By the Numbers: New York Comic Con Probably Isn’t Bigger Than San Diego Comic-Con

Outside-NYCCA lot of things happened at New York Comic Con last weekend — fans were treated to an all-new trailer for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, the Tomorrowland teaser trailer debuted, some lucky fans got to see Big Hero 6 ahead of its November release, The Legend of Korra got a farewell panel ahead of its final episodes. But the biggest news coming out of the convention seemed to be an interesting statistic: New York Comic Con had a “unique attendee” size of 151,000.

This is interesting primarily because San Diego Comic-Con, which has long held the title of the biggest North American pop culture convention (and you can view our infographic comparing it to other popular conventions in terms of attendance size, square footage, price, and more, here), has an attendee size of around 133,000.

So did New York Comic Con beat out San Diego to take over the title of the largest pop culture and comics convention this side of the globe? Well, not really.

We spoke to Lance Fensterman, the Senior Global Vice President of ReedPOP, the company behind NYCC, about the size of attendance. As it turns out, the convention did sell 151,000 tickets — “and the actual number is a little higher” but rounded down for the sake of simplicity — but that doesn’t mean that 151,000 people attended.

So how does that work? “By unique tickets sold we mean that one person counts as one person,” Fensterman said. “So if you buy a four day pass you count as one ticket sold. If you buy a one day pass you count as one person.”

Sounds simple enough. But much like San Diego Comic-Con, New York offers a wide array of ticket options, which includes everything from a four day ticket as a single-click purchase, to a more a la carte selection, where attendees can pick and choose exactly which days they want to attend.

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 6.22.07 PM

New York Comic Con ticket options

So under New York Comic Con’s counting system, how would someone who purchased two single tickets be counted? As two separate unique tickets, and thus, as two separate people.

“If someone bought a single day Friday and single day Sunday that would be 2 tickets sold,” Fensterman said.

This means, essentially, that New York Comic Con sold 151,000 tickets all combined, but the number of actual, unique attendees is less than that. After all, if even 1,000 attendees purchased two single day tickets, they would be counted as 2,000 people, even though this isn’t Orphan Black and attendees aren’t being cloned left and right.

If even 10,000 people purchased two single day badges (and that number is likely significantly higher)? The system is counting them at 20,000 people.

And what of people who bought four single day tickets, after the four-day combined tickets sold out? Under this system, each of those people would each be counted as four “unique” attendees — meaning that if even 6,000 people (which is less than 4% of the number of attendees New York Comic Con is counting under this system) purchased all four single days, they would be counted as 24,000 people instead, which is 18,000 more than really purchased tickets. That already would put New York Comic Con’s attendance size back below San Diego’s.

That’s a lot of room for guesswork and error in attendance size.

New York has a very good reason for counting attendees this way, though, and it’s not to inflate or misreport their numbers. Instead, it’s simply the best way to count attendance size at the convention under the way it’s currently run.

Unlike at San Diego, where attendees sign up for a unique Member ID that ties their badge to them, and then requires an ID to pick-up on site, New York Comic Con mails out badges to attendees. The type of badge purchased is printed on the physical badge — Friday, 4-Day, etc. — but without attendee names. This effectively means that someone could buy a Friday and Saturday badge, and give one to their great aunt, and New York Comic Con would never know, or care. Once you’ve bought your badge, it’s yours to do with as you please.

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New York Comic Con Saturday badge from Twitter user @wordgirlvicks

“We have no way to determine who is using those tickets [nor] does it really make any material difference,” Fensterman said. “We theoretically could parse that data in any number of ways depending on how much time and effort and resource we want to put into it.  But ultimately the unique ticket sold metric seems to balance giving the most accurate representation of the size of the audience without us going nuts parsing data that really does not add that much value to the customers.”

San Diego, on the other hand, counts attendee size by unique people rather than the number of badges sold, making it very difficult to compare which convention is larger when they don’t use the same metrics.

