Some thoughts on “Hell Hall”

Many years ago (2007?), Heidi described the new “normal” in Hall H.  Reading her reportage, I pictured a United Nations refugee camp, people packed into the space, tarps and tents laid out at the back of the hall.

Perhaps it is not that dire, but it seems to get worse each year.  Last year, ire was directed towards fans of Twilight who camped out to get the best seats for the big panel.

This year, an attendee was assaulted by another con-goer over space issues, with the alleged attacker stabbing the victim near the eye with a ballpoint pen.

Next year?  Heat stroke?  Riots?

Currently, Comic-Con International takes a laissez faire approach to Hall H and to all panels.  From the home page of their website:

Important Information Regarding Programs and Autographs


All event and program rooms have limited capacity as set by the Fire Marshal. Even though your badge is needed to get into all events, it does not guarantee you access to any event if it has reached its capacity. We do not clear rooms between events. Most autograph signings are of a limited nature. Your badge does not guarantee autographs at any event.

Hall H is not cleared after each event, resulting in “squatting”–arriving early in the day, sitting through other panels, so that you have a guaranteed seat for the panel you want to see.  This results in non-fans filling seats and attending panels while the actual fans of that particular panel are left outside.

An extreme example could be that the entire hall is packed with people waiting for an afternoon panel of The Next Big Thing, so that the panels preceding it are completely ignored by everyone squatting in the Hall.  Or imagine Marvel Studios scheduling a panel a few hours after DC’s movie panel.  Marvel packs the Hall with squatting True Believers, who then actively heckle and belittle DC’s presentation (or completely ignore it).

Given the amounts studios and publishers spend in setting up booths, scheduling celebrities and press interviews, and producing freebies, given that a tepid reaction from fans at Comic-Con can hurt the success of an upcoming movie, it becomes quite obvious how serious the current situation in Hall H is to the companies involved.

So, here are some suggestions.  The convention staff are quite good at improving how CCI is run, and I’m sure they are considering alternatives.

1)  Ticket all Hall H events.  BookExpo America has done this for decades. They have a robust autograph area, where attendees can meet authors and receive free copies. For the most popular authors, they issue free tickets each day of the trade show, starting at seven a.m.

CCI could do the same.  The easiest way: rubber wrist bands.

Here’s a possible scenario:

Every morning, starting at six a.m., the event “box office” is opened.  This box office is actually a row of tables set up in the Petco Field parking lot. Each table is a specific panel scheduled for that day, and each table is staffed by the studio, publisher, or organization responsible for that panel. This method of staffing reduces the demands of CCI volunteers, and having the companies’ promotional staff present reduces any problems which might arise. Attendees line up at whichever table they most want a ticket for.

Each person in line is allowed two wristbands to that event, and is allowed to pick up wristbands for four events total, moving from one line to the next. Each attendee’s badge would be scanned to keep track of how many events he or she has acquired. Once the badge is scanned, the attendee’s data is sent to the company to allow the company to focus their marketing. Attendees could opt out of this, but companies would encourage participation by sending a special collectible after the convention is over.

Each event would be limited to 6500 wristbands.

Once an event has “sold out”, announcements would be issued by Twitter and other means (bullhorns, signage, press releases).

The wristbands can then be traded (or scalped) in a special area of the parking lot. Each wristband is a collectible, and a visual symbol of an attendee’s affiliations. The number of wristbands worn could also signify how “hardcore” an attendee is. Comic-Con maintains the wristband “menagerie”. Solid colors are reserved for the biggest sponsors, with lesser events getting striped colors. Sponsors determine what is stamped onto the band.

CCI could also sell “all access” wristbands for charity, which guarantees a person unlimited access for the day’s panels (but without any special seating). The wristband itself is not used to access panels, but instead prompts security to scan the attendee’s badge for confirmation.

Once the general hubbub has dissipated, remaining wristbands would be available at a specific location within the convention center. The 2/4 limitation would remain in effect.

Possible complication: If tickets are handed out at six a.m., with the first event at ten a.m., would there be enough time for people to acquire the tickets they want without missing the early panels? This could be corrected by handing out wristbands for morning events the day before, or by opening the “box office” earlier in the morning.

Distribution could be facilitated by sponsors’ employees walking the line, scanning badges, and handing out wristbands. Security staff would be required to avoid chaos.

2)  Allow attendees to line up for the next event only. 6,500 attendees is a lot of people. If possible, either a holding pen is created in a nearby room, and then the line is escorted to Hall H, or space is found outside the building. While the attendees are waiting, each person’s wristband is checked, and each badge is scanned. (The data is harvested later by the companies.) Given the fire code, how large a space is needed to accommodate 6500 standing people?

