SDCC’13: Comic-Con Talk Back 2013 – Ticketing, Convention Security, and Queues

By Nicholas Eskey

It’s that time again. Each and every year, almost as an unceremonious wrap up for San Diego Comic-Con International, the Comic-Con Talk Back is one of the last panels to run on Sunday. Its aim is to allow convention goers one and all to address any questions or concerns that had arisen over the last four days. And heading the panel as always is the president of the Comic-con board of directors, John Rogers.

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Room 23A isn’t the largest of the rooms by far, but it most certainly wasn’t the smallest. And before the panel even began, the line of people starting at the microphone located at the front of the room extended all the way to the back wall. People who just by the looks on their faces said plain as day that they had some issues to discuss. And for the most part of the panel the line stayed consistently long.

John Rogers took the center spot of the long table onstage, gave a brief introduction as to who he was and what the role of the panel was for, and then opened the microphone to those who wished to speak. The first man to speak quickly brought up the topic of the famed Hall H. For those not in the know, the convention center is designated by letters to show different sections; A through H. Though A through G is set apart for the lower sales pavilion, the entirety of H is set apart for high profile, high traffic, Hollywoodish panels. This year, the likes of Warner Brothers were showing their upcoming works – the Supernatural television show and Lionsgate Films filled every seat.

In fact, most of the questions and concerns that were raised at the panel this year either involved issues with Hall H, inadequacy of Comic-con security, or the problems with getting Comic-con tickets through the website. For the concerns with Hall H’s long lines that seem to get longer each year, having to line up earlier and earlier to be guaranteed a spot in the hall, some resolutions were suggested.

One person mentioned a possible three tier system, where one half of the hall was reserved for those willing to pay extra, the other half for those willing to wait in line, and also a live feed that can be displayed either at the convention grounds, or on the internet. Another person suggested paying for access to a live internet feed instead. John Rogers explained that Hall H was a hard issue to approach. It would be possible to do a live feed, but it would cost money. He ended the matter with saying “We’re always trying to find ways to improve.”

On the matter of security, a few people did have some interesting accounts with security personnel. One person had issues with two separate security people telling them that their disabled son didn’t look disabled enough to issue the use of the special entrances (even though they clearly had a disabled person pass). Another person (who could only walk by aid of crutches) complained how a security person told them that if they had any complaints and wished to talk to disabled services, then they had to go walk to the desk inside of the convention.

John thoroughly apologized to those who had negative experiences with security, then explained that most of them are individuals contracted from third party companies to help patrol the convention. And if anyone in the future has issues with any such individual, take down their full name, the company they work for, and find guest services. “I’m sorry security did that. That is highly inappropriate. [When that happens] tell us who did it, and their company, so we can tell them to go home.”

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In recent years as Comic-con passes have become harder to obtain (mostly because a majority sell out a year before, with online ticket purchases completely replacing the old ticket counter sales), a growing issue has arisen with Comic-con’s ticketing site. “When thousands of people are trying to access a website,” says John Roger, “problems are regrettably going to arise.”

The only real guarantee for tickets these days is if you purchase them onsite on day one of the convention center at a computer terminal. The moment tickets become available online though, the masses are scurrying to swipe them up. This causes slow load times and possible site crashes. Out of the many who try, only a lucky few get through and are able to purchase.

The president of the convention commented on how he’d rather have had a lottery system for passes, which was used recently as a method to sell returned tickets. But, as only being one vote compared to the others, they voted to keep it a first come, first serve. “But when you have so many people trying to buy at the same time on the internet, it still becomes a lottery.”

As I said, these three issues were the majority of questions and concerns. There were some other one’s that bear mentioning. Some complained about the stop and go photo traffic on the sidewalks outside of con (which John Rogers said the convention had limited to no control over the sidewalks). Some brought up the confusing arrangement of interactive zones and booths outside of the convention center (which John also commented on how they are not affiliated with Comic-con).