However, if we had to wager a guess, we’d still assume that San Diego is the larger convention, for a few important reasons:

San Diego has more square footage

Just look at the math. Both conventions sold out this year and filled to capacity, but San Diego simply has more room to play with. The San Diego Convention Center clocks in at 2,600,000 square feet and is ranked as the 6th largest convention center in the US, while the Javits Center holds at 1,8000,000 square feet total, and is ranked as the 14th largest convention center in the US.

To add to that, New York Comic Con doesn’t utilize all of the space in the Javits Center. The entire fourth floor of office space isn’t used by the convention (CORRECTION: Part of the fourth floor was used by VIP attendees), as well as a few other spaces throughout. In San Diego, Comic-Con International also pulls in neighboring hotels like the Hilton Bayfront for programming. More space = more bodies.

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Offsite Events

New York Comic Con kicked of Super Week this year, which aims to kickstart the offsite scene for New York Comic Con attendees. It’s hopefully going to be the start of a new tradition for the convention and give attendees more choices both during and after convention hours.

However, it’s not yet at the level of San Diego, which turns all of downtown San Diego into a “Comic-Con campus” of everything from panels to gaming to activities that, most importantly, manages to draw in out-of-towners who don’t have a badge.

 

New York Comic Con did a lot of things right this year — we’re currently drooling over how well their wristband and stage clearing system seemed to work — but if we’re going to talk about who has the title of the biggest pop culture convention? Let’s at least get our facts straight.

About Kerry Dixon

Kerry Dixon is Editor-in-Chief of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog and the site's resident panel guru.
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  • Helen-Arlene Techna Testamark

    Correction, Reed Pop did use the 4th floor. This year it was for VIP and Press only… Unless your also counting the ones that see over the Concourse they do as security Staff Room, Private Press Room and Security.

  • cjt080y

    dont be bitter…NYCC is the biggest COMIC convention….COMICSnot movies and T.V.!

  • criscura

    But how many tickets were actually used? They had a system that could track that this time around.

    Mostly I just want the satisfaction of knowing a bunch of scalpers had to eat the cash :/ NYCC messed up big time this year with defending from scammers….but they don’t seem to think they did. I’ve gone for a few years now, but I think I’m gonna skip it next year. It was too much grief to get in. Time for better things ^^;

  • Telhunter

    The numbers go fhe other way too. I know of several people myself included that bought multi-day passes and brought different friends/family members on different days. So my extra four day pass counted as one, but 3 different people used it.

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  • Thanks! We’re actually only looking at general attendees, but it’s good to know they used it for VIP.

  • Gregory A. Swarthout

    Spin doctoring at its finest!

  • Brian Finnegan

    Sounds like someone’s jealous of the greatest city in the world. Keep crying. Make the Pacific even saltier.

  • John Wayne Gacy

    Conventions are like drug dealers- Everyone says theirs is the best, and claims to be the biggest. They aren’t going to tell you the truth about it!

  • Torsten Adair

    NYCC used the entire Javits Center. Some areas might be underutilized (like the corridor to Artist Alley), but even the traffic lanes normally used for taxis and shuttle buses out front was fenced off for attendee traffic.
    If San Diego is capped at 133,000 unique attendees (and tickets), does this mean that the ratio of distinct tickets remains unchanged? Because an increase in single-day tickets (to increase unique visitors and thus increase sales) would require a decrease in multi-day tickets.
    Even with the increase of humanity, I found it easy to navigate. (But then, I’m a New Yorker, and used to dealing with crowds.) The room clearing worked perfectly, and will probably be expanded to all panels next year. Comics creators are not ghettoized, and movie studios don’t have huge booths that clog aisles. Both book publishers (like Random House) and toy artists had prominent blocks at the front of the show floor, and the crowd was extremely diverse!
    So… NYCC did what SDCC wouldn’t: cleared rooms, policed harassment, celebrated comics, promoted the comics arts officially outside Javits. (CCI is a non-profit with a mission statement, but what else do they sponsor in SD? What have they officially sponsored outside the convention center? Art workshops for kids? Speaker series at libraries? Publisher donations to local libraries?)

    Within 20 years, ReedPOP WILL have the biggest show in North America. It will be at C2E2, and utilize the entire convention center. By that time, even WonderCon at Anaheim might surpass San Diego, even with the possible convention center expansion (which is questionable).

