San Diego Officials Seek to Keep Convention Through 2021

Even though it can feel like the biggest question surrounding San Diego Comic-Con right now is when badges for 2017 will go on sale – it’s actually whether or not Comic-Con will need to find a new home in two years years, when its contract with the San Diego Convention Center comes to an end in 2018.

Negotiations are currently underway to keep San Diego Comic-Con in the city through 2021, as San Diego UT reports, but it’s far from a done deal. The biggest obstacle, just as it was in 2016 negotiations? Hotel rates.

The cost of a hotel (particularly downtown) can eat up a large portion of attendees’ budgets, with hotel room block rates per night ranging anywhere from $179 at the Days Inn San Diego Hotel Circle South to $375 for a suite at the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego. All of those prices are for just one person – add more people to the room, and the rates only go up.

San Diego Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi told U-T, “Comic-Con’s major concern, as it has been for the last several years, is having their attendees be able to afford this, so they want to know, what are the rates and what space will you allocate to me. In the major downtown hotels, they’ll try to get 90 percent of the inventory guaranteed and minimal rate increases per year.”

Current rates, as high as they might seem, would be substantially worse without the convention block rates that Comic-Con International helps negotiate. Without the special Comic-Con discounted rate, rooms can go for over $800 a night, which would price out a large percentage of attendees. During a recent panel at San Diego Comic Fest hosted by Rob Salkowitz, CCI’s Chief Communication and Strategy Officer David Glanzer explained more.

“Some of the biggest problems we have right now are hotel room blocks. We try to get as many rooms at a hotel as we possibly can, and we try to negotiate a fair rate. And that fair rate is higher than what that rate would normally be. But, it’s something that the hotels really want, and I think it’s something that if we’re careful with it, hopefully our fans can afford,” Glanzer said in the panel. “Our contract expires next year, and we’re having some trouble with that because some hotels want to give us less room blocks, charge more for those room blocks, and then charge exorbitant rates outside of that. Their argument is, and this isn’t all hotels, but a lot of their argument is, ‘Well, yes, your fans might not be able to pay for that, but the studio execs would pay that in a heartbeat’. And we have to tell them, yes, but if there’s no fans, there’s no studio execs. And that’s really a hard thing for people to understand.”

According to U-T, the San Diego Tourism Authority, which helps to negotiate the contract, is “awaiting a formal term sheet from Comic-Con but says organizers are hoping to cap room rate increases at 4 percent over a three-year period”. However, just like in 2016, they’ll have to go to each individual hotel to convince them to join in the convention room block and to negotiate exact room percentages.

Terzi told U-T that “while the major convention hotels — Marriott Marquis, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Omni and the bayfront Hilton — will typically cap rates on 90 percent of their rooms, the balance of the downtown hotels generally agree to set aside anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of their inventory for the Comic-Con block”.

This process is what delayed the 2016-2018 contract from being signed for several months, but Terzi hopes to complete negotiations on the proposed new three year contract prior to this year’s convention in July, extending Comic-Con’s stay in San Diego through 2021.

While hotel rates are the biggest hurdle to cross for keeping Comic-Con, it’s not the only one. Convention center expansion has gotten some good news of late, but it still faces several challenges (both legal and logistical) that are very unlikely to be resolved by this summer, or possibly even this year. One thing that helps mitigate that, however, is the use of offsite space at downtown hotels like the Hilton Bayfront and the San Diego Marriott and Marquis, which offer space to CCI for free. Use of that space is part of the ongoing  contract negotiations as well.

In an interview last year with Voice of San Diego, Glanzer explained that while both hotel rates and convention center space are issues, “it’s hard to quantify which is the biggest thing.”

“I think it depends which cycle you’re in,” Glanzer said. “We knew back in 2006 that we were going to have issues with space. But luckily in working with the convention center, with local hotels, with the mayors and city council, we’ve been able to mitigate some of those problems.”

Hopefully that continues. We’ll keep you updated.

Special thanks to Lisa McDowell for additional San Diego Comic Fest reporting.

About Kerry Dixon

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