A few thanked John on him and the conventions organizers’ hard work at presenting a stellar convention (and also having available the awesome large convention bags with the capes attached to them). And of course there were those who seemed to be there just to hear themselves talk, with issues that ranged from the tedious to the near-deranged. One of which loudly commented on how he wasn’t allowed to sell his merchandise to other people on the sales floor, that he was “a powerful artist” and an “ex-rockstar.” Eventually he ended his rant with “I have my own solution. I’m not afraid of you. It’s coming.”

After about two hours of individuals speaking their minds, John Rogers thanked the now much thinned out audience, and said “till next year.” Though I felt a majority of the topics that were raised were either out of the convention’s hands or too soon to change overnight, there were some things raised that I felt were worth the time and effort it took for John Roger to pull from his already busy schedule. If any positive change comes from the talk back, that’s a success right there. And I do have to agree; the bags with the capes were awesome.

 

Find more from Nicholas at @NikolaiEskimo

Comments

  1. “And if anyone in the future has issues with any such individual, take down their full name, the company they work for, and find guest services. “I’m sorry security did that. That is highly inappropriate. [When that happens] tell us who did it, and their company, so we can tell them to go home.””

    This is easier said than done. I was harassed by con security while working, and they didn’t bother to identify themselves. I was given only two choices: 1) immediate compliance and 2) expulsion from the con. Asking for a moment to finish doing my task was met with aggression and more demands.

    A lot of other people have spoken to me about being harassed by con security, too, despite having done nothing wrong.

  2. Hall H will never be solved. A live stream wouldn’t fix anything. The bigger the audience, the harder it will be to police the footage, so studios will never let the footage they show be broadcast, and the lunatic fans wouldn’t take a captured image to be the same as being in the same room (granted a giant fucking room) as their idols. I mean, most of the panels end up on line in high quality videos, and that does nothing to fix the problems.

    Let’s just be honest here: Hall H is a lost cause. Leave it to the obsessives and their ilk and move on.

  3. Charles Ranier says:

    the problem with the first come first serve ticket system is the only way you can be sure to get tickets for next year’s show is to be at this year’s show to buy it on site. Or know someone who’s going to buy it for you there. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone who wants to go for the first time — or someone who skipped a year — to be able to go.

  4. Liz Deutermann says:

    I’ve been trying to get tickets to this event for years. The prevailing method seems to be in favor of those who have already been in attendance in previous years. How about making it easier for first timers to get in on the fun? I have money, I want to spend it, why won’t you let me in?

  5. Shark Jumper says:

    Was there onsite buying of tickets for next year? I thought they stopped that? Or was it really just limited to day one? Two years ago, they still had it and the lines were as bad as Hall H. The irony of spending hours of your con in line waiting to buy badges for NEXT year’s con wasn’t lost on me. :)

  6. I’m sorry I missed this panel this year as it usually my favorite way to end the con, sitting there and marveling while John Rogers continues to maintain composure in the face of the crowd who turn up to complain. For every rational concern there are usually about 10 to 15 completely irrational ones or complaints about things beyond the control of the con. Were there any complaints about the weather this year? It was the first overcast and chilly con I can remember.

    One great suggestion I saw for Hall H was to just move Hall H to Petco. I think it’s an excellent solution and they’ve already proven that Petco is a viable venue during the con. It also frees Hall H for more floor space. Just a thought.

    Liz — they now cap returning ticket sales to like 10-15% of the total tix available, so the vast majority are available to anybody.

    Where they might consider clamping down more is on Press actually. The sheer number of blogs and other media ‘outlets’ there is astounding.

  7. @SharkJumper — I am dubious about the on-site registration. If they did that this year, it was a total secret and I would think the nerd outrage would have been heard at some point. Nobody was talking about them bringing back on-site pre-reg and they haven’t done on-site pre-reg for 3 years now.

    They did send an email just before the con warning all attendees to keep their badges bec. there was info on it that would be required for 2014 pre-reg. No mention of on-site registration.

  8. Brian Doherty says:

    Problem with dealing with anyone in control of a sold-out-no-matter-what-they-do show: keeping customers super-happy (certainly keeping POTENTIAL customers happy…) is never going to be a high priority. In a way SDCC’s organizers lives would be a bit less stressy if there were FEWER potential customers right now.