  • The 133,000 is roughly the amount of unique attendees, NOT tickets, because SDCC uses Member IDs to be able to get an exact count on attendees. Because NYCC doesn’t utilize this (or any kind of ID system), it would be very hard for them to implement a similar system. We talked about that in the article.

  • Videonitekatt

    These cons are getting too big, and dealers are forced to charge higher prices to cover expenses. We need more good mid-size cons.

  • Danny Vasquez

    How about we worry less about the size and more about quality. The number of tickets doesn’t make one better then the other, the Fan Experience does. I don’t want to go to a con where they pack people in like cattle. I would much rather have room to walk around and be able see everything I came to see. Also maybe a place to sit down for a minute and plan my next move. That would be more appealing to me than how much money the organizers made because lets face it tickets equal money and that’s really the bottom line here isn’t it?

  • Helen-Arlene Techna Testamark

    Unless you had Crew, Staff, Press, VIP, Exhibitor, Security or All Access, most people wasnt allow too far in unless you had a certain badge.

  • Investigatind Detective

    I’m not sure I understand why people are bitter or saying this article is jealous. Seems like straightforward math and I don’t think it’s knock on NYCC at all. Simply pointing out that you cannot accurately say they had an attendance of 155,000 since the metrics are skewed. Having been to both I can honestly say that SDCC is still far bigger and more crowded (not necessarily a good thing). While NYCC continues to grow and SDCC is capped we could see this change but for now it is what it is. Nothing bitter or jealous about it.

  • zakin

    I agree that NYCC probably isn’t bigger…but I do not think that very many people would buy two single-day passes; it’s more expensive than buying one three-day pass.

    The reason I don’t think it’s bigger is because of the different attendance count methods used. “Unique attendance” (counting exactly the # of badges bought) is IMO the most accurate. SDCC doesn’t really announce its numbers; the 130,000 estimate is based on the convention center capacity.

    If 130,000 people can be in the SD Convention center at once, then the actual number of people who attended at some point is undoubtedly higher.

  • Bobobo

    Considering NYCC just started less than 10 years ago, I won’t surprise if NYCC will eventually pass SDCC in terms of overall size and ticket sales in a few years. Not to mention that the expansion plan for SD convention center stalls again…

    It is great to see NYCC focuses a lot more on the publishing side, like it certainly has more publishers and comic creators there. Its artist alley is way better than SDCC. On the other hand, SDCC is the pop-culture con, with toys, games, comics, movies, and TVs…etc all mixing together. Also, SDCC tends to have a lot more exclusive items releasing there too.

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  • Jeffe Johns

    Sometimes it’s good to take just a minute to research. SDCC is involved in many activities outside of their show.

    The Robert Heinlein Blood Drive (Largest blood drive in San Diego)

    The Comics Arts Conference

    The San Diego Public Library Graphic Novel Club and Book Drive

    They partner with The Secret Orgins of Good Readers (bringing comics to the classroom)

    They host Banned Book Week speakers (http://www.comic-con.org/toucan/beware-of-comics-banned-books-week-conversation-scott-mccloud-larry-marder)

    They regularly partner and host CBLDF events

    Make-A-Wish Foundation

  • Torsten Adair

    The Comics Art Conference is part of CCI. You need a membership to attend the programming, just like any other panel.

    The Blood Drive… yes, that is open to the public, since 1977. It doesn’t really fit their mission statement, but it is a good thing.

    “Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture”

    The book club was started in… 2014.

    Does the San Diego public library have a graphic novel collection on par with San Francisco and Oakland (thanks to Rory Root’s activism in the 1990s)?

    CCI has been in existence for 40 years. What visible impact have they had in San Diego regarding comics and graphic novels? If the con were to disappear tomorrow, what lasting legacy remains in San Diego?

    ..and… what are they doing with the $12 Million in reserves?

  • Torsten Adair

    There are. Many have been in existence for at least a decade.
    Wondercon. Emerald City. Heroes Con. Mega Con. Baltimore.
    Plus, in the past five years, many smaller local shows have come into existence, due to the rising tide of media mainstreaming.

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