staffers have to explain that they were not in fact the same organization that ran the San Diego convention. The crowd was very diverse in age and demographic background, many families and couples, was heavily sprinkled with cosplayers, and seemed attracted to a wide range of media properties, with strong The Walking Dead, Marvel movie series and Game of Thrones presences. The key marker of this new era of conventions to me, however, was the very large and central role of big-name media celebrities there to explicitly make some money. Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead) and William Shatner were featured guests, and they offered all manner of paid opportunities for interaction. VIP fan meetings, paid autographs, paid photo ops, you name it, for a price you could seemingly have any kind of experience with the stars.

Comic books were present, though, with industry legends Stan Lee, Chris Claremont, Chris Golden and Neal Adams appearing. Local comic book vendors were a notable presence on the sales floor, although it must be said, the area set aside for autographs and photo ops with celebrities was probably bigger than the entire area for traditional commerce. There was a small artists alley, with a handful of Big 2 artists and a number of independent and/or specialty artists offering sketches and commissions. I had the opportunity to speak in-depth with Jimmie Robinson of Image (Bomb Queen, Five Weapons) and he thought it had been a “good” show, overall, although not a particularly big money maker for him. (I’ll have more from Robinson in a companion article coming later).

Crowds at Sacramento Wizard World

Crowds at Sacramento Wizard World

As The Beat has speculated previously, Wizard World is clearly pushing hard to take advantage of the growing interest in pop culture, comics and celebrities, with a number of first time shows this year in cities like Louisville, Richmond, Tulsa, San Antonio, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Reno, in addition to return shows in St. Louis, Nashville, New Orleans, Portland, Columbus, Austin, Columbus, Philadelphia and Chicago. According to Wizard’s Milani, the key attributes that determine their choice of a city include available venues, a market that makes sense for their offerings and their existing show calendar. He admitted that they do pay attention to avoiding conflicts with other comic book conventions (they don’t have any shows at all in July to avoid San Diego issues, and their new Atlanta show will be three months before the long-established Dragon-Con) but it was clear that they consider their shows to be different from more locally organized efforts.

The key element Milani cited was Wizard’s ability to bring a large number of celebrities of a certain level to regional cities. Matt Smith of Dr. Who fame will be a featured guest at their next show in Louisville, Kentucky, and fans can have a VIP experience with him for $349, a photo op with him for $99 ($195 for a dual photo with co-star Karen Gillan) or an autograph for $99. The seem like pretty high prices to me, but they are not too surprising when appearance fees for big stars like Smith and Hemsworth may be as much as $100,000. Milani told me that Sacramento had courted Wizard aggressively, with a great deal of enthusiasm from Mayor Kevin Johnson’s office, and numbers released by the city after the show claim an economic impact of $2 million dollars for the weekend.

Comments

  1. Bruce nails it pretty good. He was there Sunday and it was still very crowded. I was there all three days and the level of crowds were pretty consistent. Artist Alley was dead center between the media celebs and all the retailers, so I had a view on all sides.

    Just to be clear, it was a good show *moneywise* — granted it could have been a great show for profits, but it was still a *good* show for profits. I clearly came out ahead of my budgets and I’ll gladly attend future Wizard shows again.

  2. joe musich says:

    Here in the twin cities Wizwater did not pay attention to the local con that has been going on for years. A meer week and 1/2 apart. May 2-4 to May 17-18th. How honorable can Wizwater be. Any do they have panels ? I won’t know because I won’t go. Here’s the link to the local :

    http://midwestcomicbook.com

  3. Bruce Wayne says:

    Here in Sacramento Wizard did not pay attention to the local convention either. Sac-Con (short for Sacramento Comic Convention, the title that Wizard chose to use) was a mere 5 days before their show and Sac-Con books years in advance for their dates! Sac-Con Comic, Toy & Anime Show has been running for over 25 years in Sacramento. Kind of hard not to notice. Why would Wizard do such a thing? Is Wizard is the Walmarts of the convention world? Check out the local Sacramento con at: http://www.sac-con.com

  4. Bruce Wayne, I saw the Sac-Con booth at the show, do you know if Wizard charged for that?

  5. Bruce Wayne says:

    Yes, Wizard world charged for their booth. I asked the same question.

  6. DianaC says:

    Joe, Wizard does do programming.

    Bruce Wayne, do you know if Wizard had an effect on Sac Cons attendance in any way? I hear that it was a good show.

  7. I talked to Anthony Leano (the Sac-Con organizer). He said the show just before Wizard’s was huge. Best attendance yet. He admits, there was some market confusion and some folks assumed his show *was* Wizard World’s.

  8. David says:

    Bruce, Sac-Con is 4 times a year and they also run Sac-Anime which is twice a year. Other shows shouldn’t be required to dance around all 6 of them.

Speak Your Mind

*