3)  Clear Hall H after each event. Fifteen minutes are scheduled between each event. The few attendees who have wristbands for the next event are scanned by Con staff and allowed to remain in the Hall. Attendees exit through the front of the Hall.  Immediately behind them is a wave of Con employees who quickly glean the empty rows of seats, removing large pieces of garbage and any possible lost-and-found items. (One security employee is responsible for tagging and securing items of value.) Once the Hall is cleared of attendees, remaining attendees are scanned for the next event, the rows are cleared of debris, and the doors are opened for the attendees waiting in line outside. To accommodate the extra time needed between panels, the Con could program Hall H events to occur later in the day.

4)  Provide close-circuit video feeds. Since some attendees will be unable to acquire the wristband for a panel, reserve space elsewhere for viewing. One space would be the “holding pen”, distracting those waiting in line for the next event. Another space could be a hotel ballroom with catering staff providing “room service” for attendees. (Brand it as “Comic-Con Drive-In”.) Each event sponsor would control the video feed for the event, allowing for blackouts of sensitive media such as preview reels. One unedited copy of the video feed would be owned by the sponsor of the event, a duplicate copy would be archived and embargoed for a specific period in the Con’s archives. The sponsor would decide how and when their copy is disseminated.

Of course, a sponsor could always set up their own presentation elsewhere and exert even greater control on how their message is controlled. Both Disney and Lucasfilm have run their own conventions.  The Marriott’s largest room can seat 4,000. The Grand Hyatt has three rooms which can seat 3700, 2860, and 3200.  The Hilton: 2660 and 3770. What if a studio offered multiple viewings of the same panel, thereby reducing the need for Hall H?

Comments

  1. Peter says:

    Torsten, those are great ideas. I wish SDCC would smarten up and find ways for crowd control.

  2. Good ideas and hopefully this year’s incident will be a wake up call to organisers.

    Reading about the orgainisers’ approach to Hall H goes to show just how good natured the vast majority of SDCC goers are. Any other event ‘abused’ like this for so long would have resulted in far worse than the eye stabbing long before now.

  3. Well thought out, makes perfect sense, it’s fair, easy to implement, everyone happy….never happen.

    re: “…goes to show just how good natured the vast majority of SDCC goers are. Any other event ‘abused’ like this for so long would have resulted in far worse than the eye stabbing long before now.”

    I agree. I went every year from 84 to 99 and again in 03 and 08 and I’ve never heard of so much as a fist fight happening. A few words exchanged, yes. But never anything violent. I hope people that cover the incident put it in proportion with how “incident free” the con usually is.

  4. Namelessone says:

    Just issue studio advertisement pens and we can stab it out to the last man to see who gets in to the hall!

  5. I like the idea of pass or wristband, although I think it might be better to get them online somehow rather then create another “riot potential” crowd in a parking lot.

    Yes that would create another rush like the rush for hotels but a virtual rush is better then a real rush in that people don’t get hurt in a virtual rush. And verifications can be put on the website to ensure people aren’t hoarding passes.

    The “all day-all event” pass which cost a little (or sometimes a lot) more is pretty much how film festivals operate, (also Disney World and other amusement parks have a similar thing for rides).

    I also think close circuiting the big events on a big screen TV in other large rooms is probably the best idea ever. (which almost guarantees it will never be done).

    The con could also sell a virtual pass. Steaming some of the bigger events to a website, where people who pay for a virtual pass could watch them in real time. Again there are film festivals that have started to do this.

    I also think some perspective needs to kept. One incident in a crowd as big as SD has become is really very good. There are sporting events and concert with much smaller crowds that have had much worse “incidents”. Ideally there should be no incidents but whenever a large part of humanity is put in a relatively small area the potential is for temper flaring is always there.

    Also keep in mind this is not the the first time there has been an incident at a convention, in the early 90′s there was practically a riot at a New York City con when a pro started throwing “hot” comics into the crowd. And that crowd was a lot smaller then the crowd that shows up at SD every year.

  6. So is this incident enough to get SDCC organizers to do something about Hall H? As people have been complaining about Hall H for a number of years with nothing done about it.

    Also getting wrist bands virtually shortly before the con, might be the easiest way to do so, as Darren suggests. Once again avoiding large crowds waiting a long time before hand and any chance of tempers flaring. I’ve heard of film festivals where you can submit a ranked list online, so if you’re fist choices aren’t met you can get second or third choices. That limits the digital rush so that people aren’t holding onto extra wrist bands in case their top choices don’t work out (assuming there’s a limit to how many can go).