  9. @Trev If you move Hall H to Petco, prepare to lose all special footage. Policing 6000 attendees is hard enough. Policing 42,000 attendees is impossible.

  10. @Steve – it all goes up on YouTube by the next day anyway. What difference does it really make?

    That’s the part I’ve never understood about HallH. You are spending so much time in line to get a 12-24 hr jump on the rest of the world. Do they still give out schwag too? I didn’t hear anything about schwag this year.

  11. Heidi MacDonald says:

    Hell H is theater, It is live theater. Things like Andrew Garfield in Spiderman costume and Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Fans want to be a part of these once in a lifetime live experiences.

  12. @Trev Find me the Marvel footage. The Spider-Man footage. The Dr. Who trailer. If this stuff leaked, it would be all over the fan press. No one has it.

    The Hall H monstrosity is because of obsessive people who need to be in the same room as their idols. It’s like boy bands.

    Seriously, there’s very little difference between Hall H and a Justin Bieber concert.

  13. Plus, lets say you do assign 3000 resereved seats. If they are 3000 general admission style seats, you’re still going to have at least 1000 fans waiting on line to see who can be closest to the stage. So now, you have dozens of lines of people willing to wait just for a good seat for certain panels.

  14. Also, if you move Hall H to Petco, you’re going to alienate some of the studios who are afraid of small crowds/bad reactions. I remember hearing years ago, many studios preferred to have Ballroom 20 panels over Hall H, because they were guaranteed a full house of diehard fans and a positive reaction.

  15. @Steve — fair enough. Just a thought. I never do and have never done Hall H and stopped doing anything in Ballroom 20 last year when the camping for Ballroom 20 began.

    Maybe we all need to acknowledge that the camping is part of the current wave of fandom and start catering more to that rather than trying to solve it. I’m kind of surprised nobody has started a movement for 2 am Food Trucks on Harbour drive to deliver munchies to the fans.

    If they aren’t going to find a way to stop it then maybe they need to embrace it more.

  16. Overall, given the size of Comic-Con, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a show more better run and organized.

    My main complaint about the show is the poor quality of the on-site food. In this day and age, pizza, hot dogs and stale deli sandwiches, with pretzels and Mrs. Fields at every corner, just don’t cut it and only perpetuate the stereotype that junk food is all fanboys need to subsist on. Yes, I’m aware of Tides near Hall A and saw the grilled cheese and pulled pork sandwiches they sold on the upper level patio, but I still find much of the food at Tides inedible.

    I can’t imagine that there aren’t any food vendors consisting of either local restaurants or kogie trucks that would kill to have some of that space upstairs and could offer some more variety and better quality alternatives. (Years ago, there used to be a lone gyro vendor at one end of the hall that I always made a point to visit.)

    I can’t imagine the organizers have not thought about this and presume that the convention center likely prefers to maintain their control of the eateries where they get to keep 100% of the profits (quality be damned), versus just getting a cut of a food vendors’ sales. The price of the food on-site has always been a bit of a standing joke, but if the food were better, people would be willing to live with the cost (or even pay a bit more).

  17. IMO it is almost as easy to go offsite for food and get better results — Tin Fish and Spaghetti Factory are both very close, high quality, and relatively quick. Plenty of other options nearby too I’m sure.

    Though I did eat twice at the BBQ on the back patio. I think it is the best food at the con and is largely ignored. Both times I went during the lunch rush period and basically just walked up. Plus you can enjoy your sandwich on the steps overlooking the marina. Great deal.

  18. Randy – they did have a entire row of food trucks parked not far from Petco Park. I had the most delicious chicken filled crepe with garlic pesto over there before leaving for home on Thursday.

    ~

    Coat

  19. To bring up a subject that I haven’t seen yet, the thing that stood out to me from other years was how terrible the bathrooms were this year. Its always been amazing to me that for the most part, there are paper towels, soap and the bathrooms are clean. This year there were times of no paper towels, empty soap dispensers and totally gross wet floors.

    Also, after the con ended, security was obsessed with getting people out of the convention center which meant segmenting the lobby so people had to leave if they wanted to get anywhere, but the sidewalk in front of the convention center can only hold so many people. Certainly a number less than all the people leaving the convention center at that time. For 15 minutes there was very little movement and I was concerned something bad would happen if people started to panic.

    On food, what they have is terrible unless you’re there for a few hours, not 5 days. The barbeque in the back is good but no one goes back there. Why can’t they have that stuff in different places like outside ballroom 20? I do eat at the hotels that have panels. Petco park a bridge too far so the trucks are out.

    Why don’t they broadcast the Hall H panels to other rooms and cut out the exclusive content like they do at the daily recaps? Also, for that matter, why don’t they show all the Hall H panels the recap instead of having people scream to vote?

  20. I like the three tier system, where one half of the hall was reserved for those willing to pay extra, the other half for those willing to wait in line, and also a live feed that can be displayed either at the convention grounds, or on the internet. In addition to Hall H, that idea should be used for Ballroom 20 and Indigo room. I was so bummed that I could not get into Adventure Time and Regular panels. The SDCC should also look into renting bleachers for Hall H.

  21. Doug Abramson says:

    I’ve never bothered with Hall H. It rarely has anything that I’m willing to wait a long time to see. I stopped going to Ballroom 20 when the long lines started. Again I rarely miss anything I really want to see. So I’m a proponent of moving Hall H programming to Petco to reduce wait times and improve the flow of people outside the center without a personal stake in the issue. The video screens and sound system are more than adequate for programming needs. Even during the day. As for people leaking footage because a Petco crowd would be too difficult to police; Warners had a free showing of 300 there to promote the DVD release. Somehow they managed to keep bootleggers form stealing the movie. As for preregistration: there was absolutely no presales at any point during the con. A point made explicitly on the website and in the program booklet.

  22. Everyone always complains about staff and security but they are hired by outside organizations for 4 days and take some serious verbal abuse the whole time just for doing their job. If you really want to get into Hall H just get your hands on a disabled badge and show up by 9 am. While general admission camps out, those with disabled priviledge can basically stroll up and get in. Some disabled folk do camp out and get there early but others get there whenever and feel entitled to get in. I find it ridiculous that someone in crutches would complain that security told him he had to go to disabled services. What was security suppose to do? Relocate disabled services for him? With over 130000 people to patrol security can’t leave their posts. I learned all this by volunteering for a few hours and getting to talk to staff. IMO , the con is just too big for the space.

  23. Big Daddy says:

    A few comments:
    ON-SITE FOOD: The food services for the convention center are contracted by the center itself, not the ‘Con. They have no control over a Wienerschnitzel-size hot-dog, fries, and Coke costing $Arm & Leg. You are much better off bringing your own food (if you live in town), heading a few blocks up to the cheaper restaurants, or heading to the grocery store and getting something fresh. Assuming you actually want to leave the madness.
    TICKET SALES: The on-line sales system is, as John said, subject to the whims of the Internet. With only a limited number of tickets available, and (let’s say) triple to quadruple numbers of people wanting those tickets, there will be problems. It’s just like thousands of fans trying to scarf up tickets to see a major rock star – luck of the draw. Using this system is really the only way to control the counterfeiting of badges (which I’m sure some enterprising soul is working on for next year…not me, of course). I do take issue with the One Badge, One Person thing. In years past, it was very cost-effective for me and three buddies to pool $$ for one four-day, then each go for one day. Personally, I think that’s a fair thing – we’re not all trying to get in for all four days on a copied badge.
    HALL H: Never have, never will. Some friends have done so in the past, but realized they had just wasted 1/4 days standing in a line and sitting in a chair. Now, if that’s your cup of tea, God/Goddess bless you, and have a good time. I would rather walk the floor, hit the smaller panels, and hook-up with old/new friends. (Although, I would have liked to be in the room for the Tom/Loki appearance.)
    SECURITY: Gets to be a harder problem every year. Again, CCI:SD hires the firm, but the firm hires the people. Some of them are cool with this convention, others…not so much. I would bet that at least 1/3 of the security force had never been to/seen a convention such as ours. Perhaps they were just a little overwhelmed at the sheer number of people walking in/out. Of course, I have also encountered those who want you to “Respect Their Authoritay!” puffing out their chests and pointing to their big “Security” designation. I agree with another poster – get as much info as you can (description/location, if no name if forthcoming), find a CC staffer, and report them ASAP.
    THE SHEER SIZE: If the size if getting you down, I suggest a trip north to Wonder-Con next year. Only three days, much cheaper, run by the same people, and more of an old-school Comic-Con Feel. Or, hit up the SD Comic Fest, coming to town Oct. 4-6.
    MORE? Want some additional feedback/comments? Hit me back – I’m a 40 year Comic-Con veteran (only missed the first three), and have been an attendee, volunteer, and exhibitor.