  7. SvenJ says:

    the organizers of SDCC would like to thank you for your inexperienced back seat driving…

  8. I just wrote a little thing about this on my blog, if anyone’s interested:

    http://dinosaursinf14s.blogspot.com/2010/07/san-diego-stabbing.html

    I think your ideas are mostly very good, Torsten, but I think the idea of distributing wristbands just shifts the problem rather then solve it. Moreover, by creating a new, must-have “collectible”, you may actually be adding on. I think simulcasting the major panels, and streaming them online, is the way to go. Open officially the panels to the people that can’t get in the room.

  9. Why should they change anything? I mean, they sell out every year and make millions every year doing things the way they do them. Those suggestions, as good as they are, seem like too much work.

    Organizations are slow to make changes unless they are losing money. Comic-Con International isn’t losing any money.

  10. Matt Price says:

    I think your No. 4 suggestion is the best.
    As far as clearing halls after each panel or lining up for the next event only – well, some people are legitimately fans of more than one property, and there would pretty much be no way those people could see two panels in that scenario. Still, would that be better than what we have now? Maybe.

  11. Show the panels on CCTV under the sails or out back. Have the exhibitors issue the entry bands or tickets to fans at their booth. Clear the hall after each presentation.

  12. Andy… the booths are crowded enough as is… which is why I think Warner Brothers decided to sponsor the official Con bag.

    Imagine 6500 fans mobbing a booth early Thursday morning or on Preview night trying to get a wristband. Now multiply that by each major sponsor. Now imagine those groups criss-crossing the Halls as fast as possible, trying to get the wristbands they want. That’s why I suggested the parking lot.

    I think the Sails Pavilion is used for autographing. But the screens can be anywhere.

  13. Clearing several thousand people out of that room and moving several thousand in quickly and safely would be impossible. Hall H isn’t the Coliseum (though maybe they should start using Petco Park for this stuff). As I suggested in my comment on the stabbing post, the trick is to make people leave willingly, by drawing them off with competing programming. Movie Con currently does not have much competition for the people who are there strictly for blockbuster movie panels. If Warner Brothers was programmed against Universal, a lot of people would get out of their seats and leave. Of course, another Hall H-sized space is required so the current situation is going to remain the same until the center expands.

  14. Rishard says:

    I actually dislike your first 3 suggestions you have made. I didn’t get a chance to go to SDCC this year, but I did go last year.

    I LIKE the fact that you can stay in the room and they don’t clear it out. There are multiple events that I would like to see in the hall and having to leave would suck.

    Clearing out 6500 people and letting in another 6500 would also take more time in an already tight schedule.

    Suggestion 4 however is a REALLY good idea.

  15. Aw hell NO, NOT *color-coded wristbands*. Some hospitals use those on patients and one of the colors (not necessarily the same color at each of these hospitals) stands for “this patient has a DNR order.”

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071218122409.htm?from=rss

    You do *not* want to be wearing one of those if you have a medical emergency at the con (or anywhere), picked up by an ambulance crew understandably worrying about your pulse and stuff more than your jewelry, and then rushed to a hospital where your event wristband just happens to be the wristband color designated DNR there, just in case…

  16. “I LIKE the fact that you can stay in the room and they don’t clear it out. There are multiple events that I would like to see in the hall and having to leave would suck.”

    Idea #5. Add new award catagory to the Eisners, “most selfish douchebags who don’t want to wait in line like everyone else” award.

    Idea #6. Nerf Pens.

    “Aw hell NO, NOT *color-coded wristbands*”

    Isn’t that done at every single concert and sporting event across the country where they serve beer? Is there any evidence that the wristbands have ever been confused for a medical wrist band or that it’s ever been cause for confusion on the part of hospitals or paramedics? If there is I’d love to see the article that denounces their use.

    And if that is the case, wouldn’t picking specific colors to avoid such confusion remedy that?

  17. I thought this discussion seems familiar

    Just exchange “Facial Stabbing in Hall H” with “FABLES/Venture Bros. Showdown (in Rm 6DE)” as the catalysing conversation starter:

    http://www.whenmonkeysattack.com/blog/2009/08/06/a-forlorn-snow-white-in-full-costume/#comments

  18. These are some good ideas. I like some combination of wrist bands and providing close-circuit video feeds. Comic-Con definitely needs to address this issue for next year.

  19. AH yes, Ed, while everyone is away those left at home engage in some poo flinging.

    I pretty much despise the idea of clearing Hall H for each panel. What DOES need to be done is make more passes available for SPECIFIC panels, whether it’s for a fee, or some other means. There is a reserved seating area for Hall H which for the very first time I actually sat in this year, but it isn’t very big — around 100 seats. These “fast pass” tickets wouldn’t guarantee special seating but at least you could get into the room without camping out over night. I wanted to see the Avengers but not that much.

    There were actually several panels at Hall H that WERE NOT FULL,but I think they were on Friday which has a lesser schedule than Thursday and Saturday,

  20. “…Is there any evidence that the wristbands have ever been confused for a medical wrist band or that it’s ever been cause for confusion on the part of hospitals or paramedics? If there is I’d love to see the article that denounces their use…”

    I linked to it. In case clicking the link in my comment and then reading all the paragraphs is too difficult for you, I’ll quote it:

    “…There are currently no standards of color choice for hospitals using color-coded wristbands, and each hospital has a different set of colors for different indications. This lack of standardization creates the potential for errors. For example, some hospitals have used yellow to signify “Do Not Resuscitate,” leading to several near-misses with patients wearing yellow Lance Armstrong “Livestrong” bracelets. If a standard color choice existed for DNR orders, the potential for errors with either personal patient wristbands or those used by hospitals would be averted….”

  21. Fabulous ideas.

    I think they could even do a simpler version of just clearing the room between panels and creating separate lines for each event.

    Even if you want to see more than one panel, the chances of getting a seat again by going to next line is much higher because people are not going to be able to squat.

  22. After thought – wished there were other big halls in the other hotels that could disperse the programming that happens in Hall H. If there were at least 2 or 3 different Hall Hs that has separate big Hollywood panels going on, it would help jostle the giant crowd around.

  23. Zemba says:

    Unfortunately Mark, there isn’t a single thing in that article nor a single incident sited in the article about hospitals confusing medical coded wrist bands with the ones you get at concerts and sporting events. I just figured you had left out all the information that supported your point.

  24. Zemba says:

    I agree with you Diane. There is no difficulty involved in clearing a room out. Especially if Comic Con made it a rule.

    An announcement on a speaker would probably do it and for those left behind, a few security guys saying “get out” would be more than enough. Comic geeks are a superstitious, notoriously unconfrontational lot.

  25. Some numbers from the Convention Center website:
    Ballroom 6 = 4000 theater seating
    Ballroom 20 = 4908
    Sails Pavilion = 8700
    (Yes, it’s not very conducive to media presentations, but it is column free, and is situated between Ballroom 6 and 20.)
    Hall H seats 6700 in a theater configuration.

    As for the hospital wristband confusion, Snopes has an article on it. I suggested RUBBER wristbands of the “live strong” variety, not the Tyvek/vinyl plastic design favored by hospitals. I suggested rubber wristbands because it makes distribution easier, it simplifies ticket-taking, and it becomes a collectible/badge of honor.

  26. “As for the hospital wristband confusion, Snopes has an article on it.”

    That’s a pretty slimy source.

    One of the Snopes folks can’t bear to call it rape when a kid is coerced into sex by his or her parents, and figured a rape victim probably wanted it because she was an unmarried 17-year-old living in a village where most brides are 15: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/petition/cane.asp

  27. “I suggested RUBBER wristbands of the “live strong” variety, not the Tyvek/vinyl plastic design favored by hospitals.”

    Yes, you did, and I understood that.

    “Unfortunately Mark, there isn’t a single thing in that article nor a single incident sited in the article about hospitals confusing medical coded wrist bands with the ones you get at concerts and sporting events.”

    There is something in that article about hospitals confusing their own medical coded wrist bands with “RUBBER wristbands of the “live strong” variety” that Torsten Adair suggested instead of the paper ones I have received at events before.

  28. Heidi—

    Just tryin’ to shake that feeling of deja lu when I read Torsten’s suggestions…

  29. As for the suggestions: maybe NYCC can institute and put in practice some of Torsten’s ideas in their upcoming Con this Oct.?

    #1 seems already to be halfway there, with NYCC’s “IGN Theater Package” that guarantees a seat in Javits’ analogue of Hall H… for those who’ve bought that extra “VIP” ticket cost, that is. #2 can be tried out in that and other Javits panel rooms, to see how the NYCC attendees would react to the practice. #3 likewise for that IGN Theater; though of course, those who hold the “IGN Theater Package” passes would be allowed to stay to keep their seats, since they paid extra for that specific privelege. #4 might be difficult, as it conceivably undercuts the selling of the “IGN” special passes, since regular NYCC attendees will ‘attend’ those same Theater presentations, just not in the same room.

    With NYCC testing out these suggestions, maybe then will SDCC will break out of its organisational inertia of that First Come, First Served/ No clearing of seats practice it’s been keeping in place all these years…

    Just an idea.

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