  24. Torsten Adair says:

    Here’s my solution regarding convention center food:

    Carb up in the morning with a huge breakfast. Buffet is recommended. See if you can sneak out an apple.

    Stop at a convenience store, pharmacy, or grocery on the way to the show. Buy a bottle of soda or water. Refill it later at the show. Then buy a box of naked (no chocolate covering) breakfast bars. Cheap ($4 a box), nutritious, not too messy, easy to stash in your bag. Snack as the mood hits.

    After the show, eat a large dinner. Relax.

    Also, keep some dollar bills in reserve. Chances are you’ll discover a vending machine off the beaten path dispensing soda and snacks at the convention center. (Chicago’s McCormick does a great job with cheap eats!)

  25. Doug Abramson says:

    Its interesting to hear complaints about security this year. Security seemed to be running more smoothly and without any major foul ups. I had a couple of volunteers do things that could have become an incident if I was a person who wanted to argue, instead of going about my business. Its a big con with a lot of people; it seems that I was just lucky this year.

  26. Oh snap. I threw away my 2013 badge!

  27. Jackie Estrada says:

    Torsten, I don’t think you are remembering downtown San Diego or the Cnvention Center very well . . . If you stay at any of the major hotels by the CC there are no convenience stories or grocery stores along the way between them, and there are no vending machines in the center.

  28. The food think is understandable, but annoying. I mean, Ms. Fields cookies? Do they even exist anywhere else but the San Diego Convention Center?

    And is there any confirmation on the selling of tickets for next year? I did not hear a peep about that, and I think I probably would have.

  29. Jackie Estrada says:

    No 2014 memberships were sold onsite.

  30. Re: food
    Two food trucks were outside on the back of the convention (facing the harbor). I was out there twice and noticed people discovering the taco trucks. Cheap food.

    Re: My questions?
    I was dead sick on Sunday, so I couldn’t make it, but I might have just for this because I wasn’t thrilled with the shuttle service for the Old Town and Hotel Circle hotels. Don’t get me wrong, they had good service, however, the RED line and the PURPLE line dropped people off at Petco Park instead of in front of the convention like *all* the other buses. In short, it *appeared* that the gaslamp hotels were getting preferred bus drop offs… while we had to foot it across the skybridge, merge with people from the garage, march across Hall H territory and half the length of the convention center (to door D or C) just to get in the door.

    Granted, the shuttles are great and they do a great job of moving a lot of people, but it made me wonder why we were dumped at the Zombie Run at Petco Park across the rail tracks while other hotels pretty much got valet service.

  31. Hall h and Ballroom 20 are the big culprits. Time for a lottery and clearing out the room.

  32. Tom Galloway says:

    At least a few years ago, I did discover a soda vending machine in the CC…due to escorting a guest through what amounted to the maintenance areas to get to their panel and discovering the CC employee vending area. Obviously not an option unless in the same situation.

    The closest convenience store to the CC, at least on the Hall H side and that’s not a hotel gift shop as overpriced as the CC vendors, that I’m aware of is CineCafe. Turn left at the intersection with the Old Spaghetti Factory when heading away from the CC and it’s about 3-4 doors down. Very wide selection of drinkables, and decent and reasonably priced sandwiches to go. If the Tin Fish wasn’t about the same distance and I didn’t have a fondness for their East Coast style seafood, I’d probably regularly get lunch at CineCafe (at least since the deli that for a few years was at the bottom level of Horton Plaza across from 24 Hour Fitness closed. I really miss that place when staying at the Broadway hotel cluster).

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